Ryan Madson has a pretty cool story. Cool in the wow, it's impressive how far you've come sort of way, not in the I want to do that way.
After missing a year due to Tommy John surgery and two more to its after-effects, Madson found himself back on the big league stage in the middle of a pennant race with everyone's favorite team, the Royals. Madson's recovery was impressive for a number of reasons: last year was his age 34/35 season, he was coming off the bane of all pitchers, and he was damn near elite.
Even with a story so great, it was a bit of a surprise when the A's inked the righty to a three year deal. While neither the years nor money are anything that would handicap an already financially handicapped team like the A's, the risk was obvious. Many relievers don't get 3 year deals, most that have gone under the knife are lucky to get one. Why did Madson earn such a long contract in spite of spotty recent history with his health?
Madson looks healthy
Ryan Madson started the regular season averaging 93 mph, finished averaging 96 mph (via @brooksbaseball) pic.twitter.com/4jWHpf828G— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) December 6, 2015
If this Tweet looks familiar, it's cause I stole it directly from Jeremy's article at the time of the signing. Thanks Jeremy!
While there's no exact science to predicting injuries, a drop in velocity is usually a telling sign something is wrong. Madson went the other way and seems to be fully healthy, handling the rigors of a big league season like a champ in 2015,. These things are of course subject to change in a tragic heartbeat, but indications are positive for the health of the righty.
Madson's career BB% (including 2015) is 7% but in 2015, Madson put up a career best 5.7% walk rate. Not only was he not walking hitters, he was throwing strikes at a higher rate (66% vs. 64% career). This is important as Madson struggled in hitters' counts, giving up an OPS of 1.012 in those situations. Obviously, hitters always hit better in hitters' counts but Madson is relatively bad in these situations with a 110 sOPS+ while behind in 2015. sOPS+ compares a split with the rest of the league meaning Madson is 10% worse in these scenarios. Throwing more strikes has had a twofold effect at keeping hitters off the basepaths as being ahead in the count is of supreme importance to Madson. Career, Madson has been in hitter's counts 34% of the time, but that number dropped to 29% in 2015.
Ground balls galore
Oakland projects to have solid infield defense in 2016, with Secretary of Defense Ron Washington hoping to turn the group into a collective picking machine. Groundballs can be a pitcher's best friend, sometimes being double plays and rarely being extra base hits. Madson induced groundballs 55% of the time in 2015, up nearly 7% from his career total of 48.3% (which includes 2015, so that difference is even greater).
Madson's elevated ability to throw strikes played a large part in the increase in groundballs. In 1-2 counts, Madson saw his groundball rate shoot up to 58% and in 0-2 counts it hit 60%. It's hard to say exactly why the count made such a difference for Madson and in particular in 2015 compared to his career, but it's noteworthy. Repeating his 2015 might have some dependence on his continued ability to get ahead of hitters.
Madson should also be an upgrade in the homerun department in 2015. The A's pen possessed an impressive ability to give up the long ball but baseball gods willing, that should change in 2016. Madson gave up just 5 last season, a number that bests the anyone from the 2015 pen on a per inning basis even though it doesn't represent Madson's best career work.
Not only did Madson induce more groundballs last season, his swing and miss rates remained solid on all his offerings.
|Pitch Outcomes - pre 2015|
|Pitch Outcomes - 2015|
Madson's K% (23.4%) was actually only the fourth highest of his career but it's still a solid number. The increased whiffs helped Madson get into pitcher's counts in which hitters managed a pathetic line of .109/.109/.120 in 92 plate appearances. In 121 two strike situations, hitters went .087/.157/.127.
The bullpen is an obvious place for the A's to take a huge step forward in 2016. Madson will be a key player for this year and the two following so his continued progression should be a key point of interest as spring rolls on and the season starts.