LEFT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: October 26, 1983
Signed: International Free Agent, 2000 (Giants)
How Acquired: Free Agent
Country: Dominican Republic
Agent: Greg Genske
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Liriano has been one of the more erratic pitchers of recent years. He originally worked out for the Giants in the Dominican as an outfielder, but they quickly moved him to the mound. He established himself right away as one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, but missed most of his second full season with shoulder problems, an issue that’s recurred from time to time. Once he got healthy again, and after a trade to Minnesota, he quickly made it to the majors and was spectacular in the first season that he opened in the majors, only to have his season cut short by elbow problems that resulted in Tommy John surgery. In the five seasons he’s pitched since then, he pitched pretty well in one, extremely well in one, and badly in three.
Liriano has always had outstanding stuff, although his fastball velocity has fluctuated from roughly 95 on average before the surgery to anywhere from slightly below 91 to a little below 94 since then. He also has a good change and slider. His control has fluctuated even more wildly than his velocity. He has a career-long pattern of having much better xFIP numbers than ERAs. Normally, this would indicate that a pitcher has had some bad luck or been undermined by a bad defense. The disparity with Liriano, however, has been so large and so persistent that it’s hard to write off as bad luck. He’s generally been a groundball pitcher, although that also has fluctuated. He’s been deadly against left-handed batters during his career, holding them to an OPS of .597. Right-handed hitters have a .744 OPS against him.
In December, the Pirates and Liriano agreed to a two-year deal worth $12.75M. Finalization of the deal, however, was delayed when the Pirates discovered that Liriano had suffered a broken humerus in his non-throwing arm that will cause him to miss the beginning of 2013. In the end, the sides re-worked the deal as a rather complicated one that still potentially is worth $12.75M. Liriano is guaranteed $1M in 2013, with an additional $3.75M possible based on how long he spends on the disabled list. The Pirates have an $8M option for 2014, but it can vest at $5M, $6M or $8M, depending on time missed due to the broken arm in 2013. If the option vests at $5M or $6M, he can still earn up to $8M in incentives based on starts in 2014.
Liriano put up impressive numbers in his debut, including high K rates. At this point he was sitting in the low 90s and reaching 96. Baseball America rated him the Giants’ 14th best prospect.
Liriano had another strong season in low A, but went out in late July with shoulder problems. His fastball velocity increased to 93-94 and he showed a good slider and change. BA ranked him as the Giants’ 4th best prospect.
Liriano made one disastrous start in the California League, then went out with continuing shoulder issues. He returned for four rehab starts in rookie ball at the end of the season. After the season, the Giants sent him, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski in a trade that turned out very badly for San Francisco.
Liriano split his time between high A and AA. He fanned a lot of hitters at both levels without walking an alarming number, but he had more hits allowed than innings pitched at both levels, which you wouldn’t expect with his stuff. BA was impressed enough with that stuff–a fastball that sat at 93-95, an outstanding change and a big curve–to rate him as the Twins’ 5th best prospect.
Liriano pitched well in AA and then dominated AAA, earning a September callup. In four starts and two relief appearances with the Twins, he pitched much better than his ERA, as the WHIP and K/9 show. BA rated him the best prospect in the Twins’ system and the Eastern League, and the second best (after Delmon Young) in the International League. His fastball was sitting at 94-96 and he’d returned to throwing a slider rather than a curve.
Liriano opened the season in the Minnesota bullpen, then moved to the rotation in late May. The results were spectacular, until he was sidelined in early August with elbow problems. He came back for one start in September, but ultimately had Tommy John surgery.
Liriano missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery.
Liriano made three starts in April and struggled badly, walking 13 in 10.1 IP. The Twins sent him to the minors and he pitched well in AAA. They brought him back up for 11 starts late in the year and he pitched very well in most of them.
Liriano struggled through the season, with his fastball averaging less than 92 mph after being close to 95 in 2005-06. He had a career-low groundball rate (40%), and had trouble both with walks and gopher balls. He allowed 21 of the latter, or 1.4 every nine innings. His xFIP of 4.48 did, however, suggest that he was hit with some bad luck.
Liriano turned things around with an outstanding season that got him some Cy Young votes. He cut his walks dramatically and his HR rate even more so, leading the majors by allowing just 0.4 per nine innings. His groundball rate jumped to 53% and his fastball velocity was back up close to 94. His xFIP of 2.95 suggests he pitched even better than his ERA indicates.
Liriano stumbled again due to control problems, despite throwing a no-hitter (with six walks) in May. His fastball velocity was back down by two mph from the previous year and his K rate hit a career low. He went out with a shoulder strain in late August and made no more starts, although he eventually made two relief appearances. Unlike other years, his xFIP (4.52) wasn’t substantially better than his ERA.
In some ways, Liriano had about the same season he did in 2011. His ERA and WHIP remained about the same and he continued to walk five batters per nine innings. There were, however, some positive signs as his velocity rebounded to 93 on average and he fanned well over a batter an inning. His groundball rate dropped, though, to a little under 44%. Once again, his xFIP (4.14) was far better than his ERA. The Twins sent him to the White Sox in a deadline deal; he put up more or less the same numbers for both teams.
Liriano is expected to miss the start of the season due to the broken arm. Assuming he’s able to pitch before too long into the year, he figures to be the Pirates’ third starter, or possibly fourth after James McDonald. The deal is obviously a big gamble for the Pirates, with significant upside. They’re clearly counting on Liriano turning out the way A.J. Burnett did. Burnett also joined the Pirates after two poor seasons, but he’d experienced much more success than Liriano has. The Pirates may also be counting on the fact that Liriano’s Fielding Independent Pitching numbers have been much better than his ERAs, but the discrepancy is a career-long trend and may not be the result of bad luck. More likely, it results from Liriano struggling with runners on base. With nobody on, he’s held hitters to a .665 OPS over his career. With runners on base, that increases to .771. The Pirates expect Liriano to be ready to pitch sometime in May, probably more toward the end of the month.
2014: $8,000,000 (team option)
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2001
MLB Debut: 9/5/2005
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2014
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/04
Options Remaining: 0
MLB Service Time: 6.104
|September 9, 2000: Signed as an international free agent with the San Francisco Giants.
November 14, 2003: Traded by the San Francisco Giants with Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser to the Minnesota Twins for A.J. Pierzynski and cash.
November 18, 2004: Contract purchased by the Minnesota Twins.
July 28, 2012: Traded by the Minnesota Twins to the Chicago White Sox for Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez.
October 29, 2012: Became a free agent.
February 8, 2013: Signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.