Jon Lieber has started the season off poorly, compiling a 9.18 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in 3 relatively short starts. His stats certainly look bad, and he has said as much. However, he knows that he isn’t pitching as poorly as it looks, and several stats play that out. Part of this poor performance can be explained by taking into account that in 2005 he was a very streaky pitcher:
April (35.2 IP) : 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA and 1.12 WHIP
May – July (101.1 IP): 5-9 with a 5.86 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.
Aug – Oct (81.1 IP): 8-3 with a 2.66 ERA and 0.98 WHIP
Lieber has started the season off poorly this year, and it’s possible that it’s simply one of his bad streaks, which will end sometime soon. He ended the season well last year, so an improvement would not be some outlier or unrealistic. The big improvement at the end of the year came from the facts that he gave up fewer home runs as the year went on, he improved his K:BB ratio AND luck started to turn his way.
Sure, he has reduced the amount of people he has struck out this year. He’s only struck out 8 people in 16.2 innings pitched for 4.32 K per 9 IP, compared to his career average of 6.46 K per 9 IP. This could be due to any number of reasons, but likely a trip to Coors Field so early in the season didn’t help him. The immense size of the outfield there KILLS pitchers like Lieber who depend on their defense to a certain extent because many balls drop in and many singles get stretched to doubles, and doubles to triples. He gave up 7 runs (10 hits) in 6.1 IP there, just as he blew up at Coors last year.
Looking at the opponents’ batting average, it has leaped from 263 in 2005 to 365 in 2006! This is unlikely to stay this high simply because this is just too extreme a deviation from his career numbers. One could then say that ‘his opponents’ slugging is high too, though’, and that is true. However, take away the inflation in the batting average and the slugging goes down from 527 to 425, which is actually slightly below the 2005 number and his career numbers. Also, right-handed hitters are KILLING him to the tune of a 410 batting average, where last year he held them to a 223 average. This is unlikely to stay that high as well, unless he just pulls an Eric Milton or something and forgets how to pitch.
Bad luck has essentially done Lieber in this year. Our defense, which was supposed to be very good with the addition of Aaron Rowand, has let the pitching down, but especially let Jon down. He has greatly improved his ground ball to fly ball ratio (1.29 last year to 2.00 this year), which would indicate that the Phillies infield has simply not done well in backing up Lieber. There’s no reason to think that Lieber will continue to see the defense let him down, or see those ground balls find the cracks. Expect this to change sometime soon, if not tonight. He’s no ace, but he’s not this bad.