Last Thursday, Francisco Liriano went out and pitched a gem, giving up two earned runs in 6.2 innings, but most importantly, striking out 13 and walking none.

It looked like the old Francisco Liriano was back. The Liriano that was statistically one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2013-2015. The pitcher that hasn’t shown up very often in 2016.

Unfortunately, that pitcher didn’t stick around long enough to show up again tonight. The lefty went 3.1 innings, giving up seven earned runs, with four walks and three strikeouts. It’s possible that Liriano could bounce back from this, and show what he showed last time out. But his recent history would suggest otherwise.

Liriano has largely struggled this year. He has just eight starts out of 20 with an ERA under 4.50. In a few of those starts, he’s gotten a bit lucky, working around some control issues. Most of his other starts haven’t gone so well. Half of his starts this year have led to a 5.40 ERA or worse. Only two of those starts could be considered unlucky, where he didn’t pitch as bad as the stat line, although he wasn’t good in those starts.

Prior to joining the Pirates, control was an issue for Liriano. It has been the biggest issue for him this year. He only has five starts with a BB/9 under 4.50. Two of those happened to be in July, but were wrapped around two other starts where he walked seven in 11 innings. Then there was tonight’s start. He also had a stretch in May when he walked just four batters in 14 innings over two starts. However, those were separated by a start with four walks in 4.2 innings, and followed by 29 walks in 36 innings over his next seven starts.

Liriano has seen a big drop in the effectiveness of his slider this year. The pitch went from getting a swinging strike 22.2% of the time last year to 16.6% of the time this year. He’s also getting fewer swings out of the zone, dropping from 44.3% to 37.8%. That’s a bad thing, since Liriano throws the slider out of the zone about two-thirds of the time. The reason for this all stems from him falling behind with the fastball, as Alan Saunders wrote about in tonight’s game recap.

Liriano has discussed at length the reasons that his fastball command sets everything else up for him. It allows him to work the slider in offensive counts and force hitters to swing at his frequently-out-of-the-zone breaking pitch. But when he isn’t getting ahead of hitters, it’s a lot easier for them to take a pass on the slider, and he ends up walking batters or finding too much of the plate in an attempt to avoid walking them.

Last night, I wrote about why the Pirates should be sellers. I focused a lot on the playoff odds, and the fact that the Pirates have some big question marks with their rotation. Liriano really tips the scales with that argument. If he’s a guy who can return to his 2013-2015 form, then he and Gerrit Cole give two starters who you can start twice in a playoff series. Or, you’ve got a Wild Card starter, and a guy you can start twice in the five game series. But if Liriano keeps pitching like he has been pitching, then you’ve got Cole and a group of question marks, with Cole being limited to one game in the division series if the Pirates make it past the Wild Card round.

If Liriano was his old self, then an argument that the Pirates were actual contenders right now would make a lot more sense. You might even be able to take the stance that he could get hot at the right time if he showed any kind of consistency from start to start. But the good outings we’ve seen from him this year have been the exception, and this version of Liriano isn’t a guy that gives you a lot of confidence in a playoff series.

So if you’re holding out hope that the Pirates can seriously contend this year, Liriano is the key. When he’s at his best, he’s a top of the rotation guy. And while it seems far fetched that he will return to his best, there’s no one else in the rotation, outside of Cole, who can match his potential upside this year. That means the Pirates have to stick with him, hope they can make the playoffs without him, and hope he gets fixed in time for the playoffs.

**Liriano’s Struggles and a Lack of Timely Hitting Lead to a Pirates Loss. The game story tonight from Alan Saunders.

**Prospect Watch: Williams Gets Knocked Out of Tuesday’s Game Early. A good report on Clay Holmes from Sean McCool in the live Altoona recap.

**Pirates Notes: Preparing For Felix Hernandez and Why Josh Bell Isn’t in Pittsburgh. Some pre-game notes on Josh Bell and the upcoming rotation.

**Eric Fryer Reinstated from Paternity List, Diaz Optioned to Indianapolis. The stay in the majors was short lived for Diaz, although I expect him to return in September.

IMPORTANT: You will need to update your password after the switch to the new server in order to log in and comment. Go to the Password Reset Page to change your password.

38 COMMENTS

      • Pipe dream, but I hope he proves me wrong. There is nothing to even indicate he is on the right path. If it’s an injury, he’s not going to recover. If it’s coaching that’s not changing and not finding a solution for him. You’re right I don’t know, but I give him about a 5% chance if turning it around this year. I was holding out hope until the all star break. If you’re living in reality, you’re not buying from the Pirates that he’s always one start from turning things around. Same thing with McCuthen. Even though he’s my favorite Pirate he’s not turning it around this year either. Every time he has a good game going back his 3 HR game they Cutch has figured it out. After the following 4 games we find out it hasn’t happened. It doesn’t make anyone a better Pirate fan to swallow everything they feed us.

