His ability was rarely in doubt, but the thought of him making his presence felt again seemed a long way off. Then last season rolled around.
In 1998, right-hander Ryan Madson was drafted in the ninth round by the Philadelphia Phillies, where he wound up pitching through 2011. Nine of those years came at the major league level, and while he did make 18 starts in that time framea��17 in ’06a��Madson was, first and foremost, a reliever.
In his 630 innings for the Phillies, he finished with a 3.59 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 7.8 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9a��not overwhelming stuff by any stretch, but valuable nonetheless. Good relievers aren’t always easy to find, and consistently good ones have become a commodity. Just ask the Kansas City Royals.
In his final season with Philadelphia, Madson upped his value in a big way by closing out 32 games. While closers arguably shouldn’t be a thing and the save is an unnecessary statistica��sort of like win-loss records for starters, or pitchers in generala��it’s a way for plenty of relievers to make a lot more money than they normally would have.
Madson was on the cusp of such a deal while negotiating to re-sign with Philadelphia until Ruben Amaro, Jr. snatched up Jonathan Papelbon instead. Drew Storen knows a thing or two about Papelbon taking his spot. So Madson moved on, signing with the Reds to be their closer for one year. Instead of upping his value on a one-year deal, Madson would miss the entire 2012 season and undergo Tommy John surgery instead.
In fact, his final game with Philadelphia on September 28, 2011 would be his final professional game until 2015. After his surgery, Madson was released by the Reds, signed by the Angels in November 2012, and released the following August without appearing in a single game for them. Nobody was interested in him enough to put pen to paper ahead of the 2014 campaign, so he retired.
But if there was any club that was ever going to get the best out of Madson again, it just had to be the Royalsa��the defending champions who have put on a bullpen clinic in each of the past two seasons. Signed to a minor league pact, Madson would only end up costing Kansas City $850,000 in 2015, and his numbers would just about be better across the board than his best overall season in Philadelphia: 2.13 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 8.2 K/9, and 2.0 BB/9 over 63.1 innings.
So, what was next for Madson at the age of 35? Another one-year flier? Perhaps a one-year contract with the possibility of two or three through options?
This past December, the Oakland Athletics would strike a three-year deal with the reliever to the tune of $22 million. Would he be the closer? Not necessarily, that distinction still seemed to belong to Sean Doolittle until proven otherwise. A few days later, Oakland signed another proven late-innings relievera��John Axforda��two a $10 million pact over two years. Perhaps they were going with a closer by committee approach; maybe they were just giving themselves cover.
Well, with the numbers we have, they were wise to sign both. Eight innings of work have produced worrying signs for Doolittle. He’s walking more batters than ever before, getting hit around more than ever before, and striking out fewer than ever before. Axford has been perfect through ten innings, while Madson has racked up seven saves in seven appearances with a 1.86 ERA, 1.69 FIP, 7.4 K/9, and 0.9 BB/9.
But it’s early for everyone. And while Madson’s true rebirth began with the Royals, perhaps he’s going to get all that lost time back after all.