Many of you know today’s subject best as “fantasy kryptonite” to one Talented Mr. Roto. What he’s been however is fantasy gold, since donning the black and gold (it’s yellow, I know but I’m taking creative license) in Pittsburgh. When the Pirates signed Francisco Liriano to a 1 year/$1M contract with a vesting option for 2014 that could push to total to $8M (with incentives), the common reaction was that it was a good deal for Pittsburgh with moderate upside for little to no risk for the franchise. Of course he also represented a low risk/high reward option for fantasy owners. The questions with Liriano are: Is he doing anything differently? If so, are those changes sustainable? and finally, should I be selling him?
Liriano has far exceeded “moderate reward” that many foresaw, despite starting the season on the DL due to poor decision making. Liriano has gone 9-3 in 12 starts on the season, averaging over six innings per start and producing a strikeout rate of 25.3% compared to a walk rate of 8.9%. This is by far the best season Liriano has produced since that magical 2010 season when he had a 24.9% K% and a 7.2% walk percentage.
In the period between 2010 and 2013, Liriano was often tempting to fantasy leaguers, knowing what he was capable of but failing to produce anything below a 5 ERA or 12.5% walk percentage. So has Liriano rediscovered what he lost or has he changed how he pitches? To Brooks Baseball!!
There’s obviously a few things to note here. It seems that he’s either entirely abandoned his four-seam fastball or Brooks is just picking it up as a sinker only. If it is the sinker alone, that’s a dramatic repertoire change. The other thing to note is that Liriano’s slider is at it’s highest usage point in his career. It dropped off a healthy 4% between his career 2010 year and 2011 but the uptick in 2012 didn’t help him. Upping it once again in 2013 seems to have done the trick, which is no surprise as it is a great pitch. The issue is that given the injury issues in Liriano’s past (most notably Tommy John), I’d be concerned about how much stress the slider puts on his elbow and how often he’s throwing it.
The biggest change however might be the effectiveness of Liriano’s change up. Back to Brooks!
As we can see by the chart above and the table below it, Liriano’s change up is generating well more whiffs than it ever has before. The change in approach for Liriano (more sliders, more changeups) seems to have done wonders. What does this mean for fantasy owners though? It means more fantasy gold. We all knew that the talent was there to begin with, it was just a matter of accessing it. So my advice may surprise you (and could well get me in trouble knowing how Bret feels about Liriano), but…I would be selling Liriano as soon as possible. He’s already provided a massive ROI for whoever drafted him or stashed him early this season and I’d be investing in a more stable option, and quickly too. Liriano’s talent is undeniable but his injury history is concerning and the level at which he pitches when he’s less than 100% is also an issue.
So there you have it: Is he doing things differently? Yes, kind of anyway. More sinkers (maybe), more sliders definitely. Is it sustainable? I don’t see why not. And should you sell him? Yes. Despite sustainable differences in his approach/effectiveness the specter of poor health haunts Liriano. I’d move him and be happy with the profit I’ve already received.
Thanks to BrooksBaseball.net for use of their fantastic charts and tables