Francisco Liriano Could Be The Key To The Rest Of The Season

Jul 15, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) pitches against the Washington Nationals in the third inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 15, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) pitches against the Washington Nationals in the third inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

After struggling for the first three months of the season, Francisco Liriano has pitched much better his past six starts. Francisco Liriano could be the key to the Pittsburgh Pirates returning to the postseason.

The past three seasons very few left-handed starting pitchers in the National League were as successful as Francisco Liriano. However, the 2016 season has not gone nearly as well. Overall on the year Liriano has a 4.96 ERA, 4.93 FIP, a 4.49 xFIP, and he leads the National League in walks issued.

However, Francisco Liriano is trending the right direction. Liriano’s past six starts have been much better, and in his past three he has truly looked like vintage Francisco Liriano. Liriano could be the key to remainder of the Pittsburgh Pirates season, because when he is on very few left-handed pitchers are as good as Liriano.

After his start against the San Francisco Giants on June 17th Francisco Liriano’s stat line was painful to read. In 73 1/3 innings pitched Liriano was averaging 9.08 K/9, 5.65 BB/9, 1.72 HR/9, and he had a WHIP of 1.62. Since then though, Liriano has pitched more like the pitcher Pirate fans came to know him as the past three seasons.

In his past six starts Francisco Liriano has a 3.25 FIP, 4.15 xFIP, and a 1.38 WHIP. In these six starts Liriano has allowed just one home run, and is averaging 9.00 K/9 and 4.50 BB/9 in 32 innings pitched. Most importantly, Francisco Liriano’s command has been much better in these six starts.

In his past three starts Francisco Liriano has really started to turn things around. In these three starts Liriano has looked like his vintage self. If Liriano can pitch half as well as he has in these three starts the rest of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation will be in good shape.

In his last three starts Francisco Liriano has pitched 17 2/3 innings and he owns a 3.06 ERA, 3.04 FIP, and a 3.15 xFIP. In those 17 2/3 innings pitched Liriano is averaging 10.70 K/9, 3.57 BB/9, 0.51 HR/9, and he has a 1.08 WHIP. In these three starts Liriano has really looked like his vintage self. His fastball command has been better, which sets up his wipe-out slider.

With Francisco Liriano having better fastball command, his swing-and-miss rate has improved. Earlier in the season opposing hitters were laying off of Liriano’s pitchers outside of the strike zone. Due to this, Liriano’s walk rate spiked. However, in recent starts these pitches have been getting swung and missed at again lowering Liriano’s walk rate.

The Pirates’ starting rotation has already gotten a pair of reinforcements in the past week. Both Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon have come off the disabled list to rejoin the Pirate rotation. Furthermore, Tyler Glasnow will rejoin the starting rotation tomorrow afternoon. These three should give the Pittsburgh Pirates’ a strong 1-2-3 in their starting rotation, adding good Francisco Liriano would take this rotation to the next level.

Francisco Liriano getting back on track also makes Neal Huntington’s need to trade for a starting pitcher go way down. This would allow Huntington to concentrate on bullpen help, as well as being able to hold onto more Minor League assets. The Pirates will only need a fifth once between now and late August, and this can be Chad Kuhl or Steven Brault.

Once the Pirates need a fifth starter on a more regular basis over the course of the last five or six weeks of the season, then Kuhl or Brault can join the rotation on a full-time basis. Chad Kuhl has made four starts for the Pirates this season, and has proven he belongs in the Major Leagues. Also, Steven Brault pitched very well in his one start.

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In recent weeks the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting rotation has pitched more consistently than at any other point this season. This is a big reason why the Pirates are 15-7 in their last 22 games. A big reason why the rotation has been better is because Francisco Liriano has been pitching more like himself.

If Francisco Liriano continues to pitch this way, it will be a huge shot in the arm for the Pittsburgh Pirates down the stretch. Francisco Liriano starting to pitch like himself again is better than any trade deadline acquisition the Pirates could make. For this reason, Francisco Liriano might be the key to the rest of the Pittsburgh Pirates season and the Bucs making their fourth consecutive postseason.