The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to add arms to compete for a spot this spring in the bullpen. Today, they have added Francisco Liriano.
This offseason, the Pirates have claimed Aaron Slegers off waivers and he is on the 40-man roster, and the club signed Tyler Lyons (a left-handed reliever) and Brandon Maurer (a right-handed reliever) to minor league deals. Today, the club brought Francisco Liriano back to the organization on a minor league deal worth $1.8 million with incentives according to Robert Murray of The Athletic:
In parts of four seasons with the Pirates, Liriano tossed a 3.67 ERA in 107 games, all starts, but his 5.46 ERA in 2016 led to his trading to the Toronto Blue Jays. Now back with the Pirates, it would appear Liriano would be competing for a bullpen spot with Lyons and the incumbent Steven Brault for the left-handed reliever role.
The last time as a reliever, the 2017 season with the Houston Astros, Liriano tossed a 4.40 ERA in 14.2 innings over 20 outings. This past season in Detroit, the southpaw held left-handed hitters to a .171/.255/.261 slash with a 22.4 percent strikeout rate and 10.2 percent walk rate. This version of Liriano is far off from the one he was with the Pirates from 2013-16:
|Francisco Liriano 2013-18|
The strikeout rate has collapsed from mid-20 percents to being below 20 percent the last two years, and the walk rate has climbed each of the last seasons. Combine the drop of the lower swinging strike rate and o-swing percentage (percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone being swung at) in 2016-18 from 2013-15 and it’s clear why Liriano hasn’t pitched as well.
For 2019, STEAMER projects Liriano at a 4.53 ERA, though that comes with all 87 innings being from 16 starts. Brault is projected at a 3.97 ERA and Lyons at a 4.07 ERA, making Liriano having a steeper hill to climb to make the team out of spring training.
*Numbers from Fangraphs