Potential Twins Bullpen Target: Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates
Image courtesy of © Benny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsFrancisco Liriano, LHP, 35 years-old
Pittsburgh Pirates, NL Central (40-43)
Free Agent in 2020
What’s To Like
For 13 years Liriano worked as a major league starter. This was the guy who popped up for the Minnesota Twins as a 21 year-old in 2005, and became an All-Star during his rookie campaign in 2006. Looking incredible that season the Twins seemed to have a partner able to pair with Johan Santana in an annual chase for Cy Young awards. Then he blew out his elbow. Fast forward through roughly a decade of good-but-not-great years and the Pirates now employ Liriano solely as a reliever for the first time in his career.
Through 40.0 innings pitched this season for the Buccos, Liriano owns a dazzling 2.70 ERA. His 8.8 K/9 is a high water mark over the past three years and his surface numbers are better across the board. Statcast data doesn’t track back to Liriano’s debut but his velocity hit its peak at 94.5 mph during 2010. Since 2011 he’s lived between 92-93 mph and is still there today, so that consistency is a good thing.
Suggesting he was an average starter is about as definitive as it gets when looking at Liriano’s ERA+. The park adjusted metric has him at 98 from 2005-2018. Working solely as a reliever this season, that metric is all the way up to 163. Given that 100 represents league average, all parties involved have to be optimistic with the output.
Do some digging under the hood on Liriano and things can get dicey pretty quick. FIP is far from an analytically advanced metric, his 4.06 mark suggests a significant amount of regression could be coming. His xFIP mark, which is a more nuanced expected fielder independent pitching tally, is even worse at 5.05. It’s one thing for those numbers to be slightly above his ERA, but we’re dealing with very wide gaps here.
Of 174 qualified relievers Liriano’s .259 BABIP checks in 54th. Registering in the bottom third, inching up closer towards the mean is a definite possibility. He’s also generating infield fly balls 17% of the time, which checks in 25th out of the same group. Although his pitches aren’t being walloped (just a 30% hard hit rate), there’s more than enough wiggle room for batted ball events to turn less than ideal.
There’s no denying that the plate discipline profile works in his favor. Whiff rates are up, so to are chase rates, and contact rates are down. That’s a trifecta of goodness but can be adjusted to. Liriano has never thrown more changeups than he is right now, and relying on offspeed as he must, leaves less room for error.
At the end of his career, this is a remade starter that’s carved out a solid showing working in a glorified long man role. High leverage innings have resulted in the highest (.688) OPS against, while late and close scenarios have produced a .729 OPS against. A fine year for him to wind down on, the upside for Minnesota doesn’t look to be worth the squeeze.
Raisel Iglesias, RHP, Reds
Jake Diekman, LHP, Royals
Ian Kennedy, RHP, Royals
Sergio Romo, RHP, Marlins
Shane Greene, RHP, Tigers
Felipe Vázquez, LHP, Pirates
Will Smith, LHP, Giants
Liam Hendriks, RHP, Athletics
Ty Buttrey, RHP, Angels
Ken Giles, RHP, Blue Jays
Sam Dyson, RHP, Giants
Brad Hand, LHP, Indians
Oliver Perez, LHP Cleveland
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds
John Gant, RHP, Cardinals
Alex Colome, RHP, White Sox
Seth Lugo, RHP, Mets
Greg Holland, RHP, Diamondbacks
Sean Doolittle, LHP, Nationals
Kirby Yates, RHP, Padres
10 Relievers Minnesota Could Target