There is no denying that the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates have been a disappointment. However, one player in particular has been most disappointing.
Prior to the start of the 2016 season the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation looked somewhat shaky. The Pirates appeared to have a great one-two punch at the top of the rotation with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, and a solid number three starter in Jon Niese, but after these three things looked very shaky. The Pittsburgh Pirates were left with a number five starter in Jeff Locke, a reliever in Juan Nicasio, and a fringe Major League pitcher in Ryan Vogelsong to fill out the rest of the rotation.
As the 2016 season has carried on, the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation has progressively gotten worse. While in the midst of another strong season, Gerrit Cole has found himself on the disabled list. After a strong April, Juan Nicasio has been a mess the past month and a half. Jon Niese pitched nothing like the pitcher he was from 2012-2015 for the first five weeks of the season, and Jeff Locke has gone off a cliff in June.
In my opinion, the biggest problem though has been Francisco Liriano. His first three seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation Francisco Liriano was one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in baseball. However, 2016 has been the worst season of Liriano’s career.
After allowing four runs in just 5 2/3 innings pitched against the Chicago Cubs yesterday, Liriano’s ERA has ballooned to 5.03. While Liriano has continued to strike out hitters at a great rate (9.08 K/9) the rest of his numbers are career worst. Liriano is averaging a career high 5.65 BB/9, and leads the Major Leagues in walks issued, and he is allowing home runs at a career high,and very alarming, rate of 1.72 HR/9.
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Francisco Liriano also has a career worst 5.64 FIP and 4.61 xFIP. Furthermore, Liriano’s WAR is now -0.5. This is the first time in Liriano’s career that he has a WAR under 0, as his previous career worst was 0.5 when he pitched just 23 2/3 innings in his debut season of 2005. In my opinion, Francisco Liriano has been the Pittsburgh Pirates most disappointing player in 2016.
Yes the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff has had problems other than just Francisco Liriano this season. However, if Liriano was pitching like the pitcher he has been the past three seasons things would be a lot different in Pirate land.
During his first three seasons in Pittsburgh Francisco Liriano had a 3.26 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and a 3.22 xFIP in 510 innings pitched. Liriano was also averaging 9.58 K/9, 3.78 BB/9, just 0.65 HR/9, and he had a 1.24 WHIP. These are very much so the numbers of a strong top of the rotation starting pitcher, and the Pittsburgh Pirates had no reason to expect anything less out of Liriano this season.
The biggest problem plaguing Francisco Liriano has been his fastball control. He has not been able to command his fastball, and this is something he has to do to be successful. Being able to command his fastball sets up his best pitch his wipe-out slider.
With Liriano failing to command his fastball this season it has become easier for opposing hitters to lay off pitches that in the past they have hopelessly flailed away at. Also, it has forced Liriano to throw more strikes. The fact he is being force to throw more strikes undoubtedly plays a large role in his extremely high home run rate.
While many fans want to slam the Pittsburgh Pirates for not addressing the pitching staff better in the offseason, I was very disappointed they did not add another starting pitcher, a lot of their problems come from struggles they could not have foreseen. Jon Niese was terrible the first five weeks of the season, Tony Watson has been incredibly inconsistent, Gerrit Cole is on the disabled list, and neither Arquimedes Caminero nor Jared Hughes have been anywhere near how reliable they were in the past. Despite all of this, the biggest problem has been Francisco Liriano having the worst season of his career.
While a strong argument can be made for Andrew McCutchen or Tony Watson as the Pittsburgh Pirates most disappointing player in 2016, my vote goes to Francisco Liriano. If Liriano was pitching like the pitcher we saw the past three seasons, even with the struggles of other players the Pittsburgh Pirates would almost assuredly have another three or four wins. And those extra three or four wins would make a huge difference right now.