Six starters are vying for five spots, and indications are 37-year-old Jon Lieber is fighting a losing battle with 29-year-old Adam Eaton. Are the Phillies headed in the right direction, or headed for disaster?
Very soon, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel will put his ducks in a row by finalizing the starting rotation. Brett Myers is expected to be named top duck. Freddy Garcia, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer are interchangeably behind Myers. The subjects of this post, Eaton and Lieber, are in a battle for the final spot, a problem many managers would love to have with their No. 5 starter.
Since the rotation appears quite strong either way, Manuel might be better served deciding which one would make the better reliever. It’s not an easy choice. Lieber has been a starter for almost his entire 12-year career, and hasn’t pitched regularly from the pen since 1996, a full seven years before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Eaton is trying to rebound from his own injury problems, which included Tommy John in 2002 and problems with the index finger, which kept him on the sidelines for the better part of 2006.
The Phillies believe Eaton has 20-win potential. That’s what FoxSports reporter Ken Rosenthal overheard back when the Phils signed him to a three-year, $24 million contract. Others were not as optimistic. Seattle was the only other club to put an offer on the table, and only a handful of teams showed any interest at all. In the context of the other free agent signings, experts categorized Eaton as one of the riskier moves.
As a starter, officials view Eaton as a pitcher who gets stronger as the game goes on, and the numbers back it up. Over his career, he’s best between pitch 46 and 105. The first 15 pitches are his worst.
Putting it mildly, 2006 season wasn’t Lieber’s best, but at least he finished strongly, tossing two complete games in August, and going the entire month of September without a walk. Just before that, right as teams scouted him at the trade deadline, he was especially bad, including nine combined walks on July 14 and 19, and 24 combined hits on July 26 and 31. Hard, laserblast ropes.
Lieber’s greatest asset is his command; he only allowed 24 walks in a down year. But at this late stage, he tends to leave his cutter hanging, gives up early home runs and can’t defend, which is why GM Pat Gillick ruled him out as a bullpen candidate earlier this winter.
Three months later, Gillick hasn’t exactly given his field boss much choice.
2007 ZIPs Projections (Baseball Think Factory)
Lieber: 4.43 ERA, 13-12, 31 G, 193.0 IP, 29 HR, 33 BB, 114 K
Eaton: 4.72 ERA, 9-9, 26 G, 141.0 IP, 21 HR, 44 BB, 104 K