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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.