Locking Up Liriano

27 Oct

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

On Tuesday, Twins top starter Francisco Liriano turned 27 years old. It’s almost hard to believe that he is just 27 years old as 2006 seasons like so long ago. The magical rookie campaign of the Dominican left-hander started with so much promise and ended with the uncertainty of Tommy John Surgery. He missed all of the 2007 season. 2008 and 2009 were filled with ups and downs. As Dan Wade pointed out on the SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins Podcast last night, the uncertainty with Liriano in 2010 could be summed up by his 2010 contract which included two separate incentive structures, one if he was a starter, the other if he was pitching out of the bullpen. We also found it very unfortunate that many Twins fans are saying that Liriano is not an ace (and more silly, that he never could be) because of a bad 5th inning in October, rather than looking at what he did over 190+ innings from April through the end of September.

I’m not one to dig too deep into the stats, but after two straight seasons of being an extreme fly ball pitcher, Liriano was able to coax over 53% ground balls in 2010. His Batting Average on Balls in Play was .340, and much higher than other pitchers. He walked very few (2.72 per 9 innings) and struck out 9.44 per nine innings. He gave up just nine home runs over his 191.2 innings. He posted a tremendous .266 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) which takes out things that a pitcher can’t control such as his team’s defense. That was one of baseball’s best. In summary, Liriano was one of the top ten pitchers in the league in 2011. He appears to be close to what he was in 2006, which is saying a ton.

FanGraphs.com also posts a value that each player earned during the 2010 season. In its calculated estimate, Liriano earned $24 million in 2010. The Twins had signed him for $1.6 million in his first arbitration season. That brings me to the point of discussion for today’s blog. Should the Twins look to lock up Francisco Liriano to a long term contract this offseason in an attempt to lock him up through his final two seasons of arbitration and through a couple of his potential free agent years?

To help with the discussion, I am including one of piece of my Blueprint for the Twins offseason. In the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, each of us posted our Blueprint for the Twins offseason. Mine includes nine points which includes transactions involving over 40 names. If you want to see the other eight blueprint ideas, be sure to secure your copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook.

Anyway, I do believe that the Twins would be wise to strongly attempt to sign Liriano to a four year contract extension. I think that the four year contracts signed the last two offseasons by Zack Greinke of the Royals and Josh Johnson of the Marlins should be good comparative deals in negotiations with the Twins talented left-hander. Is there risk? Of course. What is the value of cost certainty? How much do the Twins believe in the future of Liriano? These are questions they will have to consider. But for today, as we did in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, I want to put you in the role of the Twins GM and would appreciate your thoughts on if the Twins should lock up Liriano or go year-to-year. Here is the 5th of my nine transactions in the Offseason GM Handbook for a little background.

5) Sign Francisco Liriano to four-year, $40 million extension.

Liriano is entering his second season of arbitration eligibility and our estimates have him getting $4.5M. Liriano has ace potential and it showed again during a strong 2010 season. Let me submit to you the following chart for your consideration: 

Zack Greinke   Josh Johnson   Francisco Liriano
ARB 1 (08) 1.4M   ARB 1 (09) 1.4M   ARB 1 (10) 1.6M
2009 3.75M   2010 3.75M   2011 4M
2010 7.25M   2011 7.75M   2012 8M
2011 13.5M   2012 13.75M   2013 14M
2012 13.5M   2013 13.75M   2014 14M

 Yes, there is risk with Liriano physically. But Josh Johnson also had Tommy John surgery, and Greinke’s battle with depression early in his career is certainly noteworthy in this discussion of risk. Liriano returned to his 2006 form in 2010, and he is primed for a breakout 2011 season. All three of these pitchers will be 27 years old throughout the season.

What do you do? Feel free to Discuss and Comment here. You can also e-mail me.

