Friday, December 21, 2012

Pirates To Sign Francisco Liriano

Today all Pirates fans, and I guess anyone that is interested in baseball and is on Twitter or watches any kinds of sporting news, got a pretty big surprise when former Twins and White Sox pitcher Francisco Liriano was said to have been close to signing a two year deal worth between $13-14 million to pitch for the Pirates.

This might not have been a huge surprise as the Pirates have had rumors fly about signing or trading for Liriano for the last year or two but leading up to this there really wasn't much saying this could happen but it happened nonetheless.

The deal isn't going to be official until Liriano has a physical which won't happen until lafter Christmas but all indications are that Liriano will be pitching for the Pirates and will be thrown into the rotation.

Here is a look at Liriano's stats throughout his career:

7 Yrs53544.4016814111840.078143441183356846323594961.3548.
162 Game Avg.12124.40373100185172969018781867791961.3548.
MIN (7 yrs)50524.3315613011783.172740037776324788293341971.3428.
CHW (1 yr)325.4012110056.2543434732583253811.5188.
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/21/2012.

This is a really high risk signing for the mere fact that he really struggled with his numbers the past couple of seasons and has never been overly healthy and has never pitched 200 innings in any given season. The real surprise of this was that Liriano was able to get a second year out of the deal and paying him $7M really puts a lot of pressure on the front office to get this right becuase if this is a bust the Pirates are going to have a lot of cash invested in someone giving them nothing.

That being said there is some upside to having Liriano on the staff. The first is that it gives them someone who has shown the capability in the past of being a reliable starter and now the Pirates aren't going to have to rely on Kyle McPherson and Rudy Owens/Jeff Locke to fill in two spots of the rotation.

Liriano also is a guy that possesses a pretty good fastball that last year sat above 93 and a hard slider that has been a consistent 85-86 mph throughout his career. Over his career he has struck out a batter per inning and last season he stuck out 9.59 batters per nine which was his best mark since his breakout season in 2006 where he struck out nearly 11 per nine. He also has a really solid ground ball rate of 48% over his career and with the solid middle infield play by the Pirates that should help lower the 5.00+ ERA over the last few season. His HR/FB rate was also around 13% last season which was higher than his career rate of 10.7% but it wouldn’t shock me to see that go down as he moves into a much more pitcher friendly PNC Park. If you get into the advanced statistics you see that his ERA hasn’t matched up with his xFIP (what his ERA would look like with league average home run rate) which was 4.14 last season. Obviously that doesn’t mean that he would have had that ERA but it could help describe the high numbers the last two seasons.

There are also some big time risks in this deal. Liriano has never pitched over 200 innings and was limited to only 156.2 last season while posting a 5.34 ERA. The one big problem you can take away from him is that his control seems to have gone out the window the last few season. Last year and in 2011 Liriano posted a BB/9 rate above 5.00 and his WHIP in both years were nearly 1.50 which is not good. He has struggled with runners on as he had a slash line of .243/.350/.446 with runners on base. Clearly this is not something you want to see from someone that will probably be in the middle of the rotation.

Health is somewhat of a concern as he only threw 134.1 innings in 2011 and 156.2 innings. I talked about his fastball being around 93 but that has fluctuated a good bit over the past couple of years. In 2010 his fastball velocity was over 94 before dropping to 91.8 in 2011 and getting back up to over 93 in 2012. Not very sure hot to categorize it but it will be intersting to see if he can keep his velo from last season after being up and down on his fastball speed over his career.

I think the Pirates might be able to work with him on the control issues as they have had success doing that in the past but with Liriano already 29 there is clearly no guarantee to him getting back to the success he had in 2006 and for portions of 2010. Overall I think I like brining him in. He has some really solid upside and while I don’t love the terms of the deal if he can figure out his control issues and give the Pirates 170 innings I think this could turn out really well. That being said I could also see this being terrible with Liriano either getting hurt or just getting hit around and not finishing the season in the rotation.

The Pirates are taking a pretty serious chance here but maybe that is something they need to do. He is another strikeout pitcher that can be added to the rotation with some big time upside if the Pirates can get their hands on him and work out some things. Should be interesting to watch.

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