Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just Leave Liriano Alone

Francisco Liriano simply doesn't fit in the Twins' system. He's not a strike-throwing, low pitch count kind of guy. He often seems to labor. But more often than not last year, his labor brought great results. And yet, Francisco Liriano isn't talked about by his team as an ace. Instead, he was a subject of early trade rumors. He was called out for not doing his shoulder exercises during the off-season. The Twins never seem quite comfortable that a considerable chunk of their prospective success is built around how good Liriano is as a pitcher. The advice here for the Rick Anderson and the Twins? Just leave the guy alone and put him out there every fifth day.

The Fan has to admit that this post is spurred by a tweet by Brandon Warne, an excellent writer who has worked for Baseball Prospectus and the Minnesota Sports Broadcast Network. The tweet was perfect because it sums up the frustration this Fan feels whenever word is leaked of the Twins' displeasure with their pitcher:

Still waiting for the inevitable "strikeouts lead to high pitch counts" comment regarding Liriano's 9K, 3IP, 76 pitch night last night.

The tone Warne uses here is just right. It is elemental in the knowledge that the Twins simply don't like Liriano because he doesn't fit their mold. The sad truth is that there are a couple of dozen teams that would be more than happy to have Liriano sitting on top of their pitching rotation. All Liriano did last year was accumulate six wins above replacement (WAR) according to Fangraphs, one of the top figures in the league for starting pitchers. He led the league in the least home runs per nine innings. His FIP of 2.66 was almost a full run below his actual ERA which was impacted quite a bit by a high BABIP and other factors. Simply put, he was among the top five starters in the American League last year. Voters appreciated him as little as his pitching coach and he only came in 11th in Cy Young voting.

Liriano struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings last year or more than a strikeout per inning. After two erratic seasons, he lowered his walk rate to a respectable 2.7 walks per nine innings. But it's not just the strikeouts that set Liriano apart. His ground ball rate of 53.6 percent is more than double his fly ball rate. Liriano also has a devastating slider that he threw almost 34 percent of the time last year. The slider probably accounts for his success at getting batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Opposing batters did so 34.4 percent of the time in 2010, easily the highest of Liriano's career.

The Fan isn't saying not to coach Liriano and help him to get even better. But how about showing some faith in the guy? How about telling the world that he's your guy and your big gun? How about giving the guy the kind of confidence that other aces around the league are given? How about understanding that he is never going to be the cookie-cutter Twins pitcher?

More than anything else, how about just letting the big guy (who is only 27 by the way and one of the biggest bargains in baseball) go out there 33 times and do what he does. If last year is any indication, few others in baseball do it better.

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