Scouting The Trade Market: Francisco LirianoBy
The Yankees have been hit hard by the injury bug this season, and that was even before they lost CC Sabathia (left adductor strain) and Andy Pettitte (fractured left ankle) in the span of about five hours yesterday. The two veteran left-handers join Michael Pineda (torn labrum) as starting pitchers on the disabled list, meaning the team’s minor league pitching depth — specifically the trio of David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell — will really be tested in the coming weeks.
Thankfully Sabathia is scheduled to come back right after the All-Star break, so he’ll only be out of action for two starts. Pettitte’s injury could keep him out until September and is obviously much more severe. Brian Cashman made it clear that the Yankees will cycle through internal options first, but a trade before the deadline is always possible. While Zack Greinke and Matt Garza grab all of the attention, a deal for a smaller name and lesser pitcher seems more likely. That would include Francisco Liriano of the Twins, who has been on the block for about three years now. We last broke down the 28-year-old southpaw as a trade candidate over the winter, so let’s take an updated look…
- Since rejoining Minnesota’s rotation last month, Liriano has pitching to a 2.41 ERA (2.39 FIP) with 40 strikeouts and 14 walks in 37.1 innings across six starts. He’s held batters to a miniscule .157/.248/.236 batting line and has been simply dominant.
- Liriano’s fastball velocity — both two-seamer and four-seamer — has bounced back this season, with more than a mile-an-hour returning after a similarly-sized drop last year. His slider and changeup have been unchanged for years, though he has scaled back usage of the latter this season.
- Even when he’s struggled through the years, Liriano has always been a dominant strikeout and ground ball pitcher. He’s at 8.83 K/9 (22.4 K%) and 45.1% grounders this season, right in line with his career marks: 8.93 K/9 (23.3 K%) and 48.0% grounders.
- The left-handed Liriano is as tough as it gets on same-side hitters. He’s held fellow lefties to a .205 wOBA this season with an 11.42 K/9 (33.9 K%) and 55.9% grounders. Just dominant. His career numbers — .268 wOBA against with 9.61 K/9 (26.0 K%) and 60.6% grounders — are just as strong.
- A pure rental with limited risk, Liriano will earn $5.5M this season before becoming a free agent this winter. That works out to about $917k per month from here on out.
- The reason Liriano had to rejoin the rotation last month was because he was so bad earlier in the year that he had to be demoted to the bullpen. He pitched to a 9.45 ERA (6.55 FIP) with nearly as many walks (19) as strikeouts (21) in his first six starts and 26.2 innings before moving to relief. In five relief appearances, Liriano posted a 4.91 ERA (3.47 FIP) with seven walks and nine strikeouts in 7.1 innings.
- For all those strikeouts and grounders, Liriano continues to hurt himself with walks. His 5.05 BB/9 (12.8 BB%) is a career worst and the fourth highest in baseball (min. 70 IP). Last season he was at 5.02 BB/9 (12.7 BB%), so we’re now over 200 innings (205.2 to be exact) with a walk rate over 5.0 BB/9 (12.5 BB%).
- He might shut down lefties, but righties are a different story. Batters of the opposite hand have tagged Liriano for a .357 wOBA this season, and his strong strikeout rate (8.00 K/9 and 19.4 K%) is negated by a terrible walk rate (5.67 BB/9 and 13.7 BB%). His career performance isn’t a ton better (.328 wOBA against).
- Liriano’s injury history is quite lengthy. Since having Tommy John surgery in 2007, he’s missed time with forearm and elbow swelling (2009), shoulder inflammation (2011), and a shoulder strain (2011).
- Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, any team that trades for him will not be eligible for draft pick compensation.
The Twins are certifiably terrible at 30-44 with baseball’s worst run differential (-95), and a few weeks ago they probably would have given Liriano away from free. He’s rebuilt some value since moving back into the rotation, but not enough to land Minnesota a quality prospect. The last three or four years aren’t going to be washed away by six nice starts, teams will still be skeptical about his ability to solidify their rotation down the stretch.
I am intrigued by Liriano’s potential as a shutdown left-handed reliever, which is a pretty great fallback option should the starting thing not work out (again). Then again, if the Yankees are going to trade for pitching help, I feel that they should trade for someone they know will be a clear upgrade and Liriano just isn’t reliable enough to say that. If the Twins are open to giving him away for a Grade-C prospect and salary relief while the Warrens and Phelpses and Mitchells prove ineffective, then the Bombers should probably get involved. Cashman & Co. won’t rush into any kind of panic move and even if they were, Liriano’s not a guy you acquire at all costs. The potential is tantalizing because you know there’s ace ability in there, but it doesn’t come out often enough.