I use the “small sample size” disclaimer a lot on this site, so it’s important to note that everything Francisco Liriano has done so far this season comes with that same disclaimer. Having said that, what Francisco Liriano has done so far is cause for some excitement. In five starts, Liriano has a 2.17 ERA in 29 innings, with a 12.1 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9 ratio. Unlike other starters who are putting up strong numbers in the rotation, Liriano isn’t projected to regress. He’s actually projected to improve, with a 1.30 FIP. That’s mostly due to an unlucky .342 BABIP.
There are plenty of things to like about Liriano so far. Consider…
**The low walk rate. The big concern coming into the season was his high walk total in 2011 and 2012. Both seasons had a BB/9 ratio around 5.0. This year he’s down around the levels he was at in his big 2010 and 2006 seasons.
**The high strikeouts. So far Liriano has been dominating opposing hitters, with his best strikeout rate since he threw 23.2 innings in 2005. In 2006 he had a 10.7 K/9. Since then he’s mostly been around 8-9 K/9, with one of the highest rates being the 9.44 K/9 in 2010.
**The ground balls. Liriano has a 51.4% ground ball rate. He had a 53.6% rate in 2010, then dropped in each of the last two years, finishing at 43.8% last year. A left hander who is a ground ball heavy pitcher is always a good thing to have in PNC Park, especially when that left-hander also limits walks and strikes out over a batter per inning.
**The swings. Liriano is getting batters to swing at 47% of his pitches this year. He was around 43-44% the last two years, and 47.3% in 2010. What’s even better is that his 66.9% contact rate is the lowest it has been since 2006. That makes sense with the high strikeout rate. Here is the best combination. Liriano has thrown 38.2% of pitches in the strike zone, which is down from 43% the last two years, and 48% in 2010. However, he’s getting swings outside of the zone at a 37.9% rate this year, which is up from 26-31% the last two years, and 34% in 2010. So he’s throwing more pitches out of the strike zone, but also getting more swings, and the contact numbers are down. You could say all of those are related, and file them under the “fooling hitters” category.
Again, it’s a small sample size of five starts. The swing percentages don’t include tonight’s start, so they’re based on four starts. But so far, I’d say it’s looking like the Pirates are getting the 2010 Francisco Liriano. In fact, you could make an argument that this version is looking better. And it’s not just the stats. Liriano looks dominant on the mound. There are a few places where the pitching staff will probably see some regression, but Liriano doesn’t look like one of those spots. Instead, he looks like he could be another anchor for the rotation.
Links and Notes
**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 6: The Battling Buccos, The Bullpen Usage, and The Pirates System.
**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Dominican Summer League Preview. The DSL results will be uploaded in a separate article each morning, with a highlight of one player each day.
**Gerrit Cole pitched a great game on Friday. Charlie at Bucs Dugout was in attendance, and has a write up here.