Tag: Fransisco Liriano

2011 MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins’ Francisco Liriano Poised for Historic Season

In 2006, a flame-throwing rookie took the baseball world by storm. Ranked the sixth-best prospect in the game on Baseball America‘s preseason list, he surpassed even the wildest expectations people had for him, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA (2.55 FIP, 2.35 xFIP) and earned 4.1 WAR in 121 innings.

His name was Francisco Liriano, and he quickly emerged as the Twins‘ best starter—no easy feat considering his teammate, Johan Santana, went on to win the AL Cy Young.

Then disaster struck. Elbow pain limited Liriano to just two starts after July 28, and he underwent Tommy John surgery in November.

He missed the entire 2007 season, and wasn’t quite himself for two years afterwards. He went 11-17 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in 212 2/3 innings from 2008-9. His breakout rookie season seemed like a fluke, and Liriano had gained a reputation as inconsistent and injury-prone.

Butast winter, something changed, and Liriano rediscovered his lost talent. In 37 innings of work in the Dominican League, he posted a 0.49 ERA. More importantly, he showed the overpowering stuff (10.9 K/9) he had lost since his debut season while bringing his walks under control (1.7 BB/9).

The stage was set for a monster year, and Liriano did not disappoint.

In 31 starts—2010 was the first time he’d managed more than 25—he went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA. In 191 2/3 innings, he racked up 201 strikeouts while allowing only 58 walks.

He earned 6.0 WAR for a Twins team that won its division by six games. In other words, Minnesota probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Liriano.

Liriano simply dominated opposing hitters. His 9.4 K/9 rate was second in the league, behind only Jon Lester. Batters chased his out-of-zone pitches at a 34.4 percent clip—good for fourth in baseball—and his 12.4 percent swinging-strike rate was the best in the game. PitchFx had his fastball averaging 94.2 mph, and no pitcher did more damage with his slider than Liriano (FanGraphs’ pitch weights had him at 19.0 wSL).

And yet, Liriano was actually extremely unlucky. His .331 BABIP was the second-highest in baseball. Yes, groundball pitchers like Liriano tend to have higher hit rates than their fly ball-inducing counterparts, but his xBABIP was exactly .300.

What might Liriano’s season have looked like with neutral luck? His 2.66 FIP put him second in the league, behind only rightful Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. The 96-point difference between his FIP and ERA marks him as the unluckiest pitcher in the AL.

Liriano’s 2.93 tERA puts him fourth in the Junior Circuit, way ahead of Cy Young candidates David Price (3.27), CC Sabathia (3.44) and Clay Buchholz (3.92).

XFIP was the least generous of the ERA estimators, putting Liriano at 3.06. And yet, that was good enough to beat every other qualified pitcher in baseball not named Roy Halladay.

What does this mean for Liriano’s 2011 season? Assuming his peripherals hold up, we could very well be looking at the best pitcher in baseball.

As his BABIP falls, his WHIP will follow. Fewer hits means a higher strand rate (Liriano’s 73.1 LOB% last year looks fine, but one would expect a pitcher of his caliber post an above-average mark), and fewer base-runners scoring at a lower rate will do wonders for his ERA.

If he can keep his HR/FB rate down—and a pitcher of his caliber shouldn’t have too much trouble controlling the long ball at Target Field—there’s no reason his ERA wouldn’t regress towards his 2.66 FIP.

Plus, fewer base-runners means fewer hitters. That will make his innings go by faster, allowing him to pitch deeper into games. He averaged less than 6.1 innings a start in 2010 and didn’t throw a single complete game. Fewer runs and more innings mean more wins.

The scary part? It seems like Liriano has been around forever, but in fact he is only 27 years old. Given his age, he could conceivably get even better this year. Twenty wins, an ERA around 2.00 and more than 200 innings are well within the realm of possibility for Liriano.

Of course, it would be ridiculous to expect a season that incredible from anyone outside a video game console. Moreover, while Liriano seems perfectly healthy now, there’s always a shadow of doubt for pitchers with his kind of injury history.

And while regression to his luck-neutral statistics is the most likely outcome, it’s no guarantee. If you roll two dice you’re always most likely to get a seven, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never roll snake eyes.

Earlier this winter, I projected Liriano to go 16-8 with a 2.92 ERA, backed up by 211 strikeouts and 63 walks in 204 IP, which would clearly make him one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Could he beat my prediction? Absolutely. He may have the highest upside of any starter in the game, and he could go on to have a truly historic season.

Don’t count on Liriano’s stats matching up with his luck-neutral numbers from last season, but the sky is the limit when he takes the mound in 2011.

For more of Lewie’s work, visit WahooBlues.com. Follow him on Twitter @LewsOnFirst or @WahooBlues.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Trade Rumors: 10 Reasons the Minnesota Twins Should Acquire Zack Greinke

With the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings heating up, everyone is waiting to find out whether the Yankees, Rangers or perhaps another suitor will win the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. No matter what team Lee ends up choosing, his decision is sure to set off a chain reaction in the baseball world, as Lee’s signing will be just one major move in what promises to be a busy winter.

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke might be the second hottest topic this offseason, as the Royals seems poised to trade away their Cy Young award winning ace to the highest bidder. Teams that lose out on acquiring Cliff Lee via free agency will be forced to focus their pursuit on the services of Greinke.

The Cliff Lee saga may have passed for the Minnesota Twins this past July when they were unable to make a trade happen, but as we move towards 2011 Zack Greinke appears to be on the radar for Twins management. Given the disappointing finish to this past season and some uncertain circumstances heading into 2011, the Twins would be wise to do whatever possible to bring Greinke to Target Field.

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