A Strike Against Jon Lieber?

Does Jon Lieber throw too many strikes?  I asked myself this question during the season opener as he was breezing through the Cardinal’s lineup in the first two innings.  I thought if he continues to throw as many strikes as he does, wouldn’t the Cardinals hone in on him the second time through the lineup?  Well as we all know they sure did.  Last night’s loss saw some similarities as Lieber let the game slip with runs in the fourth and fifth.  While allowing five runs to the Red Sox isn’t terrible, Lieber is supposed to be our ace, if not number 2 pitcher. 

Jon ranks 29th in the majors in strikes thrown (Brett Myers is 26th).  More generally he is 52nd in pitches thrown (Myers is 50th), but Lieber has pitched five more innings than Myers (with Myers due to catch up tonight).  Lieber’s pitch ratio entails 47% strikes with 21% of pitches hit (the rest being balls).  Myers allows only 17% of pitches to be hit.  This includes foul balls and thus implies Lieber he gives up a lot of foul balls.  Most likely this means batters see a lot of pitches when facing Lieber (though I couldn’t find that precise stat) and allows them to be more comfortable the second and third time they face him.  This is consistent with the fact that most hits and runs scored off Lieber come in innings 4-6.

Also not helping is the fact that he’s fifth in the league in bullpen support (not a good thing).  That means his 5.81 ERA is a bit inflated due to lack of support, so he might not be pitching as poorly as his numbers would have you to believe.  The most interesting stat on Lieber, which may have came up last night is the fact that his has given up more home runs (8) than walks (5) this season.  He is fifth in the league with a K/BB ratio of 7.60 (38/5).  This stat is great but when taken in the larger context it could demonstrate a lack of diversity in pitch positioning.  He pretty much only throws fastballs (59%) and sliders (35%) but again they’re mostly for strikes.  Thus in answer to my question, yes, he throws too many strikes; but to the extent that’s an unsustainable tactic is a question for another day.

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