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August 13, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Jon Lieber and Wrigley Field

by Joe Sheehan

Last week, I wrote an article for ESPN.com about the Cy Young race in the National League. The article focused on the three popular contenders, and concluded that Randy Johnson was the favorite, ahead of Curt Schilling and Greg Maddux. The only other pitcher mentioned was the Cardinals' Darryl Kile.

The mail I've received on the piece has fallen neatly into two categories:

  • Greg Maddux is better than those guys, because he doesn't strike guys out and plays good defense, and you can stick your SNVA where the sun don't shine

  • Where's Jon Lieber?

I can't do much about the former, although I expect I'll address some of the ideas presented by those e-mails sometime. The latter, though...

Let's take a look at Lieber and the two pitchers from the article, Kile and Maddux, with whom he can be compared (I think we'll all stipulate that he is a few beats behind the Diamondbacks' duo). Note that the following is through yesterday, and as such is more favorable to Kile and Lieber than the original comparison was:


          W-L   ERA      IP    H   R  ER  BB   SO   SNPct.  SNVA  SNWAR
Lieber   15-5  3.41   166.1  159  68  63  28  103    .593    1.5    2.9
Kile     13-7  2.82   172.1  169  58  54  45  129    .692    3.1    4.6
Maddux   15-7  2.89   177.1  173  64  57  20  142    .662    2.7    4.2

While Lieber has pitched well for the Cubs this season, his overall performance does not compare to that of Kile or Maddux. He's been a very good pitcher, one of the ten best in the league, but doesn't warrant a place in the discussion of the Cy Young Award. In fact, he's behind a few other guys, like John Burkett and Chan Ho Park in Support-Neutral terms.

Why does Lieber rank so far behind these guys? Well, as you can see from his ERA (and, if you care to, his RA), he's clearly a step behind Kile and Maddux before we start making adjustments. And when we start comparing the pitchers after factoring in the support they've received and the environments in which they've pitched, Lieber falls even further behind.

Now, some of you may be thinking, "How can a guy who pitches in Wrigley Field be hurt by these adjustments?" Well, that's the bigger story here. Wrigley, which was for so many years a bandbox, has not been a good hitters' park relative to the league since 1999. As fans, and as analysts, we have to begin wrapping our minds around this concept, because it affects so much of what he say and hear.

As calculated by Clay Davenport, Wrigley's current park factor is 978, which is an average of the 1999, 2000, and 2001 seasons. That represents a slight pitchers' park, reducing run-scoring by about 4.4%. Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral statistics use a factor of -6.9% to adjust for the reduced run-scoring on the North Side, an average of the 1999 and 2000 seasons. STATS Inc.'s Major League Handbooks provide perhaps the most vivid evidence of the change:

2001: 92*
2000: 81
1999: 112
1998: 99
1997: 114

*Estimate (not from STATS, Inc.)

Wrigley no longer appears to be a great park for hitters relative to the other parks in the National League. This is in part due to the good-to-great hitters' parks that have come into the league over the last few seasons, and the good pitchers' parks they mostly replaced. It may also have to do with wind patterns at Wrigley, and as such, can't be regarded as a permanent change. After all, we are talking about just shy of two seasons' worth of data, and there is substantial evidence that you need more than that to draw conclusions about park effects. We're also dealing with the unbalanced schedule, which may be distorting the numbers.

What is clear is that fewer runs have been scored in Cubs home games (8.14/game) than in Cubs road games (8.85/game). Regardless of the reasons why, Wrigley is not currently the environment for run scoring that it once was. It's important that we acknowledge that in discussing the performance of a Jon Lieber, or a Jason Bere, or a Sammy Sosa. Merely going by a park's reputation or physical characteristics could lead to false conclusions, and possibly give a player bonus points that he doesn't deserve.

Jon Lieber has been a good pitcher this season, but Wrigley is not hurting him, and it may even be helping him a little.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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