Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 11/16/14
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FRANCISCO LIRIANO LEFT HANDED PITCHER Born: October 26, 1983 Height: 6’2″ Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Left 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 his first full season, 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. According to multiple reports, the Pirates have signed Liriano to a two-year deal.  The amount has been reported both as $14M total and just under $13M.  The deal is contingent on a physical. 2001 R:  5-4-0, 3.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 62.0 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 9.7 K/9 A-:  0-0-0, 5.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 9.0 IP, 1.0 BB/9, 12.0 K/9 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. 2002 A:  3-6-0, 3.49 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 80.0 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 9.6 K/9 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. 2003 R:  0-1-0, 4.32 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8.1 IP, 6.5 BB/9, 9.7 K/9 A+:  0-1-0, 54.00 ERA, 10.50 WHIP, 0.2 IP, 27.0 BB/9, 0.0 K/9 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. 2004 A+:  6-7-0, 4.00 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 117.0 IP, 3.3 BB/9, 9.6 K/9 AA:  3-2-0, 3.18 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 39.2 IP, 3.9 BB/9, 11.1 K/9 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. 2005 AA:  3-5-0, 3.64 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 76.2 IP, 3.1 BB/9, 10.8 K/9 AAA:  9-2-0, 1.78 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 91.0 IP, 2.4 BB/9, 11.1 K/9 MLB:  1-2-0, 5.70 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 23.2 IP, 2.7 BB/9, 12.5 K/9 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. 2006 MLB:  12-3-0, 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 121.0 IP, 2.4 BB/9, 10.7 K/9 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. 2007 Did not play Liriano missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery. 2008 A+:  0-1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 5.1 IP, 3.4 BB/9, 13.5 K/9 AAA:  10-2-0, 3.28 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 118.0 IP, 2.4 BB/9, 11.1 K/9 MLB:  6.4-0, 3.91 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 76.0 IP, 3.8 BB/9, 7.9 K/9 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. 2009 MLB:  5-13-0, 5.80 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 136.2 IP, 4.3 BB/9, 8.0 K/9 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. 2010 MLB:  14-10-0, 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 191.2 IP, 2.7 BB/9, 9.4 K/9 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. 2011 MLB:  9-10-0, 5.09 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 134.1 IP, 5.0 BB/9, 7.5 K/9 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. 2012 MLB (Minn):  3-10-0, 5.31 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 100.0 IP, 5.0 BB/9, 9.8 K/9 MLB (CWS):  3-2-0, 5.40 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 56.2 IP, 5.1 BB/9, 9.2 K/9 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. Assuming Liriano passes his physical, he’ll become 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.  It’s a reasonable gamble, though, because if Liriano fails to work out, the Pirates should have additional options around mid-season, or possibly late in the season, such as Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson and/or Charlie Morton. STATS Baseball Reference–Majors Baseball Reference–Minors Fangraphs MLB.com MiLB.com CONTRACT INFORMATION 2006: $327,000 2007: $410,000 2009: $430,000 2010: $1,600,000 2011: $4,300,000 2012: $5,500,000 2013: 2014: PLAYER INFORMATION 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 TRANSACTIONS 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. December 21, 2012: Signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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