Should Francisco Liriano Start the Wild Card Game on the Road?

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano has been great at PNC Park, but not as good on the road. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Today Francisco Liriano struggled on the road against the Chicago Cubs. That’s not a new thing. Liriano has been much better at home this year than he has on the road. Prior to today’s game he had a 1.47 ERA at home, and a 4.15 ERA on the road. The FIP numbers are a little closer, with a 2.50 FIP at home, and a 3.29 FIP on the road.

This afternoon Liriano had 90 pitches through five innings. That was even after a short nine pitch fifth inning. He came out for the sixth inning and started off the frame with a single and a walk. The next batter, Darnell McDonald, hit a three run homer, which ended up being the difference in the 4-2 game.

As it stands, Liriano is the scheduled starter for the Wild Card game. If the Pirates take two of three this weekend against the Reds, that game will be at PNC Park. I don’t think there’s any question that Liriano should start the game if the Pirates have home field advantage. But there might be a question of whether he should start on the road, which will happen if the Reds win the weekend series.

On one side of the debate, there’s the home/road splits. On the other side, there’s the fact that the Reds have a lineup led by left-handed hitters Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce. Throwing a dominant left-hander against that group looks to be a smart move, no matter where the game is played.

Liriano has made two starts in Cincinnati this year. In the first start he limited the Reds to two runs in six innings. In the second start he gave up five runs in 4.1 innings. At home, Liriano has held the Reds to one run in six innings and two runs in eight innings in his two outings. I don’t think you can attribute all of those numbers to the home/road splits. Some of those performances, whether at home or on the road, have to be chalked up to Liriano against the Reds.

I think the decision would be simple if it wasn’t for the July 19th start where Liriano gave up five runs in 4.1 innings. So what happened in that outing?

It started when Chris Heisey hit a solo homer off Liriano in the first inning. After that, the left-hander was on cruise control until the fifth. With one out, Liriano gave up back to back singles to Shin-Soo Choo and Heisey. The second single brought in Mike Leake, who reached earlier on a fielder’s choice. Both singles were ground balls, so I went back to the video to see exactly what happened.

The first single by Choo was a ground ball that went under the glove of Jordy Mercer at second base. Mercer was ranging to the bag and trying to backhand it, but didn’t get his glove down far enough. Clint Barmes was on the bag, so there would have been at least one out from the play, and possibly two.

The second single was a bouncer to third that went off the glove of Alvarez. It looked like Alvarez was getting in position to try and go to second and start a double play. Looking back, I’m surprised it went for a hit, since it wasn’t a hard hit ball, and should have at least gone for an out. Also, if Mercer makes the previous play and gets an out, then Alvarez probably fields this differently, going for one out and ending the inning with no damage.

After that, Liriano walked Joey Votto, then left the game, and Justin Wilson came in. Wilson gave up a double to Brandon Phillips to clear the bases, and give Liriano three more runs.

So the one bad outing by Liriano against the Reds really had nothing to do with pitching at home or on the road. He got two ground balls that should have been played by his fielders, and if they had, then it’s a 1-0 game through five innings. Instead, he left the game at 2-0, then got three more runs when Justin Wilson took over. Without all of that, we would be easily point to his strong history against the Reds as a sign that he should be pitching against them, no matter where the game is.

Even with that start, I still think the best bet is to start Liriano against the Reds, even if it’s on the road. I think that his success against them this season makes more sense than whatever the theory is behind him starting on the road. Three of the best hitters for the Reds are left-handed, and Liriano has dominated left-handers this year with a microscopic .303 OPS on the season. That is why he should start against Cincinnati, even if it’s on the road.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • manilowmaniak

    Gotta disagree about Liriano. He has only won 2 out his last 7 games and has a poor record against the Reds. The best pitcher right now is Morton who has lasted at least 8 innings his last 2 outings and only allowed 3 hits in one game and 2 hits in the other. Unfortunately for him he had the feeble Pirate offense both nights and did not get a W in either game.

