During Root Sports’ telecast of Saturday’s game against the Cubs, Greg Brown mentioned the great start Francisco Liriano has had to his Pirates career. He proceeded to mention (quickly, almost as if it wasn’t a bold statement to make), that he thinks Liriano could potentially have a Cy Young worthy season when all is said and done. My initial reaction was shock. Yes, Liriano is off to a great start, and will almost certainly win NL Comeback Player of the Year should he even come close to matching his first half of the season pace. But winning the Cy Young? Honestly, I laughed when Brown first suggested it.
Liriano does not have the pedigree of success that past winners of the award do. His career ERA, including the stellar 2.20 he has posted this season thus far, is 4.23. Not including last year’s winner in R.A. Dickey (4.04 career ERA), the past five winners have ERAs under 3.50. I get that the Cy Young is an award that is not predicated upon past performance, but having a pedigree of success certainly helps. Liriano’s career has been up and down. At one time, he did have one of the most dominant fastballs in baseball, but he is just now starting to get it back.
Peripherally, no, Liriano does not look like a pitcher set up to have a Cy Young worthy season. Like AJ Burnett, he is experiencing a resurgence in Pittsburgh, and at first I thought that is all it is: I was wrong. Let me now convince you that Liriano has a real chance at competing for a Cy Young this year. He ranks 10th in the NL in wins, tallying eight of them in eleven starts. He has 74 strikeouts so far this year, averaging 9.6 of them over nine innings. His strikeout to walk ratio sits at 2.74, the best number he has posted in this category since placing 11th in AL Cy Young voting while on the mound for the Twins in 2010. He only gives up .4 homeruns per nine innings, tying his career best (also posted in 2010). Comparatively, Clayton Kershaw, the assumed favorite to win the award, averages 8.7 strikeouts over nine innings while posting a 1.93 ERA and a 3.82 strikeout to walk ratio. Kershaw also sports a ridiculous .928 WHIP, making him the clear favorite.
Do I think Liriano will win the Cy Young? No. Do I think he can keep up his current pace and finish top five in the voting? Certainly. Although not all of his peripheral numbers match up with other candidates like Harvey, Lee, Waino, Zimmerman, or Kershaw, his high win total and impressive stats look even better when considering he missed the first month and a half of the season. His eight wins put him just outside the top 5 in the NL in that category in just 11 starts.
I know it is early in the season but what do you guys think: is Liriano competing for the Cy Young a reality?