  1. Is it just me or:

    …..Has instant replay changed the game much more than ever intended.
    We now have rule changes being implemented because they can be confirmed via slow mo replay(e.g.- that foolish slide call on Polanco at second base the other day)?

    ….Is Adam Frazier the most disciplined hitter to enter the batters box in recent memory?

    …Do Pirates announcers immediately go silent when Kang comes to the plate recently. There is hardly a mention of his glaringly obvious struggles at the plate and on the field?

    —Does a Cole for Arenado plus some fixins’sound good?

    ….How can we convey to Joe Block that every vacant moment between pitches doesn’t have to be filled with insipid commentary?

    …until next time….

    • The Polanco call was stupid, and the dead ball rule sending Jaso back to second idiotic. That rule needs to be modified. The difference between Frazier and Harrison in terms of discipline is like night and day. Hopefully it highlights how Harrison’s undisciplined hitting just kills him. I agree on the Kang situation, and part of that is that Block is just bad at his job. He also loves to agree with some of the challenges which go against the Pirates. Like last nights highly questionable call on Frazier….Block just jumped out in agreement.

      • That dead ball interference rule shouldn’t be applied in that situation. The call doubly penalized the Pirates when the out call on Polanco was egregious enough.
        As I stated above, rules are now able to be implemented BECAUSE of replay, like this and the equally offensive slide rule at home.
        MLB needs to stuff replay back into the bag, and return the game to yesteryear before it becomes unrecognizable.

        • Should it be that hard to have people in NY who know what they are doing? It is not replay, but it is the people behind the scenes who can’t use it properly

        • The dead ball call is mandatory under the rules of baseball. If you don’t want him sent back to second, you will first have to get the rule book rewritten.

      • No doubt. Don’t think Rockies make that deal even if you throw in one of our top prospects with Cole.

  2. I would agree we need a strong Lirano to compete we also need Cutch, Cole and a number of others to return to form as well. We will also need a strong Lirano and better results from the aforementioned next year as well. What makes everyone here think next year is going to be great if we give up this year? The young starters will still be young and inexperienced. We still will not be able to afford a FA of significance. Our top players will be one year closer to FA and the bench will likely never be able to perform at the level they have this year.

  3. Yeah, right now, I’m looking at the Pirates contending for the second wild card, let alone the division, as a pipe dream at best. I mean would any of us really make a bet on our top two starters against the top two or more on any other NL team right now? (Strasburg/Scherzer? Arrieta/Lester, Cueto/Bumgarner?) No way! Cole is still not a lock down #1 guy. Right now he’s more of a 2+. A lot of us bought into the fantasy land of the off season and expected Glasnow and Taillon to both have over 5 wins right now. Taillon has been above average, one great start and one horrid start and Glasnow (can’t resist the pun) could possibly be called GLASS-NOW!

  4. Just what could we get, outside of the return for Melancon, other than some fringe prospects if we sell off Jaso, Joyce, Freeze, Feliz, et al?

    Isn’t our system already “loaded”?

    • No need to get rid of Freese or Joyce is there? The guy who needs to go sooner or later is Jaso. On second thought Feliz should stay. The players you mention are all rather cheap and the returns would be minimal. Except for Jaso, stand pat.

      Sooner or later Niese will be gone.

      The days ahead should be interesting.

    • A farm system can never be “too loaded” with prospects, especially for an mlb team that is supposedly always strapped for operating capital.

    • No real way of knowing, but here’s my best shot, based on recent history:

      For Joyce, Freese and Feliz you could probably get a 45/45+ FV prospect in A ball (which wouldn’t be bad – there’s a ton of attrition, so the more you have, the better), primarily because you could also market them to teams like Cleveland that can’t take on a ton of payroll, and those guys are cheap. The more suitors, the better the return, at least in theory.

      For Jaso, you’d be fortunate to find someone willing to pay his salary and give you back nothing in return. Remember, he’s got that $4M price tag for next year and he’s dropped from a 120 wRC+ to a 100 wRC+ and has no power. It’s hard to imagine who would want to add that asset for the stretch drive, let alone pay $5.5M for it, let alone give up anything of worth.

  5. Tim … Do you have any info on Liriano’s 2014 year? He struggled badly then also but turned it around in the second half. I am wondering if the struggles were different or the same.

  6. I agree that Liriano’s return to struggles, combined with Glasnow’s injury and his apparent need to adjust to MLB hitters (unlike, say, Syndergaard), pushes us towards being more sellers than buyers. All along I’ve thought we should do some of both. Now, though , I just don’t want rentals–anyone we “buy” should be able to help us this year and next year.

    • I completely agree that any buying we do needs to be more long term and not short term, (unless we give up nothing). As far as selling. I guess the best piece we have is Melancon which I don’t mind but who is the closer next year (problem is we probably have no chance in resigning him so…) I guess maybe it might be in our best interest to trade him and let Watson sink or swim so we see what we have for next year.

      • Why would you say we have no chance at resigning him? He’s already the 6th highest paid closer in the game, and Huntington couldn’t find any team willing to trade anything of value for him over the winter. I think it’s very possible he stays with Pittsburgh on a 2-3 year deal at $9-$10M AAV.

        • Because he has put together back to back seasons he is a free agent and I don’t see him taking 9 to 10M when he will be able to field offers in the 12 to 13 range. That’s a lot of money to spend on a closer for a team like Pittsburgh.

          • We’ll see, but I have my doubts. 13M is what Kimbrel will make next season, and I don’t think any GM considers Melancon to be Kimbrel’s equal.

            Plus he’s up against Jansen and Chapman in the same free agent class, and those guys are 3 years younger and have the double-digit K/9 that teams pay for. Melancon would clearly be the 3rd best option in that class.

            Then consider, who’s going to offer him that much? Most of the high payroll teams have closers under contract for 2017, even before you find a home for Chapman and Jansen.

            Last, consider that the Pirates will be losing 2 of their 3 late inning arms, and they lose Watson after 2017. There’s a ton of motivation to stabilize the back end of the bullpen with a known commodity.

            So given his age, his profile, his competition, his limited market, the team’s motivation to re-sign him, and then factor in that he just might like it here and get excited about closing out playoff games with Cole, Taillon and Glasnow pitching in front of him…the Pirates have a good shot at retaining him.

            • Well the Cubs are already working on an extension for Chapman that was announced as part of the trade. I think the Dodgers will give Jansen plenty as they can. So that leaves the Yankees now looking and even though the current owners are not as spend heavy as George was they can afford it. The Angels are probably looking and honestly I expect the Braves to spend a lot this off season so they can have a successful opening year in that new stadium. I do see your point though. The big question is a hometown discount. But it would also go against what NH has done the last few years. Only time will tell. Don’t forget we were able to get Melancon by trading a very successful at the time closer. So perhaps lightning could strike twice. Not in a doom and gloom way as I was a fan of the Hanrahan trade. The history speaks to him not being brought back.

    • Glasnow doesn’t need to adjust to major league hitters, he just needs to throw strikes. His fastball hasn’t been squared upon on at all.

      • He is not ready yet. That is as clear as clear can be. He does not possess the consistent command yet.

  7. How much of the pitching woes are related to the loss of Benedict? Minor league pitching has been very strong but the majors have really regressed. Replacing AJ with Niese and/Vogelsong was a bad move, as was not making a strong play for JA, but how much is the change in coaching?

    • That is a very valid question. They didn’t have a choice in replacing AJ, and at the time I actually thought the Niese move was good. Its not fair to look back now and say it was a bad move. While the Vogey signing I questioned at the time with the current situation of the pitching he may and I say “may” offer more help down the stretch to help mentor JT and whichever young pitcher that they choose as the #5 option when he comes back. I really at this point see him being the first option as a starter until next season (TG and CK both having lingering injuries). I am thinking Brault or Williams will be the choice in August and TG and CK will be back in September. This is all if Vogey is healthy. AJ helped Cole a bit. As far as JA Happ. I would have liked to seen up bring him back but I actually felt it wasn’t necessary at the time. Looking back at it now again I wish we would have tried.

    • I would like to see how involved Benedict was with the MLB starters. I could be wrong but I thought he worked with the minor leaguers or just for an adjustment when we got a Major Leaguer. I thought they were Ray’s after that

      • You may very well be right. But I thought Benedict did a lot off field work, like looking for flaws or improvements to major leaguers. Anyway him leaving looks like it was a huge loss.

    • The Marlins have an even worse rotation than the Pirates, so we’re really putting the blame on losing Benedict?

      • Miami’s staff isn’t great but on paper their numbers are better than the Pirates. Their team ERA is 3.90 while the Pirates is 4.31. In the NL that puts them at 7th and the Pirates at 12th. BAA for Miami is .231. BAA for Pirates is .269. The Pirates staff is worse on paper than any staff of any team in WC contention.

      • Really?
        Fernandez – fWAR of 4.5 is arguably better by himself than the entire Pittsburgh rotation. Conley fWAR 1.5 is on a par with Cole. Koehler is as good as Tailon has been and Chen is not very good – but is better than locke-niese and liriano – heck Nicoliono is better than those three.

        • Liriano “Should Be better then Chen though” But Yeah I agree with Bruce here Miami’s staff is better then the Pirates. Lets also not forget that Pirates rotation has not been exactly healthy though either.

  8. But we control him through next year at a reasonable cost! Unfortunately unlike Niese we don’t have a buyout option. If he continues to give us “bad Frankie” performance it is a huge drag on this team. This is why I am not crazy about multi year deals for reclamation projects (see Happ, J).

Comments are closed.