    • SteveW

      But Morton won’t be available to start. Other than Liriano, there really is no other choice unless Cinci wins the first two to clinch home field and Hurdle opts to not use Cole on Sunday. Very unlikely that will happen.

    • manilowmaniak

      Why do you say Morton is unavailable? The pitiching matchups for Sunday’s and Monday’s game has not been established yet. Hurdle could hold him out for the playoff. Liriano is 0-3 against the Reds this year.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

        The weekend matchups are important. The Pirates need to win those to try and get home field. If Morton and Cole are good options, then you want them going up against the Reds in these important games.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      Liriano didn’t win his two games before this, but that had nothing to do with him. He gave up two earned runs in six innings (they won, he got a ND), and two earned runs in eight innings (Melancon blew the save and lost). Today was the first time in the last five games that he didn’t put the team in position to win.

    • manilowmaniak

      Of course they are important, but not as crucial as the 1 game that determines whether we continue in the playoffs. Of course though we are talking about a team that could not even win a series against the Cubs or Padres in the home stretch. So for us to discuss the importance of what pitcher should be up is almost comical.

      • stickyweb

        Of course the Reds couldn’t win a series against the Mets even deeper in the home stretch, so if our discussion is comical, would theirs be tragic?

        • buster09

          Sticky : don’t you see a common theme with the other poster ? It only counts when you can jab the Pirates ! Losing 1 – 0 to the Mets when you really need the win means nothing I guess.

    • manilowmaniak

      It looks like the decision has been made. Morton pitches tomorrow and Cole goes on Sunday. So unless Hurdle surprises us all and puts in the 16 million dollar man Rodriquez(haha),Liriano it will be. The guy who is 0-3 against the Reds and rarely lasts more than 6 innings recently, is now going to be the one that decides our playoff future. Well at least we got here and that is amazing!

  • michaelbro8

    It’s a tough call, especially when it boils down to one game for all the marbles. I lean towards Liriano’s as well, but wonder about the mental aspect of it. Maybe AJs edginess gives him an advantage there, although Liriano’s has seemed pretty unflappable on the mound, good or bad. Either way, pretty good choices to have.

  • jedeweese

    Guilty…I am one of those that visit and rarely comment – but I copy a lot of your articles over to Pixburg Pie Rats group on FB. I am going to add you tou our group if you are willing.
    This article (and others like it) is why I am a huge fan of PiratesProspects!

  • benh444

    Liriano should 100% be the starter. If Burnett was rolling right now and the game was on the road I might consider it but he’s been shaky recently (minus his last start). The biggest issue is that Clint needs to have a quick hook in this wild card game. With liriano and Burnett he’s been willing to run them out there, put them in unfavorable matchups and “trust their stuff”. But in a one game playoff, all of your players need to be at your disposal and if that means going to the bullpen after 4 2/3 you do it. Still remains to be seen whether Clint would pull that trigger though if the situation calls for it

  • CalipariFan506

    I want Liriano to start that game but I’d also consider not pitching Cole Sunday to have just in case of an early game injury to Liriano or to bring out of the pen at some point. Initially I wanted Cple to throw Sunday in case homefield for the wild card game was on the line but the more I think about it the more I’d rather have him as a back up plan Tuesday than I’d rather have the game at PNC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    I don’t think these games this weekend are important at all. The ONLY game that means ANYTHING is on Tuesday. Everything should be geared for that game.

    We could sweep in Cincy and then lose on Tues,

    jmho

  • steelpro

    To me Liriano is a no brainer. But I have no problem using AJ or Morton in relief if the situation presents iteself. AJ is probably the best option if you absolutely need a K against a right handed hitter. Is there a better option than Morton if you need a double play ball?

