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The Accidental Genius of Charles F. Manuel

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If there is anything we know about Charlie Manuel, it is that he stubbornly refuses to deviate from the received wisdom of bullpen management. During Proven Closer(TM) Brad Lidge's frequent struggles in 2009 and occasional struggles this season, Manuel has been steadfast in his support of Lidge. "He's my guy," Manuel replied to the angry hoards of fans (rightly) calling for Lidge to be removed as closer. Roughly translated, this means "I will continue to use Brad Lidge in close, late game situations despite the availability of better options." And indeed, Lidge has remained the Phillies' closer. To his credit, however, in the 16.1 innings since his ghastly blown save against the Nationals on July 31st, he has been absolutely dominant, recording 11 saves against 1 blown save, allowing only 2 runs on 7 hits, and striking out 18 while walking just 3 (though it is worth pointing out that over this span he has an unsustainably low .184 BABIP). 

SABR-slanted fans have long challenged the bullpen management commonsense of major league coaches. Rather than designating a "closer" to earn "saves" by pitching almost exclusively in the 9th inning of games in which the team is leading by 3 or fewer runs, they advocate using the team's best reliever to pitch in the highest leverage situations or against the opposing team's best hitters. In the case of the Phillies, Ryan Madson has been, without a doubt, the best reliever on the team. In fact, Madson has been even better than his 2.83 ERA suggests, with a FIP/xFIP line of 2.18/2.46. Yes, believe it or not, Madson's .331 BABIP suggests that he has been a bit unlucky on balls in play this season. Perhaps most impressive to me is his eye-popping 11.32 K/9 and his miniscule 1.31 BB/9. But wait, there's more! Since his July 8th return from the DL after being attacked by a chair, he has been even better: 32.1 IP, 22 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 42 K, 1.67 ERA (prior to last night's appearance). If anyone on the Phillies is an ace reliever, it is Ryan Madson. Of course, with Lidge the apparent closer for life under the Manuel regime, Madson remains firmly entrenched in the setup role. 

If one peers a bit deeper into the performance of the Phillies bullpen over the past month--in particular the combination of Madson and Lidge--one will notice something strange afoot. While it would probably be giving Charlie Manuel too much credit to suggest it has been by design, in the games in which Madson has set up Lidge, Madson has done a great deal of the dirty work. In other words, Madson has faced better hitters than Lidge has, thereby making Lidge's job in the 9th inning easier. After the jump I have posted the play-by-play of games since August 1st (I know this is a somewhat arbitrary cutoff, but it marks the beginning of Lidge's current streak) in which Madson and Lidge have pitched back-to-back innings. Players' pre-game OPSes are in parentheses. 

August 4, @ Marlins:

Bottom 8th

R. Madson relieved J. Contreras
- G. Sanchez (.804 OPS) doubled to deep left center
- D. Uggla (.881) walked
- C. Ross (.740) flied out to deep left center, G. Sanchez to third, D. Uggla to second
- M. Stanton (.784) struck out swinging
- W. Helms (.715) struck out swinging

Bottom 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- R. Paulino (.698) struck out looking
D. Murphy hit for L. Nunez
- D. Murphy (Career .659 OPS) grounded out to third
- H. Ramirez (.799) flied out to center

Advantage: Madson

August 5, @ Marlins:

Bottom 9th

R. Madson relieved D. Baez
- H. Ramirez (.799) hit by pitch
- L. Morrison (.621) struck out swinging, H. Ramirez stole second
- G. Sanchez (.821) struck out swinging
- D. Uggla (.881) intentionally walked
- C. Ross (.733) struck out swinging

Bottom 10th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- M. Stanton (.795) singled to shallow left
- W. Helms (.696) struck out swinging, M. Stanton stole second
- B. Hayes (Career .694) struck out swinging
E. Bonifacio hit for W. Ohman
- E. Bonifacio (.636) flied out to right

Advantage: Madson

August 8, vs. Mets:

Top 8th

R. Madson relieved R. Halladay
- D. Wright (.869) flied out to left
- I. Davis (.767) flied out to shallow left
- F. Martinez (Career .505) struck out swinging

Top 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- J. Thole (.759) singled to shallow center
- R. Tejada (.528) grounded out to first, J. Thole to second
- C. Carter (Career .683) grounded out to first, J. Thole to third

- J. Reyes (.727) flied out to deep center

Advantage: Madson

August 11, vs. Dodgers

Top 8th

R. Madson relieved R. Oswalt
- S. Podsednik (.730) doubled to deep left
- R. Theriot (.650) struck out looking
- A. Ethier (.895) struck out swinging
- J. Loney (.763) flied out to shallow left

