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I swear that I don't enjoy torturing baseball fans. Rehashing Kerry's year might seem like that to you, but for me, it's a simple quest for understanding what went wrong.

We'll start with Kerry's basic line for 2004:

42.1 IP, 57 hits, 2 home runs allowed, 21 walks and 40 strikeouts.

Opposing batters are hitting .318 against him (for his career they have hit .235) even though his strikeout rate is higher than his career average. What is going on?

A statistical breakdown from the Hardball Times gives some clues. The defensive efficiency rating (% of balls in play turned into outs) behind him is a very low (both by team and league standards) .607. Only 15.1% of his balls in play are line drives (also low by team and league standards), and he's a neutral fly ball/ground ball pitcher who has induced an average number of popups. So, Kerry's striking out a very good number of hitters and popping up quite a few, giving up very few home runs and few line drives. Yet, the league's hitting .318 off him. That's either bad luck or bad defense, but it's not Kerry.

This year he's struggled mightily when pitching on 0 or 1 day rest. This is a reversal of his usual pattern from 2001-2003. The variance is likely due to sample size, but it could be that as he gets older, he needs a little recovery time.

What is Kerry's responsibility is his increased and unacceptably high walk rate. Otherwise, truth be told, he actually hasn't pitched that badly this year. The major issue is the number of hits he has surrendered, and this is simply not of his doing. If his confidence is not utterly destroyed by this year's experience, I think he'll be back at roughly his pre-2004 performance levels in 2005.
Kerry Ligtenberg- By the numbers-2004 | 22 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
_IainS - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 02:47 PM EDT (#42521) #
I think the team needs to do a Pepto Bismol give away day.. free bottle for the first 10,000 fans.
_Moffatt - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 02:55 PM EDT (#42522) #
It's pretty telling when Ligtenberg's ERA is 6.38 but his FIP ERA is 3.58. Although I wasn't super enthuastic about the signing last year, I think Ligtenberg is going to bounce back. Pitchers with those kind of peripheral stats don't have ERAs in the 6s for too long.
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:29 PM EDT (#42523) #
I posted this on the other thread, so I'll copy and paste for a bit:

I have no idea how (Ligtenberg) got away with his current approach for the last 5 years.

I think he was probably a whole lot healthier. Lots of relievers can be very effective without throwing anything offspeed. Duane Ward is the first guy that comes to mind. It works once through the order, if the pitches are good enough. A starter can't really get by with it, no matter how good the pitches are. Remember Jim Clancy?

Anyway, Ligtenberg is one of those stand-up guys who always faces the music and does not make excuses. Which you like to see. The only thing he's actually said is that his slider just isn't working this year. We know he's got a problem with his left hip, and he's been pitching through it all year. He probably shouldn't have been doing that.

The other thing about Ligtenberg, amnd I know I've said this before. Most of the time, he's actually been pretty good. What has happened to Ligtenberg this year is that his bad outings have been really, really bad. I mean BAD. I mean BAAADDD.

His BAD games: (May 14, 21; July 10, 27; August 5, 12)


6 1 15 22 21 8 2 189.00 0-4-0

The rest of the time:


39 41.1 42 9 9 13 38 1.96 1-1-3

I know guys pitch worse in their losses and bad games, but still... doesn't it seem as if there have been days when his manager asked him to answer the bell and he should not have answered. He seems like the kind of guy who will not say no, but maybe he should consider it...

Also: in four of these six games, Ligtenberg did NOT pitch the day before.
_Christian - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:30 PM EDT (#42524) #
So what you're saying is that it's not a case of whiplash, but maybe he's hurting by hanging his head low and shaking it at another play not made behind him.

I can sympathise. It hurts deep inside.
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:33 PM EDT (#42525) #
I hope those stat lines are legible, couldn't get the spacing right. Anyway it's 39 games with an ERA of 1.96 and 6 games with an ERA of 189.00.

Mike Green - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:48 PM EDT (#42526) #
I agree about his good days and bad days this year, but taking both together his ERA and his opponent's batting average against are not reflective of how he has pitched.

