Radhames Liz will be Big Surprise for Pirates this Year


When the Pirates signed 31-year-old Dominican pitcher Radhames Liz to a one year, $1 million major league contract back in December, the deal received little attention. However, those that did notice it knew that pitching coach Ray Searage had his work cut out for him, yet again. Liz hasn’t been in the Majors since 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles; that year, he pitched a total of 1.1 innings, giving up 10 earned runs to give him a sparkling ERA of 67.50 for the season. In his three-year career in the Majors, Liz has an ERA of 7.50 over 110.1 innings pitched. This, coupled with the fact that it’s been almost six years since he’s faced Major League competition, makes it clear that Liz had some issues that needed to be resolved.

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But one of the reasons Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and company are so successful in finding reclamation projects and turning them into key members of the roster is because they see what others don’t. Liz was once a top 100 prospect, coming in at 69th overall in Baseball America’s 2008 rankings. His career Major League FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 6.26 is over a full point lower than his career Major League ERA, meaning he’s probably faced some bad luck in the past. In 2011, Liz went to Korea to pitch for the LG Twins of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO); in three years overseas, he posted a respectable ERA of 3.51 in 85 starts in a league that’s considered very hitter-friendly, even leading the league in strikeouts in 2013 with 188. The Blue Jays signed him to a minor league contract after that season, where he posted a 2.95 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. Huntington was able to scoop him up, taking into consideration all of these numbers, as Liz seemed to turn things around after his brief stint with the Orioles.

…one of the reasons…Neal Huntington and company are so successful in finding reclamation projects…is because they see what others don’t.

If any member of the Pirates’ potential success in 2015 comes as a surprise, it will be that of Radhames Liz. If Alvarez rebounds or if Harrison continues his success or if Polanco breaks through, it won’t surprise anyone. If Burnett returns to his 2013 form or if Cole ascends to being the rotation ace, we’ll have seen it coming. We know how talented these players are, and we expect them to be successful this year. But if Liz posts an ERA under three and is a key contributor to the Bucco bullpen, people will wonder where he came from. But Huntington won’t. He’ll point to his ability to touch 98 miles-per-hour with his fastball, his long arms and lanky frame, and his steady decline in ERA over the past three years as indicators of his success in 2015.

Radhames Liz will be an important member of the Pirates bullpen this season. Watch for him to be the surprise of the year for this team, striking out batters at a high clip while maintaining a low ERA. After all, Huntington is rarely wrong when it comes to finding a needle in the haystack.