Key Stats: Disregard the three April starts Francisco Liriano made. He clearly wasn’t ready. Once he was recalled in August, he was impressive. He made 10 starts and gave up 3 runs or less in 8 of those starts. His numbers indicate he was pitching well, but he only had a pitch count into triple digits in three of those eight solid starts. On the second last start of the year he went a season-high 110 pitches and perhaps that correlated in him only lasting 4.1 innings in his season finale. For more on pitch counts check out this terrific breakdown on Razzball.
Reading into things a little deeper it’s clear that the Twins aren’t worried about Liriano. After pitching in the Winter League during the off season, Liriano will pitch for the Dominican Republic in the Professional Spring Training League AKA the World Baseball Classic.
Skeptics Say: The 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings last year were well below what Liriano was doing before Tommy John surgery. Back then he was striking out 10.7 hitters per 9 innings. Despite pitching 45 less innings last season, Liriano finished with the same amount of walks in 2006 and 2008. Returning to the pre-surgery level could happen, but it looks unlikely.
Peer Comparison: Liriano’s turn around really started at AAA Rochester last year where he had a 1.13 WHIP. The September 21 note on Rotoworld called him a top 10 and maybe top 5 pitcher for 2009. No other publication wants to get close to that estimation.
What has Felix Hernandez done to be ranked ahead of Liriano? In August and September his ERA was over 4. In fact Hernandez has had his ERA go over 4 in 10 of the last 18 months he has pitched. His career and 2008 K rates are worse than Liriano’s. Liriano pitches for a team that needed 163 games before they realized they were not going to make the playoffs, while Hernandez played for a team that needed 63 games to realize the same fate.
Javier Vazquez got traded to the NL so of course his rating rises. The last time he went from the AL to the NL his ERA did fall a half run, but it’s not as if his 4.42 ERA with the Diamondbacks was great. His K:BB rate is consistently over 3 which is great, but he gives up a lot of long balls (more away from US Cellular than at home). He’ll be turning 33; Liriano is 25.
I’ve already driven home the fact that I don’t think Justin Verlander or Carlos Zambrano will be any good, but they were also ranked ahead of Liriano in some cases.
The reason all these players are ahead of Liriano is a direct result of risk. Weighing all the factors such as the Twins willingness to let Liriano continue to pitch in the off season and looking at the top outputs of the other pitchers, Liriano is worth the risk.
Team Outlook: Outside of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer the Twins aren’t the most intimidating lineup. Carlos Gomez is fast, but that is the only hitting tool in the shed as of yet. Nick Punto is not a strong option at third base and the guys that were mentioned in the Mauer post could also turn into flops.1
What They’re Saying: MLB.com: #27 Starting Pitcher; CBS Sportsline: #23 Starting Pitcher and #82 Overall; Mock Draft Central ADP: #71 Overall; Fox Sports: #24 Starting Pitcher; ESPN: #13 Starting Pitcher; Yahoo: #9 Starting Pitcher and #70 Overall
Projection: This from Royals Catcher John Buck in August in Twins Insider: “Liriano was a freak before he got hurt. He was throwing 98, and there was not a comfortable at-bat against him. Now, he’s still finding it. I’m sure he’ll get a little better. Will he ever get back to where he was? He was throwing 92-mph sliders before he got hurt.” He will get better.
15 wins 2.90 ERA 1.17 WHIP 179K in 172 innings
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