Closer: Making the case for Brad Lidge
Brad Lidge had the best season a Phillies closer ever had.
Period. End of discussion. Case closed.
Lidge was perfect in 2008, going 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season and 7-for-7 in the postseason, including the World Series clincher. You can't do any better than that.
The question of whether that makes him the best Phillies closer ever, though, is a trickier.
"His one year was better than Tug McGraw's [best] year, if you want to put it that way," said veteran analyst Chris Wheeler. "But now you go back [and realize] that Tug pitched three innings. Go back and look at that postseason. See how many times he pitched two innings, three innings.
"Tug's year in '80 was unbelievable, but he blew saves. He lost games. This guy had a perfect season. So for one year, Brad Lidge. Has to be. If you match Tug's greatest year with the Phillies to what Lidge did last year, it's Lidge.
"Now, if you go for a career, I can't answer that yet."
Ultimately, that's what it boils down to: Whether more weight is placed on the apex of each reliever's career or if longevity is given more importance.
One of the first moves former Phillies general manager Ed Wade made after being hired as Astros GM was to trade Lidge and Eric Bruntlett to the Phils for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo.
"Brad clearly had the greatest single season of any closer in the history of the franchise and could end up as the best to ever wear the uniform. I would have to think that Tug McGraw's overall contribution to the franchise would have to clearly make it a pretty good debate as to who is the best," Wade said, summing up the dilemma.
Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi also had mixed emotions. "He definitely was last year. In Phillies history? There's nobody ever had a year like that. But I think if you're going to say the best all-time, you have to do it more than 1 year, so that would be a question mark for me," he said.
Added Dodgers scout Lee Elia, who was a coach for the 1980 world championship team: "He'd have to be considered because the guy went perfecto. It's so hard to be perfect in this business. But I'm partial. We always felt good when Tug came in. We knew Tug was going to do it."
Even Charlie Manuel, who directly benefited from Lidge's lights-out season, hedged slightly. "On a 1-year basis he is. I mean, the year that he had and the way he went about it and what he did and what we accomplished and the role he played in that, for 1 year, yes. But you've got to go back to the consistent part about it," the manager said.
From Phillies chairman Bill Giles:
"I would say Tug McGraw, although 4 years from now I might change my mind. Tug [over Steve Bedrosian because he] did it for more years. Bedrosian had the one super year where he won the Cy Young, but I always think of Tug as the best."
From current hitting coach Milt Thompson, a Phillies outfielder from 1986-88 and 1993-94:
"I'm not ready to make that nod yet. I mean, he had a great year last year. We can't go on what he did in Houston. We're talking about Philly. So after one year we can't give him the nod yet. It's still Bedrock [Bedrosian]."
To be considered the Phillies' best closer, Brad Lidge would be judged against these five:
1. Tug McGraw. Ya Gotta Believe that Tugger, whose strikeout of Willie Wilson to end the 1980 World Series might still be the defining moment in franchise history, is fourth on the all-time list in saves (94) second in wins in relief (49).
2. Steve Bedrosian. Closer from 1986 until traded to Giants in 1989. Second all-time with 103 saves, including winning Cy Young Award in 1987.
3. Jim Konstanty. Had only one superlative season, but what a year. Went 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA, allowed 108 hits in 152 innings and was voted NL MVP for 1950 Whiz Kids.
4. Jose Mesa. Joe Table still holds the club record for saves with 112.
5. Mitch Williams. Before he became a media star, "Wild Thing" saved 102 games for the Phillies from 1991 to '93.
Honorable mention: Ricky Bottalico, Al Holland, Ron Reed, Billy Wagner
MITCH WILLIAMS ON BRAD LIDGE
"I don't know if anybody remembers this. But at the beginning of the '07 season, when Brad Lidge was struggling with the Astros, I was on "Daily News Live" and the question was asked, did I think the Phillies should get Brad Lidge if they had the chance?
"And I said, 'Hell, yes.' Because he had one of the best arms around. And he also has a great temperament. The only problem he was having then was that he threw everything down. I don't care how nasty your stuff is, if you throw everything in the same place, it's going to be hittable.
"Now he's moving it up and down. If you throw a 96 mile-an-hour fastball up and then a disappearing slider, the hitter has no chance.
"He's the best closer the Phillies have ever had. Even after 1 year. Because he was perfect and you can't improve on that. And there's no reason why he can't do it for 3 more years. He might blow a few saves, but so what?
"When I was closing, I thought if I converted 80 percent of the save opportunities, I was doing my job. And I still think that's good. (Laughing) But 100 percent is better. If I'm doing my [math] right, it's about 20 percent better.
"It's hard for me to imagine being perfect. And you have to be a little lucky, too. I remember a game in Atlanta where Shane Victorino threw a guy out at the plate. That was a blown save waiting to happen, but Victorino threw a perfect strike.
"The other thing you have to look at is who's catching Lidge. If he didn't have Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz, blocking that slider in the dirt, he couldn't pitch the way he does.
"Blocking a slider is a nightmare because it doesn't just hit and bounce straight up. There's so much spin on it that it shoots one way or the other. But even with a guy on third, he has no hesitation to throw that pitch. Those catchers allow Brad Lidge to be as good as he is."