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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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Waiting for Jon Lieber... 

When the Phillies signed former Cub and Yankee free agent Jon Lieber to a three-year deal following the 2004 campaign I was certain that the Phils had gotten a bargain. Lieber was a groundball pitcher who was absurdly accurate on the mound: second in the AL in pitches in the strike-zone in 2004 (59.8% to Curt Schilling’s 61.9%). Lieber allowed just 1.02 Home Runs per nine innings pitched and 0.91 walks per nine innings with the Yankees in 2004. If he could duplicate, or come close to equaling that for the Phillies, he’d be worth every penny, I felt. Lieber was always, consistently, a pitcher who did well keeping runners off the base paths. (See, his career WHIP totals, courtesy of Fangraphs.com)

I was rather disappointed by Lieber’s 2004 campaign, but I noted that once Lieber settled in and began to get comfortable, he turned into a new pitcher after the All-Star break, one who kept cheap base-runners off the base-paths and who allowed few home runs.

This season I was once more disappointed, though not by Lieber’s performance. Lieber began the season surrendering just five home runs in fifty-two and a third innings (0.86 per 9 innings), before getting shelled with six home runs in thirteen innings prior to going on the 15-Day DL on May 30. Even after giving up four walks to the Mets on May 24, Lieber still was allowing 1.24 per nine innings (the Mets game nearly doubled the number of walks allowed by Lieber from five to nine).

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to 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).
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

I couldn’t help but think that the team could have really used Lieber in the month of June and that his absence was a major reason why the team pitching collapsed in the month. Here is a quick overview of how the Phillies pitching went south in June:

April / May / June
HR / 9: 1.09 / 1.27 / 1.28
BB / 9: 3.33 / 3.18 / 3.84
K / 9: 6.89 / 7.03 / 6.08

Now here are Lieber’s numbers:

HR / 9: 1.52
BB / 9: 1.24
K / 9: 5.79

Okay, keep in mind the fact that six of the eleven home runs Lieber surrendered in 2006 were in a three-game / thirteen-inning time-frame, and that four of the nine walks were in a single game. I think that once Lieber returns from the DL he is going to have a tremendous impact because he is going to turn in a terrific performance doing what he does best: keeping guys off the base-paths, keeping the ball in the park and letting the Phillies fielders make plays. Which brings me to another point: Lieber isn’t a strikeout artist. He lets batters put the ball into play with weak pop-flies off of his sliders and allows the Phillies fielders to make the outs. The Phillies struggles defensively are making Lieber look weaker than he really is: Lieber’s FIP ERA is 4.58, 1.21 lower than his “real” ERA of 5.79. Okay, 4.58 isn’t great, but most of that was inflated by the Mets game and the Red Sox game where he gave up three home runs.

Get well soon, Jon. This team needs you!

Phils do miss Lieber but he is at best a 3 or 4 starter on a decent team. His rehab starts haven't looked good and a fat, old pitcher with a groin injury doesn't give me alot of optimism regarding his return later this month.
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