ERA for a relief pitcher is a very deceptive thing, last night's outing from Ligtenberg being a classic example.
_IainS - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:49 PM EDT (#42527) #
Neck brace day at Skydome.. it has a ring to it..
_Nigel - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:53 PM EDT (#42528) #
Magpie - careful about drawing negative inferences to Jim Clancy (he happens to be one of my all time favourite Jays - I'm still po'd at Bobby Cox for not pitching him in game 4 or 5 of the ALCS). :)

For what its worth, Clancy pitched over 2500 innings; won 140 games and had a career ERA+ of 98. In other words he was a league average workhorse for his 15 year career. He also had some outstanding years (4 seasons with an ERA+ of above 120). While he was only an all star once (1982) he really should have been one in 1980 (and maybe 1987 although that one is more debatable) but the team was so bad in 1980 that the Jays didn't really get much all star consideration.
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:55 PM EDT (#42529) #
Well, last night he didn't even have an ERA! 0 IPT, 3 ER. (How do you make the symbol for infinity, anyway?)

I don't know, I just don't know what to make of it. You demonstrate that he's giving up an unusual number of hits on balls in play. I think that would seem more significant to me if he's been consistently mediocre. But when he's been pretty good most of the time, and lowest depths of hell awful half a dozen times... I don't know what or anything to do with that information.
Dave Till - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:55 PM EDT (#42530) #
I have no idea whether last night's outing was typical, but what I noticed was that Ligtenberg's stuff was moving so much that it was drifting out of the strike zone.

I also think that he got robbed on one of the walks - he threw a pitch at the letters that the umpire didn't give him (umps tend to not give a pitcher a close call when he's been wild).

At this point, I'd say use him as the 7th or 8th inning man. He's signed for next year, so the Jays need to know whether he can find a comfort zone here. If Gibbons buries him in the bullpen, J.P. will have to go out and sign someone to replace him, who will undoubtedly go through the same adjustment period.
Thomas - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 03:59 PM EDT (#42531) #
Interest notes Magpie.

I agree with Dave. Keep throwing Kerry out there in key situations. Don't have him take away Frasor's job or anything, but we need to keep him pitching. His confidence in his pitching is going to be at the lowest level it can possibly sink to (whatever that maybe) so worse outings won't hurt his confidence, or our record. And if he has a solid September, hopefully he can boost his confidence and find some comfort, as Dave alluded to, that he can bring forward in 2005.
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 04:03 PM EDT (#42532) #

I loved Jim Clancy.

In a manly way, of course.

Old Diamond Jim.

The thing about Clancy, as I'm sure you remember, is that although he seemed such a solid and durable guy, he had three years ruined by injuries (1979, 1981, and much of 1985) and three other years marred by weird and inexplicable slumps (6-10 start in 1984, the 0-7 finish in 1986, the 4-11 start in 1988). Just odd...

Anyway, Diamond Jim was very much a two pitch guy - that good fastball and a hard slider. He spent years trying to master something off-speed. Came up with a curveball for a while, but when it was working he lost his slider... That he was as effective as he was, on some teams that were pretty lousy in the first half of his career, says something about how good his hard stuff was.
Thomas - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 04:07 PM EDT (#42533) #
Interesting notes Magpie, I meant. Relief ERAs are often deceptive because the lack of innings means they can get distorted by one poor outing quite easily (Lance Painter, when he was on the Jays a couple of years ago, gained about one full run with a 7 or 8 run outing). However, those outings indicate that Kerry's ERA is particularly misleading and that he hasn't pitched as bad as one would think.

As Magpie said, it's tough to fit them into the context of the Hardball stats provided above. Those stats show Kerry is unlucky, and it seems impossible that he is getting lucky in his "good" outings and incredibly unlucky in his bad ones, because I just don't know if the poor outings could weigh the stats down that far. So, is Kerry getting unlucky in his good outings and very unlucky in his bad ones? That seems more likely, so Kerry's stats in his good outings may come from slightly unlucky occurences themselves.

On the whole he's been unlucky. On closer examination he's been 87% good. He's an interesting case.
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 04:18 PM EDT (#42534) #
It's a head-scratcher, all right!

I just don't know what to make of it. It's just too strange. I keep coming back to his health and his personality. I think he's been pitching through pain, and he fullyexpects to be able to pitch through the pain.

But some nights he just can't manage it.
_Nigel - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 04:24 PM EDT (#42535) #
Magpie, I agree with your assessment of Clancy - he lived off two pitches. I always attributed his slumps (rightly or wrongly) with him pitching with injuries. If he didn't have his good fastball it was batting practice time.
_Another Rob - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 05:13 PM EDT (#42536) #
When J.P. signed Ligtenberg, I thought it was a good signing.

In hindsight, I do not think it was a good signing for the price, although I’m certain that no one could have predicted how bad 2004 would ultimately be for Ligtenberg (or the whole team).

