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Key Stats: One of the most quoted statistics in the sabermetric community is Fielding Independent Pitching, which tries to find out how well a pitcher actually performed by eliminating the effect of defense on ERA. It does this by measuring only those things which a pitcher is specifically responsible for: walks, strikeouts and home runs. Recently, fantasy players have been used differences between FIP and ERA to find overvalued and undervalued pitchers.

In 2010, Francisco Liriano’s ERA exceeded his FIP by 0.96, the second highest difference among qualified pitchers. The difference was primarily driven by an incredibly unlucky .340 BABIP (which appears to be even more unlucky when taking into account that the Twins had one of the best defenses in the league last year). Looking exclusively at FIP, Liriano appeared to be one of the top ten pitchers in the league last year.

Most people who consistently watched Liriano pitch last year would agree with the FIP assessment. Using a mid-90s fastball and perhaps the best slider in the game, Liriano held hitters to a 73.4% contact rate, best in the major leagues. With so many swings and misses, it’s not surprising that Liriano’s K/9 rate was 9.44, fifth best among qualified starting pitchers. Combine dominant stuff with good control – Liriano had a 2.72 BB/9 rate last year – it’s hard to argue Liriano wasn’t an elite pitcher last year.

Skeptics Say: When it comes to Liriano there is only one question: Can he give you a full season’s worth of production? He’s never thrown 200 innings and missed all of 2007, most of 2008 and a large portion of 2009 with injuries. He also appeared to tire out last year as his second half stats were significantly worse than his first half stats. For that reason, he should go a little lower in head-to-head drafts with playoffs than in roto leagues.

Peer Comparison: He’s not a southpaw, but that’s one of the few differences between Josh Johnson and Francisco Liriano. Both pitchers rely on a mid-90s fastball, elite sliders and effective changeups. They had approximately the same strikeout rates (K/9 – 9.44 for Lirano and 9.11 for Johnson) and walked hitters at similar rates (BB/9 – 2.72 for Liriano and 2.35 for Johnson). They also have similar injury history/questions. Johnson had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and had injuries in the second half last year which hurt his performance and ultimately resulted in him being shut down.

So which one would I rather have in a draft? That’s a very tough question. Liriano just turned 27 and Johnson is only three months younger, so both should be entering their peak years. While Liriano throws hard, he hasn’t quite reached the velocity he demonstrated pre-Tommy John surgery. If his velocity did return to that level, I think Liriano would have a clear advantage over Johnson. However, he’s three years removed for surgery so it’s unlikely that it will ever happen.

I personally believe Liriano’s stuff is a little better than Johnson’s, but any advantage he has in stuff may be negated by the fact that he pitches in the tougher league. In the end, I think it’s a toss up between the two pitchers. I would draft Liriano over Johnson, but that’s only because I’ve become attached to Liriano through previous fantasy ownership. As long as you are valuing both players as top ten pitchers, you can’t go wrong either way.

Team Outlook: As discussed earlier, Liriano has an extremely unlucky .340 BABIP last year. Sometimes a high BABIP can be in part the result of bad defense. However, Minnesota’s defense is among the best in the majors. This further strengthens the belief that Liriano’s BABIP to regress to a more normal level in 2011.

What They’re Saying: Yahoo: #17 Starting Pitcher & #79 Overall; CBS Sportsline: #21 Starting Pitcher; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: #9 Starting Pitcher;

Projections: Luck will be on Liriano’s side in 2011 and he’ll be on the Cy Young short list.

18 wins, 3.06 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 211Ks in 200 innings.

One Response to Francisco Liriano Player Projection No. 60

  1. dude says:

    Nice. Agreed but with lower WHIP.

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