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November 14 2006

You know who never is in the top five in Cy Young voting anymore?  Jon Lieber.  Lieber went 20-6 with a 3.80 ERA in 34 starts for the Cubs in 2001.  He was an All-Star and finished fourth in the voting for the NL Cy Young behind Diamondbacks Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and the Cardinals' Matt Morris.

He was 31 that year and threw 232 1/3 innings, coming off a season in 2000 where Don Baylor sent him to the mound to throw 251 innings for a Cubs team that went 65-97 and finished in sixth place in the NL Central, 30 games behind the division-leading Cardinals.  In Baylor's limited defense he had to give 76 starts that season to a group of Chicago hurlers that included Scott Downs, Ruben Quevedo, Daniel Garibay, Andrew Lorraine and a 36-year-old Kevin Tapani.

In 2002 Lieber made just four starts after the All-Star break and he missed all of the 2003 season after Tommy John surgery.

He was back for 2004, pitching for the Yankees and going 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA.  He signed with the Phillies as a free agent in December of that year and went 17-13 with a 4.20 ERA for the Phils in '05.  This year he struggled, going just 9-11 and throwing to a 4.93 ERA.  Lieber's 4.93 ERA this season was the worst of his career since he went 4-7 with a 6.32 ERA for the Pirates as a 25-year-old in 1995.  Other than the 1995 season, last year was the only one of Lieber's career since he threw to an ERA above 4.49. 

So it may be time to worry.  Lieber will turn 37 on opening day next season.  The Braves will be in town but Lieber probably won't be on the bump.  You have to think it's time to acknowledge that Brett Myers is the Phillies most reliable pitcher at this point.

There's two things about Lieber that seem curious as his numbers climb up to some not-so-good places.  First, righties are suddenly hitting him harder than they have earlier in his career.  Second is that since his return from surgery he has pitched much better in the second-half of the season than the first.

Here's what Lieber has done against right-handed batters of late:

 

Year AVG Ratio
2006 .278 1.19
2005 .223 0.95
2004 .250 1.02
2003 Did not play
2002 .246 0.98
2001 .219 0.90

Clearly the numbers against righties have to concern one.  After not allowing righties to hit over .250 or post a ratio over 1.02 against him in his last four seasons, they did both in 2006.

The other thing that is curious is that in recent years Lieber has gotten stronger as the season went on.  Since his surgery he has consistently pitched better after the All-Star break than before it.  Oddly, however, that doesn't seem to be the case before the injury.  Below is a look at what he's done before and after the All-Star break since 2000.  2003 is missing because he did not play -- 2002 is included although he made just four starts after the break:

 

Year Before All-Star After All-Star
     
2006 3-6, 5.47 6-5, 4.52
2005 8-8, 5.09 9-5, 3.28
2004 7-5, 4.77 7-3, 3.94
2003 Did not play
2002 6-6, 3.38 0-2, 5.25
2001 11-4, 3.42 9-2, 4.25
2000 8-5, 3.63 4-6, 5.45

I don't know the explanation or if there even is one.  But before he had surgery it seems like he was better before the break, and after the surgery he was better after it.  Could it be as simple as he just didn't get back into the kind of shape he was in before the surgery when he returned and now doesn't hit his true form till midway through the year?  I don't know.  But during his two years with the Phillies Lieber has gone 11-14 with a 5.24 ERA before the break and 15-10 with a 3.86 ERA after it.

In the Arizona Fall League, the Big Cacti fell to the Scottsdale Scorpions 6-2 to drop to 13-16 on the year.  Chris Key pitched a scoreless inning, walking two.  His ERA is at 7.27.  Jason Jaramillo was 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.  He's hitting 381/446/556 after 63 at-bats.

The Phillies Triple-A affiliate in 2008 will be the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  In 2007 the Phils' Triple-A team will be the Ottawa Lynx.  The Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons will be affiliated with the Yankees.

Hanley Ramirez was named the National League Rookie of the Year.  Justin Verlander won the award in the AL.  Ramirez won the award by a razor-thin margin, edging out Nationals third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman.  The Marlins had three of the top four vote-getters in the NL, with Dan Uggla finishing third and Josh Johnson finishing fourth.  Verlander won in a landslide, with Boston's Jonathan Papelbon finishing second.

The Astros have spoken with free agent Aubrey Huff but are still unsure what they're going to do about their glut of options at third base.  Beyond the free agent Huff the Astros could also go with Morgan Ensberg or Mike Lamb.

Despite the signing of Ramirez, the Cubs may still be interested in Soriano.

The Angels may have already made an offer to Soriano.

Jose Valentin looks likely to return to the Mets next season.

An article from SI.com says the Mets will make a strong play for Barry Zito.  The Chicago Tribune says the Mets may be trying to get Javier Vazquez from the White Sox.  What about us and our needs?

A mailbag Q&A on the Cleveland Indians web site suggests the Indians interest in Akinori Iwamura may be less than reported elsewhere.

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