Fox Joins SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins Podcast

As mentioned above, Dan Wade joined the SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast last night. We asked, How did the Twins win over 90 games in 2010 (considering several injuries and several disappointing seasons). We also started looking to the 2010 season and discussed ‘Aces.’ But we led off last night’s podcast being joined by Matt Fox. Fox got the spot start for the Twins on the Friday night before Labor Day against the Rangers. The Twins had been hurt by short starts and extra inning games and found themselves short a pitcher. Fox was the surprise call-up and came through by giving up two runs on four hits and a walk in 5.2 innings. Two days later the Twins Designated him for Assigment and a few days later, he was claimed by the Boston Red Sox and he spent the rest of the season with that team. Fox was on the show for about 20 minutes and recalled his debut, his time with the Twins and much much more. It was great to catch up with him again. Please tune in to the show for those two guests and plenty of Twins talk, and feel free to let me know what you think.


Ben Revere went 2-3 to raise his batting average to .413. He also stole his sixth and seventh bases.


25 Responses to “Locking Up Liriano”

  1. roger October 27, 2010 at 6:28 am #

    Seth, to be a true Ace you need mental toughness. That is something Liriano doesn’t have and it is questionable if he ever will. I saw him live twice this year. In both games the Twins chances of winning was over after one inning. That wasn’t because Liriano was hurting, it was because he couldn’t get the game under control after something went wrong.

    My thoughts are that the Twins need to have changes to the front end of their rotation if they are to ever win in the playoffs. Those changes may include a blockbuster trade for a young Ace, a trade that could include Liriano.

    • steve October 27, 2010 at 8:37 am #

      This is bogus. He lacks mental toughness because he gave up big first innings a couple of times? What about the game he pitched against verlander early in the year, or when he beat tim hudson, or when he outpitched david price, or against clemens in 06, etc. You’re just cherry picking games he pitched poorly in. Every pitcher has bad innings and bad games. David price, cc sabathia, roy halladay all had terrible starts to playoff games this year their team ended up losing. Are they mentally weak? Liriano is one of the best pitchers in baseball because of how he pitches, no matter what perspectiveless fans believe hes missing intangibly.

      • Ed Bast October 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

        Steve, if you don’t think Liriano struggles in tough situations, you’ve never seen him pitch.

      • Joe B October 27, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

        It’s not intangible. The proof is on the field in big-game situations. Maybe Gardy should have pulled him, but he went from cruising with a 3-0 lead in Game 1 against the Yanks to losing the lead in one big/bad inning. He’s done it before. The Twins won’t go deep in the playoffs unless they can keep guys from unraveling in big spots like that.

      • steve October 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

        You guys are choosing to omit “big games” hes pitched well in and instead are focusing on the very few time he struggled early in games.

        As for looking at 1 game where he gave up runs when he had the lead and gave up runs as tangible evidence he weak minded thats stupid. Every pitcher gives up runs. Even cliff lee has allowed a big inning with a lead. Good pitchers are going to have bad games, sometimes in the playoffs. Lots of good pitchers had bad games in this playoffs. Its really dumb criteria.

      • Ed Bast October 28, 2010 at 7:46 am #

        Steve, please enlighten us on these “big games.” He melted down in the biggest game, he was awful down the stretch. Remember the Sox game when he froze up and couldn’t turn 2, gave up a couple runs after that? How about when he was going up against Jimenez and beaned/walked guys in the top of the 1st and gave up 3 runs? 7 runs in 1.2 vs. Verlander? That was 2 weeks after he gave up 4 in the top of the 1st to Detroit.

        Dude, we’re not saying Liriano sucks. But if you can’t admit he struggles mentally at times, you need to take off the blinders. It’s not even a matter of debate. Did you happen to catch any one of his outings in 09, for the love of god?

      • steve October 28, 2010 at 8:29 am #

        I mentioned several “big games” that i thought of off the top of my head. One big problem with the big game arguement is there is no actual criteria for what a big game is, its exceptionally arbitrary. And its true at times liriano would struggle in games, but it was not certainly not just in big games. He was hit hard by the royales and indians multiple times. He pitched his best and worst games of the season against justin verlander. Theres not some pattern you could fairly attribute to lack of mental toughness or any other lazy baseless intangible. Lack of mental toughness nonsense is just a lazy construct idiot fans use to try and explain an irrelevent sample of games. Sometimes pitchers pitch poorly

      • Joe B October 28, 2010 at 9:23 am #

        “Sometimes pitchers pitch poorly.”

