Stuck in Middle Relief with You
While some posters around the Phlogosphere are calling for the head of Ryan Madson, thanks to three bombs he's given up already this season, he is far from the biggest liability on this staff. That distinction goes to the ill-equipped, ill-conditioned, completely disinterested looking Jon Lieber, the guy who won 17 games in 2005 as the team's No. 1 starter. Shipped to the pen because of the signings of Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia, Lieber finds himself as both an anonymous middle reliever as well as an apparent injury-risk for 2007. Suddenly, a veteran starting pitcher and contract-year commodity is no commodity at all. While, the ever reliable Mike Radano has it right as usual, saying that Lieber needs to buck up and pitch like a man dispite his shitcan status as an arm with no real role, what if that doesn't do it? What if the pitcher nobody wanted is really just the pitcher ever hitter wants to face.
In Lieber's last appearance, Friday night in relief of Brett Myers, the best play the 37-year-old made was with his glove. That is not a typo. To say Lieber is a fielder of questionable value is like saying a 3-8 start os not the best way to go about making the post-season. It hurts just to think about wasting energy addressing so needless an observation. What's lost in that very nice reflex on the first pitch of his 4th inning appearance is that it was a result of something all too familar right now -- the LDOL, or "line drive off Lieber," a near epidemic among NL hitters so far.
To be concise, Lieber faced 7 hitters in his appearance. Here they are:
Biggio: Line drive back to the box, caught.
Ensberg: Line drive HR.
Berkman: BB on 5 pitches, no swings.
Lee: Line drive to RF, caught by Vicortino. Inning over.
Scott: Line drive single to RF
Burke: Bouncer to SS, double play.
Everett: Line drive shorthop to SS, Rollins bobbles but makes play at 1st. Inning over.
In theory, there are things to like about Lieber working in relief. He doesn't walk many, works quickly, and throws alot of sinkers. What's not to like about him? Well, everything else. He's a contact pitcher who attacks the strikezone without an out pitch, not striking out as many and as you can see, not exactly in his heydey in inducing groundballs. As the season wear on, entrusting any sort of lead to Lieber, or even hoping he'll keep the game close will because a pipe dream. Just our opinion, but fans will long for the likes of Meltdown Madson or whatever phase of control problems 6-Fingers Alfonseca is working through. The team thinks they have a 6th starter and possible bullpen piece. In the offseason, we thought the same. But after watching a late-30s pitcher with an aversion to conditioning yield hard-hit ball after hard-hit ball, its difficult to see what contribution he could make or what piece he could fetch in return.