Brad Lidge, as most fans know, is a power pitcher. If you sit down and talk baseball with him, you will learn that he is also a technician and a bit of philosopher. Blessed with an overpowering slider, the Phillies closer has had a spectacular, albeit somewhat tumultuous, career, having logged 200 saves and a 12.2 K/9 rate that is unsurpassed in big-league annals. Drafted by the Astros, in 1998, Lidge grew up in Englewood, Colorado and played his college ball at Notre Dame.
David Laurila: Is data important to you on the mound, or do you mostly just go after hitters with your best stuff?
Brad Lidge: I’m aware of it, but I don’t know that I use it a lot. Hopefully it will take care of itself, but there are definitely trends with certain guys where you start to face them enough and know, “All right, this is a bad pitch with this guy,” or “I know I can go this pitch with that guy.” But mostly I just go out there with my stuff. I get everything where I want it to be in the pen and then come into the game. And situations are huge. Like any closer, if it’s a three-run lead, you know you’ve got to go right after guys and not walk anybody. If it’s a one-run game, you still don’t want to walk anybody, but at the same time you don’t want to give up that solo bomb, either.
DL: Given that pitchers aren’t machines, I assume that “getting everything where I want it to be” in the bullpen isn’t always that simple?
BL: That’s very true. Sometimes you have a lot less time to get ready than other times. Basically, you’ve got to have the knowledge that you have eight more pitches [on the game mound] and the interesting thing is that, honestly, a lot of times you’ll be warming up and feeling really good, and you come in the game and it’s not the same. Or you’re just awful warming up, and all of a sudden you get into the game and it locks itself in. It’s hard to explain, but I think that anybody pitching out of the bullpen can tell you that.
DL: How important are the eight pitches you get on the game mound?
BL: I think they’re very important because you have to kind of recalibrate yourself. The mounds in the bullpen are not quite the same, always, as the ones in the game, so you get out there and have to recalibrate stuff, and get yourself going where you need to be.
DL: Where is your intensity level on those eight pitches?
BL: It’s very high. When you’re warming up in the bullpen, you’re doing just that; you’re getting your arm ready to throw. When you’re using those eight pitches, you’re getting yourself locked into what you’re going to be doing in that inning.
DL: Do you always throw the same sequence of pitches to get ready?
BL: Most of the time, yeah. Most the time it’s going to be somewhere around five fastballs and three sliders, or if I’m feeling real loose, it might be four fastballs and two sliders.
DL: If your slider isn’t sharp in the bullpen, do you ever throw more of them on the mound to see if you can find it?
BL: Yeah, or I might throw more just so I can get it sharper. But sometimes it’s not feeling great warming up, so you get in there and allow yourself a couple more, warming up on the game mound, to make sure that it’s ready when the inning starts. And honestly, even if it’s not [sharp] when the hitter steps in the batters’ box, you get a little surge of adrenaline and sometimes that can be just what you need to get the right action on it—to get the best out of it.
DL: Is there a perfect level of adrenaline for you?
BL: No. I do know, though, that the adrenaline that you get is a great thing as soon as you learn how to control it. Your first year or two in the big leagues, and maybe the first time you pitch in a playoff game, it’s hard to control. But after you get used to it, then you really enjoy it and it’s a great feeling.
DL: Is it hard for a closer to throw with a three-run lead?
BL: No. I think you still know what’s on the line. With a one-run lead, obviously you have to be sharp right away. With a three-run lead, you don’t necessarily have to, but it sure would be nice if you were. For me, I try to keep the same mindset, like it’s the same situation. Be aggressive, attack the hitter, and don’t make mistakes.
DL: There is a school of thought that anyone with good stuff can be a closer. Do you agree with that?
BL: I don’t, just because I’ve seen a lot of guys that have good stuff —real good stuff—and for some reason it doesn’t translate into the ninth. It’s not for lack of stuff, but sometimes they’re not as comfortable, or for whatever reason it just doesn’t work as well for them. There’s a lot that goes into that last inning—those last three outs. The other team knows it’s those last three outs, that they have no more chances after that.
