Thursday, January 24, 2008
When Jon Lieber signed with the Phillies in 2004 I applauded the move, though I had reservations about Lieber’s health. Lieber, in his three years with the Phillies largely did what I figured he’d do: he didn’t surrender a lot of walks (1.69 BB/9 in ’05, 1.28 in ’06 and 2.54 in ’07), he was pretty good about home runs (1.29 HR/9 from ’05 to ’07), and he got lots and lots of ground balls (681 groundballs to 524 flyballs, or a 1.30 G/F ratio, between ’05 and ’07). The high number of grounders would be the key to Lieber’s success in Philadelphia I felt after seeing what pitching at Citizens Bank Ballpark did to a number of the Phillies pitchers.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
Lieber never really enjoyed the success that I thought he’d have in the red pinstripes. The quality of the defense behind him was never particularly good:
Consistently, Lieber’s defense-neutral statistics showed that he threw better than his numbers indicated:
FIP / FIP compared to ERA
2005: 4.13 / -0.07
2006: 4.60 / -0.33
2007: 3.82 / -0.91
After being utilized as a long-reliever and trade bait after the Phillies acquired Adam Eaton and Freddy Garica, Lieber ended up being pressed into the rotation before he too went down. I think he pitched rather well: Lieber’s 3.82 FIP would have made him a top-12 pitcher in 2007. And, not that anyone noticed, but Lieber’s June 9th outing against the Kansas City Royals had the best game score* of any outing by an N.L. pitcher in 2007: Lieber notched a game score of 92 that night on his way to striking out eleven while scattering three hits in a nine-inning shutout.
* a state Bill James came up with assigning an overall number to a pitcher’s outing while evaluating how they pitched.
Instead, his pedestrian ERA in '07, age (38 in 2008), and arm trouble (missed 2003 season with surgery) resulted in having to take a 50% pay cut to return to Chicago. Re-signing him was apparently never in the Phillies plans.
So what are the Cubs getting? A pretty good #4 pitcher: the Bill James Handbook says that Lieber will go 10-8 with a 4.04 ERA in 2008, which I think is pretty reasonable and in-line with Lieber’s career stats. He could end up being a very durable starter for the Cubs and a valuable edition for the playoffs since he’s had some experience, playing with the Yankees in 2004.
Good luck in the Windy City, Jon Lieber. He might be a key piece of the puzzle for the Cubs as they gun for their first World Series title in 100 years. I'll miss seeing him pitcher for the Phillies.
In the first half of the 2006 season I counted 3 games that he would have won if errors had not been committed.
I know he is older and not svelt, but I always wondered why the Phillies would not give him a shot for 2008 when they are looking at the likes of Durbin 2 and Benson.