2003: The Best of Lima Time

By now, you’ve probably read at least one tribute to the Jose Lima, who passed away at the surprisingly young age of 37 on Sunday. You can surely find good accounts of his rather… flamboyant style as a person in and around the major league. Here is a good one. A quote from former teammate Brad Ausmus (whose continued presence in the major leagues is a shocking story in its own right) sums up the feelings many probably had when reflecting on the sad news:

Always in a good mood, loved to sing… We had to listen to his demo tape all the time in the locker room. Now it’s a fond memory. Back then, it was annoying.

From an analytical perspective, one could say something similar. While bouncing around the majors, Jose Lima was annoying, particularly in seasons like 2004, when he went 13-5 for the Dodgers despite a 5.09 FIP (although he had a 4.19 xFIP, his tERA was 6.64 Yes, that’s Six Point Six Four). But, like his musical aspirations and other clubhouse antics, while his statistically less-than-great pitching was frustrating to explain at the time, now it’s interesting and, yes, sort of fun to look back on. This is a pitcher who, during the FanGraphs WAR Era (2002-present) managed a FIP under FIVE only once over a full season, yet still pitched over 460 innings inthe major leagues over give seasons. Indeed, the 2005 Royals (naturally) sent him out to the mound for 168 innings of 6.34 ERA ball, although to be fair, his FIP was only 5.71, and hey, his xFIP was 5.34!

This is all well known, and today, rather than discussing Lima’s contribution to one of the worst teams in recent memory (and the worst in Royals history, losing 106 games), perhaps it is a more fitting “analytical” tribute to Lima to look at his brief-but-memorable contribution to the 2003 Royals, who somehow won 83 games and stayed in contention for the AL Central past the All-Star break.

That 2003 Kansas City team featured a not-yet-Zombified Mike Sweeney, a great season from Carlos Beltran, and, of course, Rookie-of-the-Year Angel Berroa. But Lima was there, too, and although his 4.91 ERA was less-than-spectacular, he did win seven games in a row, tying David Cone‘s franchise record. But Lima’s performance was noteworthy in other ways. For one, his FIP was non-horrible, and actually lower than his ERA, at 4.67. Lima never was great at keeping the ball on the ground, though, and his 37% groundball rate was no exception. The good vibes he brought to the clubhouse might have made a difference, though, as he miraculously kept the ball in the park, with only a 6.2% HR/FB rate. Naturally, xFIP was not impressed, giving him a 5.53. Still, his tERA was 4.89, not good, but not terrible. 2003 was the only season Lima’s tERA was under 5.

What I find truly amazing about Lima’s 2003 wasn’t so much that it happened despite his inability to strike hitters out (3.93 K/9 or his lucky .295 BABIP. Rather, he did all this despite having a horrible defense behind him. While Carlos Beltran was (and is) an outstanding defensive center fielder, and Joe Randa was decent at third base, the 2003 Royals were terrible defensively. Many players “contributed” on defense, but Carlos Febles, Desi Relaford, and Michael Tucker deserve special recognition to a team that overall was about 44 runs below average according to UZR, and 41 runs below average according to Dewan’s Plus/Minus (those days are behind KC now, right?)

Maybe it was a fluke. Today, I prefer to think that 2003 was, indeed, Lima Time. Nosotros Creemos.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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For me it is all about the one start he made in the 2004 playoffs for the Dodgers in game 3 of the NLDS. It was the only game the Dodgers won (they were horribly overmatched in that series) and Lima was awesome. He threw a complete game shutout in only 109 pitches. He had 4k’s, 11 ground ball outs and only 1 walk. His WPA for the game was .358! That was truly Lima time and I’m sure he considered that his finest moment ever in the big leagues…