I am wondering, however, whether there were any clues in Ligtenberg’s statistical record up until the end of 2003 that could have tipped us off that Ligtenberg’s performance in 2004 (and likely performance in 2005) would not be worth $4.5M over 2 years?

The statistic that I see quoted repeatedly in defense of the Ligtenberg signing is his ERA+ throughout his career up to 2003, which was both consistent and good (every year from 1997-2003 between 129 and 156 except for 1999, in which he did not pitch). Ligtenberg’s ERA+ clearly gives no indication of a drop-off coming in 2004.

However, I think Michael Wolverton’s adjusted runs prevented (“ARP”) tells a slightly different story. As I understand it, ARP is designed specifically to evaluate the performance of relief pitchers, and is particularly relevant for relief pitchers that frequently enter games with runners on base, which is and has obviously been the case with Ligtenberg. The following chart shows how Ligtenberg’s ARP has trended over his career, compared to his ERA+, and his BP VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

Year ARP ERA+ VORP Innings Pitched
1997 ? 140 4.3 15
1998 18.7 156 21.4 73
1999 0 0 0 0
2000 14.4 129 15.9 52 1/3
2001 9.7 146 16.5 59 2/3
2002 12.3 139 16.8 66 2/3
2003 3.3 130 17.3 59 1/3

To give some context, Ligtenberg’s 18.7 ARP in 1998 ranked 10th among relievers in the Major Leagues. His 14.4 ARP in 2000 ranked him 24th among relievers in the bigs. His 12.3 ARP in 2002 ranked him somewhere between 30th and 50th. His 3.3 ARP in 2003 ranked him fourth among 2003 Orioles relievers (behind Ryan, Groom, and Parrish but well ahead of Julio) but nowhere near the league’s best relievers (I would guess it put him about 100th-150th among relievers in 2003).

Although Ligtenberg’s ERA+ and VORP numbers are level over this period, I think his ARP numbers reveal a decline, both in absolute terms and in terms of his league ranking. The one blip is 2002, in which Ligtenberg’s ARP is higher than one would have expected (an ARP of about 6 would seem to be in keeping with the other numbers). Obviously, it’s very difficult to extract any sort of trend based on five numbers, but if I had to guess what the ARP trend was in this case, I would have guessed it was in almost-linear decline. If, at the beginning of 2004, I had been asked to guess what Ligtenberg’s ARP would be in 2004, looking solely at his career ARP numbers, I might have guessed about 0 or 1 (it has actually been -11.4 thus far in 2004, which would rank him in about the bottom 20 in the majors).

Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions here, but if anything, this chart seems to demonstrate that ERA+ and VORP simply are not effective tools for measuring the value of relief pitchers. Would anyone have argued that Ligtenberg was a more effective pitcher in 2003 than 2002? Looking at the rest of his numbers, I don’t think I would have, and yet his VORP was higher in 2003. Relief pitchers inherit baserunners, and this distorts their ERA (and ERA+) as against starting pitchers, and perhaps distorts VORP as well (I don’t know how VORP is calculated, but I can only guess that RA or ERA play some role).

In 2003, Ligtenberg:
1. continued to dominate right-handed batters (.206/.230/.362 in 2003, in line with career performance - .211/.248/.333 from 2001-2003).

2. lost any ability to get left-handed batters out (in 2002, lefties batted .214/.381/.378 against him, in 2003 .356/.424/.529).

3. allowed considerably more base hits than he had previously (9.1 Hits/9 innings in 2003, compared to 7.0 hits/9 innings in 2002, which was in line with previous years’ rates). Opponents batting average went from .213 in 2002 to .263 in 2003.

4. walked considerably fewer batters than he had previously (2.1 BB/9 innings in 2003, compared with 4.5 BB/9 innings in 2002, which was more in line with previous years’ rates).

5. was considerably less fortunate on balls hit in play (2003 BABIP of .297 versus 2002 BABIP of .246), perhaps reflective of superior defense by 2002 Braves over 2003 Orioles.

6. Changed leagues and home fields from Turner Field (2004 Clay Davenport Park Factor of 979) to Camden Yards (2004 Clay Davenport Park Factor of 1056 – Skydome is 1050). Ligtenberg fared similarly at Camden Yards in 2003 (3-2, 3.60 ERA, Opponents’ BA .242) as at Turner Field in 2002 (2-2, 3.76 ERA, Opponents’ BA .214).

Items 2,3 and 4 above might be explained by Ligtenberg deciding to challenge left-handed hitters rather than pitching around them, and getting bombed by them.

