When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did so primarily on the strength of their bullpen. With a weak starting rotation, the Phillies shortened games by bringing in reliever after reliever that could shut down the opposition for a single inning. One of those relievers was right-hander, Ryan Madson.

Since then, Madson has honed his skills and continued developing into an elite reliever. Under the tutelage of pitching coach, Rich Dubee, and fellow relievers like closer, Brad Lidge, Madson has developed into one of the game’s most dominant set-up men. Regulated to the eighth inning, Madson has become the major foundation for a bullpen that was once known as “the Bridge to Lidge.”

With free agency looming in the near future, the Phillies find themselves in a peculiar situation. With the potential of losing both Madson and Lidge after this season, the Phillies need to act now and sign Madson to a contract extension sooner, rather than later.

In 2010, Madson was easily one of the league’s most effective set-up me. He posted a record of 6-2 with an ERA of 2.55 and dominated nearly every controllable aspect of the game when he was in it. He struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings, while walking just over two. In fact, his 10.87 K/9 was the 12th best in the National League, and he matched that with a BB/9 of just 2.21, 10th best in the National League. Plain and simple, it was just a challenge to hit him. Opponents hit just .219 against Madson, and over the course of the entire season, he logged a WHIP of just 1.04, 10th best in the National League among relievers.

What makes Madson so good? On the surface, it seems to be the natural progression of a professional ball player. As he’s garnered experience at the major league level, he’s become one of the league’s top relievers. However, Madson boasts an impressive repertoire of pitches, the best of which is a fastball / change-up combo.

The most common use of his fastball is of the four-seam variety, averaging 93mph in the strikezone, with the ability to touch anywhere between 95-98mph on the gun. Mix that in with a phenomenal change-up that, at one point in time, was classified as a curveball, and it becomes simple to see why Madson has become a strikeout artist.

However, a further look at the data collected on Madson’s pitches from 2010 may explain the boost in his numbers.

In 2009, a season that saw Madson post a record of 5-5 with an ERA if 3.26, Madson threw his fastball a career high 65.5 percent of the time and mixed in his change-up 25 percent of the time. Having thrown just two pitches a total of 90.5 percent of the time, it’s simple to see why opposing hitters were able to sit on one of his two best pitches—the fastball or the change-up.

In 2010, he made a complete change to his style, lowering the use of his fastball to just 39.8 percent, while continuing the use of his best pitch—the change-up. At the suggestion of Dubee, Madson began using two other pitches in his arsenal—the slider and cutter—with more frequency. Now having above average control over four pitches, as opposed to two, Madson was able to post a career high in his rate of strikeouts and FIP and generate 1.3 WAR as a reliever.

With the Phillies potentially losing their strongest relievers after the season, they should implore to offering Madson a contract extension now. But where should they begin?

In 2009, Madson agreed to sign a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies, so in any deal, he will look to top that. Represented by Scott Boras, Madson will not be an easy sign and even tougher to convince to sign a contract extension. With one of the craftiest agents in baseball in tow, and by taking a quick glance at his career numbers, Boras would have no problem marketing his client as a closer, raising his value considerably. The Phillies, when negotiating a contract extension, would have no part of that.

When Lidge went down with several injuries in 2009 and 2010, Madson became the team’s closer by commission. Many within Philadelphia questioned the reliever’s mental make-up, as he blew an incredible 11 saves in limited opportunities over that span. While he has been, without a doubt, one of the best set-up men around, the Phillies would not entertain the fact that Boras will attempt to market him as a closer. Before he hits the open market and has the opportunity to close elsewhere, the Phillies would be wise to offer him a lucrative contract extension. There are no guarantees in the open market, as Lidge has proved.

One of the most notable comparisons was a deal signed this offseason. As the best set-up man on the market in 2010, Joaquin Benoit cashed in with the Detroit Tigers, signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal. Though the deal was seen as an overpay by the Tigers, Benoit posted many stats that almost mirror Madson’s 2010 season and may have set his market.

With the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, Benoit posted a record of 1-2, with an ERA of 1.34 as the Rays set-up man. Though he posted K/9 (11.19), BB/9 (1.64), FIP (2.43) and WAR’s (1.5) that were all superior to Madson’s numbers, the Phillies’ right hander has one thing that Benoit did not—Boras.

Unless the Phillies are willing to offer a deal that pays his client market value, he won’t be interested in signing. Having previewed the market, however, he will have noticed the relief class of 2012 is extremely strong, featuring more closers than teams in need. Anyone that even remotely understands business knows that a greater supply than demand does not usually mean good business.

The Phillies could offer Madson a deal of three years, $17 million; a deal that is almost exactly the same as Benoit’s deal. Both parties benefit from a contract extension. Madson is comfortable going into the season, and the Phillies have some consistency going forward. With Lidge’s 2012 contract option surely to hefty to exercise, the Phillies have a safety net should their venture for a closer on the open market fail.

If the Phillies are going to compete moving forward, Madson is a much more valuable commodity than originally meets the eye, and the Phillies could benefit by extending him a contract offer now.

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