How Francisco Liriano Can Be Effective For The Pittsburgh Pirates

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) /

Despite struggling the past three seasons, veteran lefty Francisco Liriano can still be an effective pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano to a minor league contract. As evident by the fact he got a minor league deal, Liriano is no longer the pitcher he was when he helped anchor the Pirate rotation from 2013 – 2016, while also helping to lead the team to three consecutive postseason berths. However, he can still be an effective pitcher for the Bucs.

Since the start of the 2016 season Liriano’s career has appeared to be on a downward trajectory. In 393 2/3 innings pitched in 73 games since the start of the 2016 season Liriano owns a 4.89 ERA and a 4.90 FIP. His strikeout rate dropped from the mid-20s to 20.7% during this stretch, while his walk rate has risen to 12.0% and his home run rate of 1.28 HR/9 is an issue.

Even as he has struggled there is one thing about Liriano that has not change – he has continued to dominate left-handed hitters. In 2018, LHHs slashed just .177/.255/.261 against Liriano. He also struck out 22.6% of LHHs he faced. This came after LHHs slashed .237/.300/.355 with a 22.0% strikeout rate against Liriano in 2017.

When pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton On February 13th, Liriano will find himself competing for a spot in the Pirate bullpen. With four spots locked up, he will be in competition with fellow minor league signing Brandon Maurer and Tyler Lyons, as well as whoever does not win the final rotation spot between Jordan Lyles, Nick Burdi, Nick Kingham, and Steven Brault for the final three spots in the ‘pen.

As a reliever, Liriano can still be an effective pitcher for the Pirates. He could be used against LHHs who step to the plate in high leverage situations and should excel in that role. Additionally, opposing hitters slashed just .221/.316/.319 against Liriano the first time through the lineup last season. Due to his effectiveness the first time through the lineup, Liriano could also be effective against right-handed hitters out of the bullpen.

To be honest, Liriano making a full time move to a reliever role is a move that is overdue. Making that move for the Pirates will set Liriano up for success in 2019.

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Liriano may have signed a minor league deal with the Pirates, but the odds of him making the team out of Spring Training look high. It’s not often you see a minor league contract worth $1.8 million, not to mention the additional $1.5 million he can earn in incentives, so, this contract would appear to give Liriano a leg up on the competition for cracking the Opening Day roster. If Liriano is used properly by manager Clint Hurdle, then he could be well worth the $1.8+ million the Pirates will pay him in 2019.