2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout – Francisco Liriano


The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player.

Francisco Liriano signed the richest free-agent contract in Pittsburgh Pirates history last winter.

At the time of the signing, “Filthy Frankie” was still not too far removed from the days when he was a disaster in the American League. Many fans wondered out loud if the return Liriano could provide would warrant such an investment. 2015 saw a few different Lirianos. There was the dominant-Liriano, the shaky Liriano, and the middle-of-the-road Liriano. Just to keep us all on our toes, Frankie debuted the ‘Frankie at the bat’ persona.

Would all of these Lirianos combine to turn in a season worthy of the contract?

Absolutely. Together with Gerrit Cole, Liriano gave the Pirates a quality 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Many times during the season the Pirates found themselves in a series in which both Cole and Liriano pitched. They won more of those series’ than they lost.

To tell the tale of Liriano’s 2015, we need only look at three numbers.

1) 186.2

Liriano quickly lived up to his reputation for injury after missing time in both 2013 and 2014. 2015 saw Liriano shake that label, going on to pitch 186.2 innings – the second highest total in his career. Liriano had a few nicks and issues along the way, but all were minor as he successfully avoided a DL stint. Liriano’s ability to stay on the mound served the Pirates well, as they ended with a 20-11 recrd in Frankie’s 31 starts. Proving an ability to give his team a chance to win even if he didn’t notch the W, Liriano was the prototypical no. 2 starter.

2) 2,269

Immediately upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, Liriano worked with Ray Searage to pare down his pitch selection. The secret to Searage’s success with projects such as Liriano is his ability to hone in on what works for a pitcher and what doesn’t. For Liriano, what works has always been the sinker and the slider. 2,269 of Liriano’s 2,999 pitches were one of these two weapons. And weapons they were, with a 22.1% whiff rate on the slider alone. Widely regarded as one of the best pitches in the game, hitters could only muster a .126 batting average against it. Liriano threw only 118 4-seam fastballs over the year, opting instead to rely purely on deception. (all data courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net)

3) 2.27

The Pirates were a markedly better road team in 2015 than in previous years. A team simply cannot get to 98 wins without being competent on the road at a minimum. Liriano did his part, with a 2.27 ERA away from PNC Park. Only two of Liriano’s home runs came on the road, and his .BAA dropped down to .206 from .236 at home.

Liriano has a sneaky edge to him that isn’t always on display, and it’s not unfair to speculate that it may fuel him when on the road.

No matter the motivation, Liriano took the ball every fifth day and did his job. Despite a few crooked starts (May 19th against the Twins – seven runs in two innings. Need I say more?), Liriano always gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a chance to win.

SP. Pittsburgh Pirates. FRANCISCO LIRIANO. B+. A few bad starts drag his grade down somewhat, but quality peripherals and a full season of starts pushes Francisco Liriano to the cusp of an A.

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates Podcast- Arbitrarily Speaking

More from Rum Bunter