Appreciating Ryan Madson’s Dominant Years


Even though he was replaced by a new $50 million toy, seeing Ryan Madson leave Philadelphia this offseason left a lot of people broken-hearted, myself included. If it seemed like Madson had been around forever like a good old friend, it’s because that’s true—he was one of the only ten remaining players from the 2008 World Series team. Settling into the role of big-time closer on a contending club was perhaps the best way he could have ended his tenure here in Philly.

Of course, things weren’t always that swell for Madson. Early on he had a rather unsuccessful stint as a starter, akin to an awkward teenager trying figure out his identity. Then there was the whole “closer mentality” business (continually serving as a joke among saber-minded Phillies bloggers) which included a trip to the DL after breaking his toe when he kicked a chair out of frustration.

Thankfully, Madson probably won’t be remembered for that stuff, and rightfully so. After dropping his curveball altogether and sticking with a fastball/changeup combo, he became one of the game’s premier set-up men and finally ended up as an elite closer. Dating back to 2008, he sports a ridiculously low 2.85 SIERA—topped only by names such as Mariano Rivera, Jonathon Papelbon, and Mike Adams.

How does this stretch fare against the all-time Phillies greats? With a little help from Fangraphs and Baseball Reference’s Play Index, I was able to pull together some data to help answer this question. Below is a chart that details the best four-year stretches from Philadelphia’s most famous relievers (min 50 games per season). Yes, the four-year timeframe is an admittedly arbitrary window, but it does allow us to view Madson’s peak relative to those who came before him. Click to enlarge:

Note: these results are sorted by FIP-, or adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching. It is a metric that tells us how a pitcher performed relative to the rest of his league, with 100 being average, below 100 being better, and above 100 being worse. This adjustment is useful for comparing seasons across different eras in baseball. For instance, Madson’s 70 FIP- indicates that he was 30% better than league average at things pitchers have most control over. ERA- is interpreted in the same manner.

So when we make the criteria into a four-year peak, Madson comes out on top. His stretch leads in both FIP- and ERA- by a pretty significant margin. The names on this list aren’t nobodies, either. That he come out ahead of the likes of Tug McGraw and Ron Reed in these useful statistical categories speaks loudly of his accomplishments. Like I said, the arbitrary four-year span is certainly tailored to make Madson look better, and I am also purposely ignoring longevity. It’s because of these things that I dare not make any sort of claim that he is the best Phillies reliever of all time. Perhaps if Amaro exhibited a bit more patience and actually ended up signing Madson to a four year deal, he would have had a shot at that title. But the numbers don’t lie—Madson had a string of purely dominant years that rank with the all-time Phillies greats.

We’ll miss you, Mad Dog.