  • leadoff

    If the Pirates lose on Friday, it is likely the game is going to be in Cincy, no matter what, Clint could hold out any pitcher on Sat or Sun have them ready for Tuesday, the problem is after the game starts, that is where we have a problem, Clint comes into the picture and that can be a bad thing, if Burnett is on the bump, Burnett will decide when he is done no matter what the situation, Liriano will have to tell Clint he is done and Cole will have to bomb, in any situation, all hands on deck is not one of Hurdles plans, save them for December is more like it. Oh please Mr. Martin, let Clint know when he has to change pitchers, it seems he will listen to you. Leaving Liriano in to give up that 3 run blast when he was toast was shear stupidity and cost the Pirates a possible home playoff game.
    People can say what they want and they can give all the accolades they want to Hurdle, but he has to be the worst field manager in baseball today. Before the game, he might be the best manager in baseball. Too me he is the biggest difference between these three teams in the NL Central, too be worse than Dusty takes some doing.

    • smurph

      Love the hindsight. Prior to Murphy’s single and then Lake working a 7 pitch walk, Liriano had retired 6 in a row, 3 by strikeouts. He has exceeded 104 pitches 3 times this season. So if you tell me you somehow you knew he was toast when he pitched to a player with 51 ML at bats this season and no HR, well I guess I just don’t believe you.
      One other thing, if the Pirates do lose on Friday, the losing starter would be AJ, meaning there would be no consideration for him to start the WC game. There probably isn’t anyway. So I don’t think we need to worry Hurdle leaving him in too long on Monday, since he won’t be pitching in that game.

      • leadoff

        “So if you tell me you somehow you knew he was toast when he pitched to a player with 51 ML at bats this season and no HR, well I guess I just don’t believe you.”
        First of all believing me does not matter. I wanted Liriano gone after the 4th inning for several reasons.
        1. He was not giving up cheap hits.
        2. The Cubs had 2nd or 3rd occupied almost every inning.
        3. Liriano was laboring the entire outing.
        4. McDonald had 2 hits off of him already.
        5. Too many of his pitches were up in the zone.
        6. Liriano seldom rights himself when he does not have his good stuff, in other words I thought he had a lot of luck to get as far as he got and I think luck has a way of running out.
        I thought in a 1 run tie that 1 or 2 runs was going to decide the outcome, I think the Pirates had fresh pitchers like Cumpton in the pen, if they don’t want to use him, don’t take him to Chicago.
        So you see I had a lot of reasons for my thinking right or wrong.

    • Andrew

      My thought against the Reds has always been Liriano on a short leash. (Leadoff while you criticize Hurdle, some of it justifiable, let us see if Dusty Baker would be smart enough to take out Choo against a left-handed starter.) Great article on Fangraphs on optimal strategy for Pirates vs Reds. Please excuse this confirmation bias via my appeal to authority/experts.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/how-the-pirates-should-manage-the-wild-card-game/

      Hurdle in-game management can leave a lot to be desired but I think he is around league average. I have seen Matheny quoted that they do not shift because the pitchers do not like it.

      • smurph

        I would agree with Andrew. There are moves Hurdle makes that I agree with that just don’t work out. There are also moves I just don’t understand as well. I think he is pretty average for ingame decisions. Who would have predicted the 2 Melancon blown saves, one of which would not have happened were it not for Mercer’s error? He didn’t use lefty-righty matchups much with his bullpen most of the season, because he has RPs that can get them both out, and in fact with some guys like Melancon and Wilson, they are better against hitters from the other side of the plate. Lately, with the expanded rosters he has gone a little more for matchups because he now has 17 pitchers. Was it smart to have Neil Walker bunting with a man on 2nd and no outs? I didn’t think so. All he has to do is pull the ball on the ground. And maybe he evens gets lucky and gets a hit. Is it smart to steal 2nd base with McCutchen at the plate and 2 outs? With an automatic out like Morneau or k-dro on deck, I don’t really think it is.

  • CalipariFan506

    The reason I do not want Cole starting Sunday is what you guys have mentioned. Liriano should be on a very short leash and it would be nice to count on Cole to go 2 or 3 uinnings to get to the back end of the bullpen.