Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Friday, June 24, 2005

What's Wrong With Jon Lieber? 

… when asked to rank what the Phillies biggest off-season moves were, I didn’t hesitate to state that allowing Eric Milton to leave via free agency was a good decision, maybe the biggest. I also didn’t hesitate to praise their decision to sign Yankees hurler Jon Lieber to a three year deal. Lieber was a vastly under-rated pitcher who would thrive at Citizens, I believed. Now, nearly half-way through the 2005 campaign, I’m less than pleased with the decision. I tend to think Lieber will be fine, but if you were to ask me to grade the Phillies decisions in the off-season I’d grade Milton's walk an A and Lieber's signing a D.

Here’s why:

Lieber is currently a respectable 8-6, but his pitching stats reveal some problems:

ERA: 4.63
FIP: 5.47
WHIP: 1.31
K/9: 5.19
BB/9: 1.89
HR/9: 1.89

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I talk about defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings.

He’s surrendered 20 home runs and walks in 95 and a third innings so far this season. To get some comparison I note that Lieber surrendered 20 homers and 18 walks all last season (176 innings) with the Yankees. So Lieber is off. Here is what he did with the Yankees in 2004:

ERA: 4.33
FIP: 3.94
WHIP: 1.32
K/9: 5.19
BB/9: 0.92
HR/9: 1.01

WHIP, K’s and ERAs are basically in-line with one another, but Lieber has almost doubled his walks and home runs allowed. As a result he's running badly behind his FIP, a stark contrast to 2004 when he ran ahead of it.

What is particularly striking to me is the fact that one of the reasons I felt Lieber would prosper with the Phillies, his ability to get opposing batters to hit groundballs, is something he's mostly retained:

2005 G/F ratio: 1.35
2004 G/F ratio: 1.43

Fairly constant. The Phillies have also given Lieber a lot of help defensively. Lieber left a pretty poor defensive alignment in New York and joined a team that plays some pretty good D:

2005 DER: .733
2004 DER: .677

Lieber's getting pretty good play behind him, so his struggles aren't based on team play. I hate to concede it, but Lieber's problem appears to be partly his environment. Unlike Eric Milton, whose struggles were never adequately explained by his ballpark then or now, Lieber really does struggle at home as compared with the road:

Road / Home
ERA: 3.83 / 5.56
WHIP: 1.18 / 1.47
HR/9: 1.74 / 2.06
BB/9: 1.74 / 2.06

Lieber has surrendered 10 home runs and walks on the road and at home each, but he pitched eight fewer innings at home than the road. As I said, environment is partly to blame, but not entirely. Lieber's walks and home runs are badly off what he did in 2004. It might be unreasonable to expect Lieber to duplicate his ridiculously stingey walk total from '04, but his home runs are far too high.

So what's wrong with Lieber? Citizens hasn't been a whole lot of fun for him, but he's clearly off. Was 2004 a fluke for him? Is he suffering through arm trouble? We'll have to wait-and-see. Let's hope Lieber starts on the road to recovery tonight against the Red Sox.

Awesomely comprehensive breakdown, Mike. The one thing coming to most people's mind at the moment is fitness - Jason has mentioned it at Beerleaguer and there's been mention of it in the press. Here's hoping he can work on it for the second half.
I disagree with the fitness theory. Look at David Wells. He has pitched many seasons well despite, ahhh, how shall I put this? Despite making John Kruck look like an athlete.

Looking at some of Lieber's stats, we see that his HR/F % is a pretty amazingly high 17%. He's giving up less than 2 walks/9, so even with a higher walk rate, it's not that.

The league average of HR/F is about 11%. If you believe that it's been dumb luck that has converted more of his fly balls into home runs, then you have to be happy, and you must quickly scoop him up in your fantasy league, because if he regresses back to 11%, his second half numbers are going to be fantastic.

On the other hand, has he lost something? Hardball Times disn't keep track of this stat in 2004, so I don't really know what it was last year, or how consistent this stat is for certain players, or much of anything.

Last year, Lieber pitched in a park which was tough on runs. This year, he pitches in a run friendly park. Lat year, he only surrendered 1 HR in every 10 innings at home, and 1 every 7.5 innings on the road.

Now, his current pace is about 1 every 4.7 innings. I'm not saying he's that bad, but he was clearly helped out by the House that Ruth Built last year. I expect him to regress to clost to his away HR rate last year, or about 1 every 7.5, for the second half of the season.
MIke, it was not meant to be for Lieber tonight. I hope that the numbers that I see Padilla has put up bodes well for the Sox, too.
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