        Yeah, and sometimes they throw great, “ace” stuff. The way these things tilt, and when, only underscore that stats can’t account for everything that happens on the field.

        And calling people idiots for not buying the same hart, stat-centric line as you, well, that’s not really the kind of dialogue that merits further discussion.

      • Joe B October 28, 2010 at 9:24 am #

        Should have read “not buying the same hard…”

      • steve October 28, 2010 at 9:39 am #

        Stats are very definitely a poor way to evaluate a game but so are mystical intangibles. I understand very well a lot of the limitations of a statistical analysis of baseball, i feel like theres a lot of people making broad proclamations about what type of pitcher francisco liriano based on make believe stuff.

  2. TT October 27, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    FIP does NOT take out fielding. It is based on the number of outs the team gets while the pitcher is on the mound. It doesn’t matter whether the out resulted from an outstanding fielding play or there wasn’t an out because his fielders booted it. Fielding is a central part of the statistic – its only the name that is “Fielding Independent”.

    Liriano’s high BABIP ought to be a real concern because no pitcher has been successful for very long while giving up that many hits on balls in play. BABIP is somewhat volatile from year to year, so its not conclusive. But if I were Twins management, I would want to see that come down before giving Liriano a long-term contract.

    The Twins lost three games in the playoffs. Having Morneau available for the playoffs is probably a bigger factor in improving their chances in the post-season than exchanging starting pitchers.

    Adding another top starter, while keeping Liriano and their other top starters, is probably the greatest opportunity for improving the team from this year. But the first priority has to be sustaining their bullpen. That is going to be the biggest off-season challenge. They essentially have three guys under contract, Capps, Mijares and Nathan. And who knows what Nathan is going to be able to do. The bullpen is where they need to invest both money and players.

  3. Kunza October 27, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    Locking Liriano up is really a no-brainer. They should have given him the money rather than Baker and Blackburn.

    It boils down to paying a potential ace the same kind of money you paid Pavano. Plus, it is only a bit more than you’re paying Scott Baker.

    Getting rid of him is a joke. He is our only swing and miss, type pitcher. Come on, guy!

    I have also been trying to find Travis’s mysterious Greinke and DeJesus to the Twins for Slowey, Hicks, and Delmon. I think this is another one of those bloggersphere rumors where someone throws something out there and hope it sticks. The Twins are not trading Delmon young.

  4. mike wants wins October 27, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Gotta lock him up. Yes, there is an injury risk, but he’s their only real swing and miss pitcher.

    With better OF defense, his BABIP would be lower, as would his ERA.

  5. JimCrikket October 27, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    I guess I’m one of those silly people who continues to question Liriano’s pschyological make-up and whether it might prevent him from becoming the kind of reliable top-of-the-rotation pitcher that his physical abilities should allow him to be. Call it mental toughness… competitiveness… confidence… maturity… whatever “it” is, there are too many times when Liriano hasn’t demonstrated it.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean the Twins shouldn’t offer him a 3-4 year contract and I agree that Johnson and Greinke had their own “issues” when they got their deals. I just think the $40 mil deal you’re suggesting is a bit richer than I would go. I don’t think he’ll get a whole lot more than $4 mil in arbitration, so why commit another $36 million to him based on one good season? If he repeats his success in 2011, is it really going to be that much more costly to extend him before his final year of arbitration? You could even work on a deal during the 2011 season if he’s performing well.

    I just wouldn’t rush to make this kind of financial commitment to a guy that still needs to be coddled by his catcher, pitching coach and manager far too often when things don’t go his way. Show me that competitive maturity and I’ll buy in, because the talent is certainly there.