I think the sudden inability to get LH batters out at all reduced Ligtenberg’s value considerably, since there were fewer situations in which he could be used. His usage patterns between 2002 and 2003 reflect this: he went from averaging nearly 1 1/3 innings per outing in 2002 to just above 2/3 innings per outing in 2003.

Some additional notes about Ligtenberg’s career trends up to 2003:
1. His K/9 rate was declining steadily (9.7 in 1998, then 8.8, 8.4, 6.9 and 7.1 from 2000-2003).

2. His total baserunners/9 appeared to be level at first glance, but there may have been an upward trend (between 11.5 and 12.0 from 2000-2002, although in 2002 he was unusually lucky, benefitting from relatively low BABIP of .246) It was a much lower 9.3 in 1998, his best year.

3. His home runs/9 fluctuated somewhat (likely due to low HR and IP totals), but may have disguised an upward trend. Highest HR/9 surrendered was in 2003: 1.4/9 innings.

4. He averaged about 59 IP from 2000-2003.

5. Ligtenberg has never been effective beyond a 30-pitch count (over 2001-2003 batters hit .219/.289/.320 over his first 15 pitches, .250/.332/.431 over pitches 16/30 and .325/.413/.575 from 31-45).

In my view, given Ligtenberg’s age (32), durability, his ARP trend, his move from Camden Yards to Skydome, and Toronto’s fielding vs. Baltimore’s, it was most likely that Ligtenberg’s 2004 performance would be slightly worse or worse in 2004 than 2003. Furthermore, his performance was not significantly better than a replacement level pitcher in 2003, and certainly not as much better as his ERA+ and VORP numbers would suggest.

Therefore, in my view, Ligtenberg was a defensible signing for anything less than what he was paid in 2003 ($1.2M) for 2004 and 2005, adjusted for market increases in average reliever pay. Thus, guessing that average reliever pay went up 10% from 2003 to 2004, I would defend signing him at anything less than $1.32M for 2004. IMO, signing him for anything less than $1M would have been quite a bargain for the team. That said, the ARP trends above might suggest even $1M would be too much given the cheap replaceability of low-ARP relievers, but I wouldn’t want to weight that tool too heavily.

Since I am not aware of any drastic change in market conditions for relievers that would justify a 67% or higher raise across the board (but correct me if I am wrong), I therefore do not think Ligtenberg was a good signing at $4.5M over 2 years.

Incidentally, I notice that ESPN lists Ligtenberg at 6’2’’, 222 lbs, whereas baseball reference lists him at 6’2’’, 185 lbs. I wonder how current these two figures are?

So, to beat a dead horse, what has happened to Ligtenberg so far in 2004?
1. He has started getting hit hard by right-handed batters (.333/.364/.417 in 2004, compared to .211/.248/.333 in 2001-2003).

2. He has fared a little bit better against left-handed batters (.296/.425/.423 in 2004, compared to .356/.424/.529 in 2003).

3. He has been ridiculously unlucky on balls hit in play (his 2004 BABIP has ballooned to a ridiculous .401 from a merely unlucky .297 in 2003). He hasn’t been helped at all by Jays’ fielders: his ERA is 6.38, and his fielding-independent ERA 3.58 (according to THT).

4. His control has deserted him somewhat, reverting back to pre-2003 levels (3.8 BB/9 innings, compared to 2.1 BB/9 in 2003, but >4 BB/9 in every previous year).

5. Possibly as a result of #3, his Hits/9 innings are way up (12.1) even over last year (9.1) and previous established career levels (~7). Also, opponents’ BA has gone up from .263 to .318.

6. His strikeouts/9 bounced back to 2001 level at 8.5/9.

7. He has been bombed in the Skydome (0-3, 7.13 ERA, Opponents BA .330), whereas he fared comparatively well in Camden last year (3-2, 3.60 ERA, Opponents BA .242) despite almost identical overall park factors between the two parks.

8. His VORP and ERA+ have plummeted (ERA+ ~80, VORP of 1.0 so far).

9. He has been on the 15-day DL once (July 12-27).

10. As Magpie notes, he has had six terrible outings, and has been quite effective through the rest of the year. However, I am not sure if this is atypical of other relievers with similar ERAs. Interestingly, if you look at the stat line Magpie quotes taking out those six outings, it resembles last year’s stat line somewhat in terms of H/9 and BB/9.

The things that are most bizarre are the sudden inability to get righties out (an ominous sign), the terrible performance in Skydome, the terrible performance of the fielders behind him and his terrible luck.

