The Pirates Need To Do Something About Francisco Liriano

May 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) wipes his face in the dugout after being removed from the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) wipes his face in the dugout after being removed from the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The past three seasons Francisco Liriano has been one of the Pittsburgh Pirates best starters. However, he has struggled mightily in 2016 and the Pirates are facing a tough decision.

In December of 2012 the Pittsburgh Pirates signed left-handed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano to a two-year contract. Then following the 2014 season, the Pirates signed Francisco Liriano to a a new three-year contract. Both proved to be well earned, as between 2013 and 2015 Francisco Liriano was one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in baseball for the Pirates.

Over this three year stretch Francisco Liriano pitched 510 very successful innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In those 510 innings pitched Liriano had a 3.26 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and a 3.22 xFIP. Furthermore, he averaged 3.78 BB/9, 0.65 HR/9, and 9.58 K/9 during this stretch.

However, the 2016 season has been totally different for Liriano. On the season Liriano now has a 5.25 ERA, 5.66 FIP, 4.51 xFIP, 5.55 BB/9, and 1.75 HR/9 in 61 2/3 innings pitched. One has to wonder, is Francisco Liriano pitching injured?

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Earlier this season Liriano dealt with a hamstring issue. This hamstring issue forced him to have to skip a start in April. Could his hamstring be acting up again? It is certainly possible.

Even though Francisco Liriano told reporters after the game on Friday night that he feels fine physically, this is something that I question. His past six starts Liriano’s control has been a mess, specifically his fastball command. In order for Liriano to be successful, he must have good fastball command to set up his devastating slider.

Regardless of what is or is not plaguing Francisco Liriano, there is no way to sugar coat his last five starts. In those five starts Liriano is averaging 11.47 H/9, 6.41 BB/9, 2.36 HR/9, and just 7.09 K/9. As a result of these numbers Liriano has a 7.43 ERA, 7.10 FIP, and a 5.26 xFIP in 26 2/3 innings pitched in those five starts. Simply put, that is awful.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a heated playoff race currently finding themselves 1 1/2 games behind the New York Mets for the top Wild Card spot, while holding a half game lead over the Miami Marlins for the second Wild Card spot. This is something I never imagined I would say, but I am not sure the Pirates can continue to trot Francisco Liriano out to the mound every fifth day.

So the question becomes, what can the Pittsburgh Pirates do about Francisco Liriano? I would not be the least bit surprised to see Liriano land on the disabled list with some sort of ailment, and as I said above I think Liriano might legitimately be injured, and I would not be shocked if that came as soon as today. Odds are A.J. Schugel, Wilfredo Boscan, and Rob Scahill will all be unavailable for this afternoon’s game and possibly more due to recent workload. So, the Pirates will need to bring up at least one bullpen arm. This could be done by placing Francisco Liriano on the disabled list.

Even if Liriano truly is healthy, shutting him down for two to three weeks to allow him to recharge his batteries can only help. Also, it will give him some time to work with pitching coach Ray Searage on correcting some mechanical issues he has shown his past few starts. The biggest being Liriano failing to follow through on his delivery too often, this was especially a problem in his start against the Texas Rangers last Sunday.

But what about replacing Liriano in the rotation? Well, stud pitching prospect Jameson Taillon, who is probably only a week away from a promotion to the Majors anyway, pitched last night for Triple-A Indianapolis. So, the Pittsburgh Pirates could always promote Taillon to the Majors on Wednesday to take Liriano’s next start.

This brings up the issue of Super Two though, as the deadline may not have passed by Wednesday. But it will be close enough that if the Pirates were to demote Jameson Taillon to Triple-A Indianapolis as solely a paper move after his final start before the All-Star Break, and then ‘called’ him back up the day of his first start after the break they should be fine in terms of service time and Super Two. The Pirates have done this before, as they did this with Gerrit Cole when he was first promoted to the Major Leagues in 2013.

This could also prove to be a way for the Pirates to get both Taillon and either Tyler Glasnow or Chad Kuhl into the rotation sooner rather than later. This is because if Taillon replaces Liriano, either Glasnow or Kuhl could still come up in a week or so and replace Juan Nicasio in the rotation like I have been expecting Taillon to do.

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Now do not get me wrong, by no means am I saying the Pirates should completely move on from Francisco Liriano or something crazy like that. Talent and stuff wise Liriano is still as good as any left-handed starter in the Major Leagues not named Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, or Madison Bumgarner. If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to make a deep postseason run, they probably need Liriano to be in the rotation and pitching well. However, right now, Francisco Liriano is the Pirates worst starting pitcher and they need to do something about it.

The past three seasons Francisco Liriano had been one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in the National League. So far in 2016 though, he has been a mess. Right now Francisco Liriano is struggling to get anyone out, and the Pirates might be forced to make a tough decision about what to do with their usual stud left-handed starter.