The following article is a guest post from Getting Blanked contributor Travis Reitsma. Travis is the creator and operator of Baseball Canadiana.
The other day, the Minnesota Twins named the supremely overrated Carl Pavano as their opening day starter for the 2011 season, despite the fact that most view Francisco Liriano as the team’s top pitcher.
It’s obvious that the ritual of naming the opening day starter is largely a formality bestowed upon the organization’s top starting pitcher, and it ultimately doesn’t mean a lot. Just because a team names someone doesn’t mean that they don’t have faith in the other starters or that their best starter won’t turn out to be someone else, but there may be more significance in this particular case.
A string of strange reports seem to be suggesting that the Twins may be souring on Liriano.
On February 10th, just after avoiding arbitration with the lefty by inking him to a one-year $4.3-million deal, it was reported that the Twins may be willing to trade Liriano if the right pieces were coming back. This rumour confused some, but apparently the two sides are not finding much in the way of common ground on a long-term extension.
The second story came earlier this week when it was reported that a lack of offseason conditioning led to Liriano’s first throwing session of the spring being pushed back to accommodate a sore shoulder.
Now throw in the snub for opening day starter, despite clearly being the team’s best pitcher and a picture begins to be painted.
Are the Twins giving up on Liriano? I mean, it’s not as if he’s the first pitcher in history to favour a warm meal over a stringent exercise regimen and he still has another year of arbitration eligibility which would prevent him from hitting the open market until after the 2012 season, so are the Twins really considering moving him?
When you think of Liriano, you may not immediately place him among the best pitchers in baseball, but last season, he was. He finished third in the majors in FIP at 2.66, a mark that put him behind only Josh Johnson and Cliff Lee, and he was fourth in the AL in WAR behind only Lee, Justin Verlander and only barely behind Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. All of this was despite the fact that he had the second highest batted ball average in baseball to only James Shields, suggesting that he was actually very unlucky and could have been even better than he was.
Comparing his numbers to Hernandez’s, you can even make the case that Liriano could have been the AL Cy Young Award winner in 2010.
8.36 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 0.61 HR/9, 6.2 WAR
9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 0.42 HR/9, 6.0 WAR
The major difference between the two, besides the fact that their teams were at either end of the spectrum in terms of talent, was that Hernandez’s batted ball average was much lower than Liriano’s. Only 10 pitchers had a lower BABIP than King Felix.
Some say that Liriano’s 2010 was a bit of a fluke considering how the 27-year-old had pitched in the previous two seasons, but he was coming off of Tommy John surgery which caused him to miss all of 2007. Liriano’s 2010 was actually more in line with his pre-Tommy John numbers at both the major and minor league levels, suggesting that it was no fluke.
In his rookie 2006 season, Liriano took the league by storm posting a 2.16 ERA and 2.55 FIP in 28 games including 16 starts and his minor league numbers were also terrific.
Liriano was signed by the San Francisco Giants out of the Dominican Republic in 2000 and was then traded to the Twins ahead of the 2004 season in one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory. The Giants dealt him, along with Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser, to Minnesota for catcher A.J. Pierzynski who signed with the White Sox the following year. Between the Giants and Twins organizations, Liriano posted similar numbers across the board to his 2010 season.
Minor league cumulative numbers:
10.00 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 0.60 HR/9, 3.42 ERA, 2.87 FIP
9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 0.42 HR/9, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP
All of this suggests that the 27-year-old Liriano is entering his prime and has all the makings of an elite major league pitcher. Even though the Twins have a lot of depth in their rotation with Pavano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn, those pitchers do not have near the ceiling that Liriano has. Trading him would be a significant blow to a team who expects to contend in the AL Central with a $114-million payroll.
The Twins may be seriously worried about Liriano long-term, and that may be because they know something we don’t, but on the surface it looks foolish to even be considering a trade involving their ace.