Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 12/21/12
Royals_vs_twins_adcf
The Pittsburgh Pirates have reportedly agreed to sign Francisco Liriano to a two year, $14 million contract. It’s an interesting deal, and we’ll talk about the specifics of Liriano and the Pirates in a second, but I first want to look at where this deal fits into an interesting off-season trend. From a runs allowed perspective, Francisco Liriano was terrible last year. Just like he was the year before, too. By RA9-wins, Liriano has basically been a replacement level pitcher for the last two years, putting up an ERA- of 127 over that span. Of the 109 pitchers who have thrown 250 or more innings since the start of the 2011 season, Liriano’s ERA- ranks 104th. In terms of preventing runs, he’s been better than only Chris Volstad, J.A. Happ, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, and Brian Duensing. From a FIP perspective, though, Liriano has been a bit better. Not good, but better. We’ve got his WAR (based on walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed) over the last two years at +2.9, making him a below average — but not abysmal — starter. Liriano’s stuff and peripherals suggest that he should get better results going forward than he’s gotten in the past. And if his stuff and peripherals are right, then 2/14 for Liriano could easily be a bargain for the Pirates. But here’s the thing; Liriano’s stuff and peripherals have been saying this for a while, and he’s been underperforming his FIP for nearly his entire career. Season IP ERA- FIP- xFIP- 2005 23 132 77 46 2006 121 48 58 53 2008 76 91 91 98 2009 136 132 112 101 2010 191 88 64 70 2011 134 125 113 112 2012 156 129 104 100 Career 840 104 89 87 With the exception of his remarkable 2006 season and a half year comeback in 2008, Liriano’s ERA hasn’t been anywhere close to his FIP or xFIP. In 2009, 2011, and 2012, xFIP suggests that Liriano has been something like league average. In 2009, 2011, and 2012, ERA suggests that Liriano has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball. Even in 2010, when his results were good, they weren’t nearly as good as his BB/K/HR rates suggested that they should be. The last time Liriano’s results matched his peripherals, Lou Piniella won Manager of the Year, Geovany Soto was Rookie of the Year, and Randy Johnson was still a member of the Diamondbacks rotation. This is the kind of track record that gets a pitcher described as an outlier. For whatever reason, Liriano has been consistently terrible at stranding runners, and while it’s easy to write that off as a fluke over a year or even two, it gets a bit tougher to believe that this is all just random variance in sequencing when he’s at 840 innings pitched and has a career LOB% under 70%. But yet, here are the Pirates, paying Liriano for a performance that requires his FIP to be the more predictive aspect, not his his strand rate and ERA. This deal follows on the heels of the Angels giving Joe Blanton essentially the same contract for the same kind of paradox. And it follows Zack Greinke getting paid like an ace, even though you have to disbelieve in the predictive power of ERA to believe that Zack Greinke is an ace. And it follows Anibal Sanchez signing an $80 million contract coming off a couple of seasons where his ERA- (96) had him as a decent starter but his FIP (87) had him as one of the better starters in baseball. Toss in Scott Feldman getting $6 million from the Cubs, and this has been a pretty profitable winter for starting pitchers who posted much better FIPs than ERAs over the last few years. Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse and his 74 ERA- are still sitting on the market, with no real rumors to suggest that any team is actively pursuing him in a serious way. Joe Saunders, who had a better ERA than Edwin Jackson last year and has a better career ERA as well, is still on the market after watching Jackson sign a $52 million contract with the Cubs yesterday. Brandon McCarthy, who has an 83 ERA- over the last three years — the best total of any free agent starter this winter — signed a contract that pays him basically the same total as Liriano and Blanton. Obviously, there’s extenuating factors related to McCarthy’s health, but it’s interesting that the guy who posted the best three-year-ERA of the entire class signed the same deal as two guys who were well below average in terms of runs allowed since 2010. Not every pitching acquisition has followed this trend, of course. Jeremy Guthrie got paid for his history of run prevention, even though FIP and xFIP hate him. The Angels offset their Blanton acquisition by trading for Jason Vargas, whose value is reliant upon low BABIPs and HR/FB rates. Teams don’t appear to be beating down Roy Oswalt‘s door, even though his peripherals suggest that he could still be a pretty effective pitcher for someone next year. I’m not saying that teams don’t care about ERA anymore. But they certainly appear to be caring about it less, or at the least, giving more credit to pitchers who have given them reason to think that maybe their future ERA will be better than their past ERA. That’s what the Pirates are betting on with Liriano. They made this exact same bet with A.J. Burnett last year — he was coming off two roughly replacement level seasons by RA9, but had been just a bit below average by FIP — and it paid off big time, as he gave them 200 excellent innings for a bargain price. But Burnett had a better track record than Liriano, had been healthier than Liriano, and hadn’t seen the same wild velocity fluctuations as Liriano, and they still only had to pick up $13 million of the $33 million he was owed in 2012-2013 when they acquired him from New York. A year later, they’re paying $14 million for Liriano, a worse version of the same idea. It’s a bet that’s probably worth making, especially for a team that isn’t going to be landing any frontline starters at frontline starter prices, but it’s worth noting that the price for these kinds of pitchers seems to be going up pretty quickly. Guys like Liriano used to have to settle for one year deals, but now, teams are betting multi-year contracts on their peripherals being more predictive than their ERAs. After years of overpaying for unsustainable results, it seems like MLB teams have made adjustments, and are now better identifying which pitchers to go after in free agency. A high ERA no longer means that you’re not getting paid. That’s what I call progress.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Adrian Peterson accused of fathering another child out of wedlock

Robert Griffin III liked fan’s Instagram post trashing Redskins

Report: Tom Brady may have been ‘open’ to one-game suspension

Fenway Park staff reportedly confiscating Don Orsillo signs

Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer betting on himself

Titans' Marcus Mariota: ‘Statistics don’t matter to me’

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Raiders cut Trent Richardson

FSU names Everett Golson starting QB for 2015

UCLA's Adams arrested for suspicion of felony robbery

AJ Green heading for contract stalemate with Bengals?

Report: NFL offered to cut Brady suspension to 3 games

Report: Tristan Thompson won’t take below max from Cavs

WATCH: Kevin Kiermaier robs Manny Machado home run shot

Four most surprising roster cuts from NFL teams

Caroline Wozniacki smoking on cover of ‘Rhapsody’ magazine

Could Robert Griffin III be the NFL’s next Steve Young?

Spurrier: SEC fans right to be upset with Ohio State's schedule

Report: 'Deranged' fan shot outside WWE building

Report: Brady convinced Harbaugh to return to Michigan

Ronda Rousey gets Venice mural from artist Jonas Never

Redskins TE wants to know who's leaking stories to ESPN

WWE superstar's girlfriend fired over Nazi Instagram posts

Madison Bumgarner has once again put Giants on his back

Following Arrieta’s no-hitter, Cubs hit the road in pajamas

Five NFL teams that should sign Fred Jackson

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Four most surprising roster cuts from NFL teams

Raiders cut Trent Richardson

Caroline Wozniacki smoking cover of ‘Rhapsody’

Everett Golson named FSU's starting QB

Urban Meyer won't announce QB before season

Teammates relieved RG3 was benched?

Five NFL teams that should trade for Robert Griffin III

10 takeaways from Week 3 of the NFL preseason

Cubs' Jake Arrieta no-hits the Dodgers

Chicago Bears release Tim Jennings

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker