By Jason Shetler
Pirates GM Neal Huntington made arguably the best bargain signing of his tenure when he inked Francisco Liriano to a one-year deal for only $1 million prior to the 2013 season. The contract also included a 2014 club option worth $8 million. Liriano played a huge part in getting the Pirates to the postseason in 2013, their first appearance since 1992. His good work was more than enough to have his club option exercised.
Following the 2014 season, Liriano was one of the better starting pitchers on the free agent market. The Pirates gave him a $15.3 million qualifying offer, but he rejected it. There didn’t appear to be much interest for Liriano, not just because of draft pick compensation being attached to him, but also given his injury history. The Pirates and Liriano agreed to terms on a three-year deal worth $39 million. His 2015 season was again a success just like the two years prior. Since 2013, Liriano has the third most strikeouts among NL left-handed starters. Only Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner have more. Liriano has been off to rough start in the early going of 2016, which makes you wonder if he’s beginning to decline.
The number of walks allowed by Liriano has been a concern, posting a 5.2 BB/9. It’s not a surprise that his control issues has led to a lower chase rate of 26.0%, which was at 32.4% last season. Velocity however hasn’t been a factor, as his 92.2 mph two-seam fastball, 85.0 mph slider and 84.9 mph changeup are all about the same as 2015. It’s interesting to note that Liriano is throwing his two-seamer much more than his slider and changeup this season. This may be an indication that his slider and changeup aren’t showing as much movement, and he’s having to throw his fastball more to get ahead in counts. In year’s past, he would rely heavily on the secondary offerings and get a ton of strikeouts. I don’t think Liriano is on a decline, since as I mentioned, there hasn’t been a decrease in any of his pitches in terms of velocity. The walks are definitely a concern, but that seems to be more mechanical than anything, so hopefully Ray Searage is able to find the flaw in his delivery and get him back on track.