I think there are certainly indications that Ligtenberg will be able to get things turned around. His luck (and fielders) have been bad, his record is tarnished by relatively few terrible outings, his K/9 is back up. However, even if he does, I still doubt he becomes much more than a replacement level reliever at this stage in his career. Nonetheless, I agree that the Jays should continue using him regularly for now.
Mike Green - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 05:34 PM EDT (#42537) #
That's a nice job, Another Rob.

#3 is the single most important thing. But, I do agree that you can't expect Kerry to be much more than a serviceable middle reliever. That's actually the case for Chulk and probably Frasor too. While Ligtenberg has been monstrously unlucky (or had poor fielding behind him), Chulk and Frasor have been a fair bit the other way (although to nowhere near the same extent).
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 05:53 PM EDT (#42538) #
That's a nice job, Another Rob.

Trying to illuminate this mystery is like hacking through a dark forest with a machete. Anyway, in addition to the excellent work, you also raised what I thought was a pertinent question:

I am not sure if this is atypical of other relievers with similar ERAs.

I'm not sure, either. But I took a quick look at three relievers with ERAs above 5.00 (the top three on the appearances list, Choate, Herges and Hasegawa) and did to them what I did with Ligtenberg: namely, total their numbers in all their gamnes in which they allowed at least two runs.

After all, if you're a short reliever, and you allow two runs... well, it's not a successful outing.

To recap: (and I hope these columns line up reasonably well...)

Ligtenberg 6 1 15 22 21 8 2 189.00
Choate 5 2 9 13 13 4 4 40.50
Herges 10 5.1 29 26 20 5 2 33.75
Hasegawa 7 3.3 16 19 18 9 1 48.60

When Ligtenberg is bad, he's really, reallyBAD. Scary bad. Couldn't-get-Little-League-hitters-out bad.
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 05:54 PM EDT (#42539) #
OK, the columns don't line up at all.

HTML, not my thing.
_Magpie - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 06:00 PM EDT (#42540) #
When Ligtenberg implodes, he implodes. He's given up multiple runs in six of 45 games; but in those games he retired just three batters and allowed 21 ER. Hence the 0-4 W-L and the 189.00 ERA.

Jason Frasor in 46 games has allowed multiple runs 4 times; he has, however, kept it down to two runs three times, and three runs on one occasion. And he managed to get 12 hitters out. So in his four bad games, he is 0-2 but he has a couple of (cheap! cheap!) saves, and his ERA in those games is "only" 20.25
Craig B - Friday, August 13 2004 @ 10:40 PM EDT (#42541) #
I have nothing to add beyond Another Rob's magnum opus. AR, could you drop me a line at I'd really like it if you turned your Ligtenberg analysis into an article.
_gid - Saturday, August 14 2004 @ 03:04 AM EDT (#42542) #
Great stuff, guys. The thing that seems to be at the heart of Ligtenberg's struggles is what is happening on balls in play. My suspicion is that the line drive percentage of only 15% may not reflect how well batters are hitting Ligtenberg.

Of course one of the great things about baseball in general is the dynamic interaction between the field dimensions, the speed of the batted ball, the quickness and arm strength of the infielders, and the foot speed of the batter. Medium speed ground balls that bounce a couple times before they get to the infielder are great for the defense -- the fielder has time to take a few steps to either side, field the ball, and still throw out the runner. (As noted elsewhere Josh Phelps has hit a ton of these this year.) On the other hand, a lot of what might be getting classified as ground balls may actually be more or less well-hit balls -- basically flat line drives -- that bounce once maybe 75-100 feet from the plate and then make it into the outfield. Clearly, compared with multi-bounce ground balls, the infield defense is going to get to fewer of these balls because of the higher ball speed. In these cases, the pitcher should be "charged" somehow with letting the batter hit the ball hard. In SkyDome, I imagine the turf takes less speed off the balls, so harder-hit grounders are more likely to get through. I'm just speculating, but this more than anything else may account for Kerry's poor home performance.

There must also be some grey area between line drives and fly balls (for the other almost 50% of KL balls in play). As an example, do doubles over outfielders' heads count as flies or line drives? Actually I have no idea if this would make a difference in KL's stats -- it just seems like a grey area that, given the small sample size (only ~60 hits) might affect the line-drive stats significantly.

Video of the balls hit into play would make it a lot clearer what is going on. I'm sure the Jays have been reviewing that.
Kerry Ligtenberg- By the numbers-2004 | 22 comments | Create New Account
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