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.

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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