Solving the Brad Lidge Puzzle
In the case of Brad Lidge, there seem to be two questions: confidence and mechanics. For example, Phil Garner has alluded to bad "karma" and catcher, Brad Ausmus, has mentioned a change in mechanics that has affected Lidge's performance. Of course, the fans and others have their opinions as well.
Looking at the stats, Lidge's WHIP did make a downward turn in 2007, but his K/9 (although healthy at 11.82) and BB/9 have been going in the wrong direction. Before jumping off the deep end, however, we have to realize that Lidge is still pretty good. Keith Law, for instance, argues that Houston should have got more in return in their recent trade with Philadelphia. Lidge's stats are on the decline partly because his 2004-05 seasons were so totally dominant. When you're at the "top", there is usually only one way to go.
But what if Lidge could stay at the peak of his game? This brings us back to confidence and mechanics.
Most of us remember this - Albert Pujols' 3-run game winner off Lidge in the 2005 NLCS:
Without getting into specifc speculation about Brad Lidge, I just want to present some objective information from the world of Sports Psychology. There is something called attentional focus that directly relates to each person's ability to concentrate. Subsequently, there are a number of internal distractors which can deter focus, and one of these distractors is attending to past events.
When a player gets pre-occupied with past performances (or mechanics, which we'll get to) it can cause performance to suffer. Here is a good illustration:
Ideal attentional focus is shown at the top. But if a player is thinking about too many things - like the crowd, past peformance, mechanics, etc. - then his focus is too broad (middle). Conversely, his focus may be too narrow (bottom) if he doesn't consider critcal information about his situation (ie. read the scouting report).
Here is a look at Lidge in 2005 and 2007:
Below is a 4 minute video comparison with my commentary on Lidge's mechanics from the 2005 and 2007 seasons. Click the "play" button:
Opponents still aren't getting great looks off of Lidge, as evidenced by a .222 BAA in 2007, but since 2005, Lidge is walking about one more and striking out one less batter per nine innings. Perhaps most telling, though, is that Lidge is giving up double the HR/9 over the last two years. Judging by Ausmus' comments, it appears that the main issue is with the slider. Ausmus says other batters are getting a better look at his slider and the video seems to back this up. So if they are laying off a bit more and jumping on more mistakes, this makes some sense.
Also on the slider, I mentioned in the video that the 2005 Lidge should, in theory, create more arm speed. If this is true, it may serve to create more/tighter spin on the slider which would equate to a sharper break. Combine this with a bit more deception, and maybe Lidge is right back to his old position as a dominant closer.
If I was in the position of an organization such as Philadephia, these are exactly the types of players I would try to pick up - players that still have the ability, but whose "stock" might be slightly down. Especially when you can pick out elements of change and try to help them get back to things that they have already done in the past, rather than attempt to create new changes. From that standpoint, I have to say I like this move by Philly.