Top 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- C. Blake (.737) grounded out to shortstop
- J. Gibbons (Career .770) struck out swinging
- J. Carroll (.691) struck out swinging

Advantage: Madson

August 15, @ Mets

Bottom 8th

M. Sweeney at first
R. Madson relieved C. Durbin
- J. Reyes (.726) popped out to shortstop
- A. Pagan (.832) struck out swinging
- D. Wright (.845) walked
- C. Beltran struck (.645) out swinging

Bottom 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- I. Davis (.751) struck out swinging
- C. Carter (Career .683) flied out to right
- J. Thole (.812) flied out to center

Advantage Madson

August 20, vs. Nationals

Top 8th

R. Madson relieved R. Halladay
- R. Bernadina (.734) singled to right
- M. Morse (.841) grounded out to second, R. Bernadina to second
- I. Rodriguez (.645) struck out swinging
- A. Kennedy (.671) grounded out to shortstop

Top 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
W. Harris hit for D. Slaten
- W. Harris (.621) lined out to right center
- N. Morgan (.646) flied out to deep left center
- I. Desmond (.719) doubled to left
- A. Dunn (.910) struck out swinging

Advantage: Lidge

August 28, @ San Diego

Bottom 8th

R. Madson relieved J. Contreras
E. Cabrera hit for E. Mujica
- E. Cabrera (Career .655) grounded out to shortstop
- D. Eckstein (.687) flied out to center
- M. Tejada (.692) struck out swinging

Bottom 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- A. Gonzalez (.908) struck out looking
- R. Ludwick (.797) popped out to shallow left center
- C. Headley (.738) flied out to left

Advantage: Lidge

August 31, @ Los Angeles

Bottom 8th

R. Madson relieved J.C. Romero
- M. Kemp (.757) flied out to left center
- J. Loney (.725) struck out swinging
- C. Blake (.753) lined out to pitcher

Bottom 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- R. Belliard (.641) grounded out to shortstop
- R. Barajas (.737) flied out to right
J. Gibbons hit for O. Dotel
- J. Gibbons (Career .770) grounded out to second

Advantage: Madson

September 1, @ Los Angeles

Bottom 8th

R. Madson relieved J.C. Romero
- J. Carroll (.717) singled to shallow center
- A. Ethier (.866) flied out to center
- M. Kemp (.759) safe at first on shortstop J. Rollins' fielding error, J. Carroll to second
- J. Loney (.732) singled to deep right, J. Carroll scored, M. Kemp to second
- C. Blake (.746) grounded into double play shortstop to first, J. Loney out at second

Bottom 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
J. Gibbons hit for H. Kuo
- J. Gibbons (Career .770) flied out to shallow right
- R. Barajas (.734) struck out looking
- R. Theriot (.671) walked
- S. Podsednik (.737) struck out swinging

Advantage: Madson

September 4th, vs. Brewers

Top 8th

J.C. Romero relieved R. Halladay
- P. Fielder (.890) grounded out to second
R. Madson relieved J.C. Romero
- C. McGehee (.812) flied out to shallow left center
- C. Dickerson (Career .770) struck out swinging

Top 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- A. Escobar (.641) grounded out to third
M. Gamel hit for J. Lucroy
- M. Gamel (Career .760) struck out looking
G. Kottaras hit for C. Villanueva
- G. Kottaras (.731) flied out to deep center

Advantage: Romero+Madson

September 6th, vs. Marlins

Top 8th

J.C. Romero relieved R. Oswalt
- L. Morrison (.892) walked
R. Madson relieved J.C. Romero
- H. Ramirez (.868) lined out to left center
- D. Uggla (.875) struck out swinging
- C. Tracy (Career .785) grounded out to third

Top 9th

B. Lidge relieved R. Madson
- W. Helms (.688) struck out looking
- M. Stanton (.795) popped out to left center
E. Bonifacio hit for M. Rivera
- E. Bonifacio (.685) singled to shallow right
- E. Bonifacio to second on fielder's indifference
- S. Cousins (Career .789 Minor League OPS) struck out swinging

Advantage: Romero+Madson

While clearly not intentional, Charlie Manuel has done a good job managing the back end of his bullpen recently, generally using his best reliever (Madson) against the opposing team's best hitters. In 9 of the 11 games listed above, Madson has faced better hitters than Lidge has. Surely this has simply been because the meat of the opposing team's lineup has just happened to bat in the 8th inning, but sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good.