Earlier this season, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost caught some flack for his bullpen management in a game against the Detroit Tigers. Yost, who has never been considered an in-game savant, used reliever Ryan Madson instead of closer Greg Holland in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road. The Big Book of Old School Manager Decisions dictates that managers limit their closer to a save situation in these games, while just about everyone else wants the closer in the dang game already.
We already know the rest. Madson threw four pitches, and Ian Kinsler hit a walk-off home run. The Royals still won the World Series. Ned Yost. Championship manager. It's a brave new world.
Despite that minor hiccup, Madson had an excellent 2015 season. He limited opponents to a 2.13 ERA in 63 1/3 innings, and struck out 4.14 batters for every walk. Now a free agent, the 35-year-old is looking to cash in. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported that the Tigers are one team interested in Madson, along with several other relievers.
Who is he?
Madson was originally selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the ninth round of the 1998 MLB Draft. He began his minor league career as a starter, but broke into the majors in Philadelphia's bullpen in 2003. He put up a solid 2.34 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 77 innings in 2004, but struggled to a 5.08 ERA and 4.54 FIP over the next two seasons. Madson spent part of that time as a starter, but transitioned to the bullpen for good in 2007. Over the next five seasons, he would put up a 146 ERA+ and 5.7 WAR, a decent total for a non-closer.
Then, the wheels came off. A free agent at the time, Madson saw a potential four-year deal with the Phillies unravel at the last minute. He signed a one-year contract with the Reds, but underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2012, missing the entire season. It took until Aug. 2013 for Madson to return to a mound, but he only made one appearance, a scoreless inning in the Angels' farm system. Still having elbow pains, Madson took the 2014 season off before signing with Kansas City last winter.
Why should we care?
When healthy, Madson has been an excellent reliever throughout his career. He was a key part of the Phillies' bullpen during their reign atop the NL East in the late 2000s, and rebounded nicely with the Royals in 2015. For his career, Madson has a 2.94 ERA and 3.26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in relief appearances, holding opponents to a .242 batting average and .300 on-base percentage.
If we focus on 2015, the results are even more encouraging. Madson's 4.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the second-best of his career, while his 5.7 percent walk rate was a career-low. His fastball averaged 94.9 miles per hour according to Brooks Baseball, just a tick lower than the 95.2 miles per hour he averaged in 2011. He held opponents to a .153 batting average on his changeup, and even introduced a new pitch, throwing his previously seldom-used cutter nearly 20 percent of the time. The cutter helped him induce a 55 percent ground ball rate, while the changeup was a big reason behind a 13.1 percent swinging strike rate.
Why should we stay away?
Everything in Madson's 2015 numbers suggest he's a great signing for a Tigers team that sorely lacks good bullpen arms. There's just this thing.
Yeah, that. Madson pitched one inning -- one inning -- from 2012 to 2014. His major league numbers say 2009, 2010, 2011, full stop, 2015. Missing a season due to injury is one thing, but missing three? That's unheard of, and a big red flag no matter how good Madson's numbers were in 2015. He took nearly two seasons to come back from Tommy John surgery, and was throwing in the high-80s when he finally did return to the mound in 2013. Now 35, Madson's durability is a major concern.
Will he end up in Detroit?
General manager Al Avila has not been shy about where his scope is pointed this offseason, openly admitting some of the players the Tigers are targeting. He has said all the right things about fixing the bullpen, and seems to be open to anything. Adding someone like Madson or San Diego's Shawn Kelley on a multi-year deal seems inevitable at this point given how aggressively the Tigers are attacking the free agent market. Madson's age and injury history are a concern, but his upside is as high as anyone else available.