DL: How would you describe your slider?
BL: I would say it’s more of a pitch that has downward action instead of lateral action. For me, that’s a big key. When I throw that pitch, I want it to look just like my fastball, and I have to make sure that my release point, my body, my arm speed—everything—is the exact same as my fastball so that the hitter will swing like it’s a fastball. Then, hopefully, when I’m throwing it good, the hitters don’t pick up the spin on it like a normal slider. For some reason it spins a little different—at least hitters have told me that it does. I think that’s why I’ve been fortunate to be able to use it in my career.
DL: To what extent can you control the break on your slider?
BL: How much it breaks is tough, but you can definitely control it if it is the one you’re throwing for a strike or the one you’re throwing below the strike zone. So, I think that location, you can control. The depth of the break is a little bit harder to control, but you almost have to see how the hitters are reacting sometimes to know how much it’s breaking.
DL: Mechanically, what are the keys to a slider?
BL: For me, I try to hold it the exact same way as my fastball, the difference being that on my fastball I try to get pure backspin on the ball, and on my slider I try to get over the top as much as I can to get more of a topspin. When it is getting that topspin, almost like a curveball, it’s harder to pick up the spin because hitters see lateral spin different from topspin and backspin, but topspin and backspin kind of look the same. I think that a big key on the slider is not to come around it and get lateral break, because a hitter can pick up the lateral spin on the ball.
DL: Do you know as soon as it leaves your hand if it’s a good slider or not?
BL: Pretty close. That and you can see the hitter start to go for it, and you know if you feel that snap coming off your fingers—that pull down on the pitch—and they start going, you know they’re going to swing and miss. Mostly, it’s just that you get the grip, and as you loosen up in the bullpen, the break gets more and more how you want it. Really, I think if you throw it enough times, it’s just kind of there. In your mind, you’re thinking slider, and then you just grip it and throw it. You’re thinking about where you’re going to throw it as opposed to what you’re going to do when you throw it.
DL: Changing direction a bit, what is the meaning of baseball?
BL: Baseball to me is, and will always be, America’s pastime. I think baseball is still a sport that requires patience, not just from the players but from the fans. I think that’s why it’s such a great sport, because all the other things seem to get fast and faster—more offense, more offense. Maybe you can design a field smaller, or something like that, but at the same time, baseball is what it is. It doesn’t change. It requires patience and I think that in our day and age that’s a good thing for people to watch.
DL: Is baseball important to the grander scheme of things?
BL: It’s as important as you want it to be. I think, for some people, it means everything, and for other people, it doesn’t mean as much. That’s even true for players. But at the same time, baseball as a whole is super important to our country because it’s…like I said, it’s our country’s pastime. It’s one of the first things that brought tons of people to watch a game being played.
DL: From your perspective, how many players come into the clubhouse each day thinking, “I get to play a game,” as opposed to, “I’m coming to work”?
BL: I think that most guys come to the clubhouse feeling that they need to prepare themselves for their job that night. When you’re winning, it’s a lot more fun than when you’re losing, and it kind of feels like you’re just playing a game when you’re winning. When you’re losing, you feel more like, “OK, we need to prepare ourselves tonight for the job we have and we need to find a way to win.” It becomes more of a job sometimes when you’re not doing well.
DL: A lot of guys with similar talent either make it in this game or they don’t. Can you recognize intangibles when you see them?
BL: Yeah, you can. There are definitely some guys that have a confidence or an arrogance about them, not necessarily off the field, but while they’re pitching or while they’re hitting. You see other guys with a lot more talent that, for whatever reason, their abilities just don’t get them as far as they should. Obviously, there are injuries and stuff like that, but absolutely, there are guys with less ability that end up getting to the big leagues. I know that everybody uses this example, but look at David Eckstein. I’m sure that when he was coming up through the minor leagues, he was talented, but I’m also sure there were players with a lot more ability that he just flew right by because he had that desire and that confidence.
DL: To close, how would you describe yourself?
BL: Someone who cares a lot about winning games and being a good teammate. Baseball for me is not everything, but it is what I do, so I want to be the absolute best at it that I can.
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