Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Ed Wade & Co. probably over-paid for Lieber, but I think they might be getting a decent-to-very good pitcher… This guy doesn't give free passes batters, which is a quality I like seeing in a Phillies pitcher.
As a Yankee in 2004, Lieber allowed 0.91 walks per nine innings pitched (BB/9). He actually allowed fewer walks (18) than Home Runs (20) as a Yankee and went 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA for the Bronx Bombers. What really grabbed my attention was the fact that Lieber’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was just 3.77. The lousy Yankees defense – .677 DER – turned in behind Lieber cost him some runs. Generally, Lieber was a pitcher who didn’t give up walks or home runs, and while he may not have gotten many strikeouts, he kept the ball on the ground and gave the fielders a chance to make some outs. Lieber’s 1.43 ground-ball / fly-ball ratio was one of the best in the majors. I looked at the Phillies need for a ground-ball pitcher, their terrific defensive alignment, and thought that Lieber would be a good fit.
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).
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: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
Lieber’s first year as a Phillie was interesting … after a rough start prior to the All-Star Break (8-8, 5.09), Lieber settled down and seemed to adjust to being the Philles workhorse quite well, going 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA down the stretch. Lieber had surrendered 23 home runs, 26 walks and got 69 strikeouts in 111 innings of work. In the second half, Lieber gave up just 10 home runs, 15 walks and got 80 strikeouts in virtually the same number of innings. Hope were high that Lieber’s 2006 campaign would be just as good. It was not to be … After a terrible 4-8 start, Lieber missed the entire month of June and finished the season 9-11 with a 4.93 ERA. With the decline in the Phillies defense (in Lieber’s case the DER behind him went from .722 to .697), Lieber's method of getting hitters to ground into double plays and routine 6-3 groundouts proved fatal to his success on the mound.
Moved to the bullpen to make room for Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia, Lieber hurled just two and one-thirds of an inning before returning to the rotation when the team sent Brett Myers to the bullpen to bolster a terrible meltdown the team had in the ‘pen. In stepped Lieber and he immediately went to work, going 2-2 with a 2.50 ERA in six starts for the Phillies. Simply put, Lieber has been spectacular since he moved from the bullpen to the rotation, almost an entirely different pitcher from the veteran who has been such a disappointment until now … As I write this Jon Lieber has the lowest ERA of any Phillies starting pitcher. His stats are astonishing:
Are the numbers real or a mirage? Credit lays with the Phillies defense, or random luck, depending on one’s point of view … If you want to credit the Phillies defense, the story goes from here: the Phillies are playing superb defense behind Lieber these days. The team DER behind Lieber is an astonishing .734, .037 higher than it was last season and higher even than in 2005. As a consequence, the Phillies defenders are masking some ordinary stats from Lieber. His walks allowed are actually far worse than in seasons past (1.69 BB/9 in 2005, and 1.29 BB/9 in 2006), and his strikeouts are pretty much in-line with the rest of his career stats. For the first time in years, Lieber’s ERA is actually better than his FIP ERA: 3.00 to 4.18. In previous seasons, Lieber always had an ERA that lagged his FIP:
No longer. If you subscribe to the belief that a pitcher has no impact whatsoever on his defense behind him, and that what players behind a pitcher do is utterly random, then Lieber hasn’t improved at all … On the other hand, if you believe that sometimes a pitcher impacts what players do behind him, then there are a few things to note. First is that Lieber is giving his fielders tremendous opportunities in the field. Consider how often the Phillies have been turning the double play behind Lieber …
Double Plays Induced per Nine Innings:
That is a substantial jump and not easily explained away by not giving Lieber credit. . His 1.43 ground-ball / fly-ball ratio in 2004 was clearly a factor that impressed the Phillies and led to his massive contract in 2004. This year has been the best year of Lieber’s life in terms of inducing grounders: 1.78, far better than his 1.29 in 2005 and 1.23 in 2006 … in fact, he hasn’t been this good at it since 1997, when his G/F ratio was 1.81.
Importantly, Lieber has also taken steps to lower the number of home runs he’s allowed, his main Achilles Heel as a Phillie. His slugging percentage allowed (.410) is the lowest he’s had since he was a member of the Chicago Cubs in 2001 (.401). By not allowing the long ball, he’s really giving the Phillies a chance to win:
So I guess it is all a matter of perspective. Personally, I want to think that Lieber has improved a lot and is going to keep pitching like this. My gut tells me that Lieber will regress to the mean as the season wears on and that his ERA will climb towards 4.00. That may happen, but at the moment he’s turning in a great performance. Let’s sit back and watch…