    • steve October 27, 2010 at 11:18 am #

      If his babip normalizes with the peripherals he had last year hes a good bet to lower his era. Plus he has less incentive to sign a long term deal because hes so close to free agency. If he has a big year next year i think youd be looking at an arb number closer to 10 and certainly a few million more per year to buy free agency.

    • Kunza October 27, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

      Your example of waiting really doesn’t make much sense. What have the Twins done with Nick Blackburn, Denard Span, and Scott Baker… basically buying out their arbitration years.

      Besides, who is the best pitcher on the Twins staff? Without question it is Liriano.

      Conventional wisdom, and the way baseball typically operates, is that teams try to buy out the later years of arbitration by offering a long term contract. It offers the club a security blanket in case a player becomes really good, plus it is a benefit for the player because it gives them security.

    • Kunza October 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

      Sounds like you’re talking about Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker.

  6. Juanie October 28, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    I say this is a special case where you don’t lock Liriano up. This is because he seems like a guy who needs to be motivated every year. If you give him a multi-year deal, he can turn into that lazy bum who is not interested in playing baseball. Motivate him every year so he is focused on playing ball and becoming an ace.

  7. Seth October 28, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Play nice!
    i’ve made the ‘big game’ argument, but as pointed out, it goes both ways. He’s pitched well in big games and he’s pitched poor in big games. Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum both pitched horribly last night in the biggest stage, so what does that mean? They can’t handle it mentally? that’s two of the top 5 (or less) pitchers in baseball.
    Anyway, I just ask that people be respectful in the comments section. No need to be rude.

    • Joe B October 28, 2010 at 9:31 am #

      Thank you Seth, for some common sense. And I agree we should play nice. No need to call people idiots, as was done above, just because they offer a different opinion than your own.

      I don’t think anyone here is advocating the Twins dump Liriano. Those of us who’ve offered some criticism have just been disappointed in his performance in some big sports. That’s not to say he won’t come through in the future.

      The Twins should certainly resign him. They may just need to look at what they can do, if anything, to instill greater confidence. Liriano himself has said he sometimes struggles to keep calm and stay focused. That’s a mental thing, by definition.

      I might also argue that, overall, the Twins philosophy of pitch-to-contact doesn’t work so well against the kind of lineups you face in the postseason, especially of the Yankee variety. And the Twins seem to favor pitch counts pretty heavily… consistently hitting a wall isn’t that surprising if that’s what regular conditioning trains one for.

      • Ed Bast October 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

        Thanks Seth, while I won’t respond to the Almighty Steve up there, I will say there’s a difference between bad outings and mental toughness. Everyone will have bad outings, no doubt. What we have seen from Liriano in the past is a tendancy to let innings unravel for him. Hell, his entire 09 season consisted of him going well until a couple runners got on base in an inning; from there, he just melted down. He admitted he had no confidence – this is coming from Liriano. Let me repeat: Liriano thought Liriano struggled mentally in 09!

        He got much better in 10, but we still saw some meltdowns, particularly when the stage was the biggest. It’s not out of line to say that a pitcher with a recent history of meltdowns in big spots who melted down in the biggest spot he’s yet faced maybe isn’t the most mentally tough pitcher out there.

  8. jb October 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Not yet. One more year, then offer him. He’s had visa problems, drinking problems, conditioning problems, and confidence problems. Not to mention only four-fifths of one year of above average performance since tommy john surgery. With that violent delivery. No way. One more year, and if he performs, then offer. The Twins already have a ton of immovable contracts that will ham string us for years. Way too risky.

    • steve October 29, 2010 at 8:44 am #

      They have a ton of unmovable contracts because they never offer extensions when they have some leverage. If they signed him now theres a fair amount of incentive for him to sign a lesser deal for guaranteed money. If we wait a year and he gets hurt that would be shrewd from a contract standpoint, but if he has a good year the size of the contract would get a significant bump and hed still have major injury concerns. The twins have repeatedly been burned waiting to sign guys after down years and overpaying them after good years. In this situation theres money to be saved if the twins are willing to accept the risks associated with liriano. I dont think those risks are going anywhere though. If he has a good year next year is he no longer going to be an injury risk?


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