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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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Adios, Jon Lieber 

It flew under the radar but one of the best and most interesting moves made by any MLB team this off-season was the Cubs decision to sign former Phillies (and former Cubs) hurler Jon Lieber to a 1-year deal worth $3.5 million dollars. After the blockbuster Tigers – Marlins deal that moved Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to Motown and the unconsumated ménage a troi with the Twins and the Red Sox and Yankees over Johan Santana, the Lieber signing, as quiet as it was, might well turn out to be the most significant deal of the 2007-2008 off-season.

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:

2005: .722
2006: .697
2007: .672

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.

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Boy I agree.

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.
Yes, he would be a perfect low risk-high reward pitcher if healthy. Freddy Garcia would also fall into that catagory but I would be less enthused about.
Interesting collection of stats. My perception was that he wasnt effective enough to keep, but you make a good case for keeping Lieber based on stats. I am however, glad he is gone. Sometimes, when the chips are down, you get to see someones true colors and early last year we found out that Lieber's colors arent Phillie red and white. I'm referring to his pouting and sulking about going into long-relief for the sake of the team. You didnt give his relief stats - they werent very good and it is reasonable to assume based on his public displeasure about the role that he wasnt giving 100% for the team. It took a long time for this team to purge its ambitionless personalities (Abreu, Lieberthal, Burrell (in 2009, finally)). We did not need to keep Lieber around to reduce morale that has already taken a small hit with the departure of Rowand. The Phils make the right decision to let Lieber go.
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