Few people seemed too upset when the Twins finally cut ties with Francisco Liriano last summer, trading him to the White Sox for infielder Eduardo Escobar and pitcher Pedro Hernandez, neither of whom is in the major leagues right now. The Twins' position appeared to be vindicated when he had a mediocre half-season in Chicago, which decided not to keep him around for 2013.
And now comes this out of Pittsburgh, from ESPN.com: "Liriano is proving to be the best bargain of the winter, running his record to 11-4 and lowering his ERA to 2.16 after dominating the Cardinals for seven innings in a 9-2 victory on Monday."
And this, from the same blog post by David Schoenfield: "(Liriano has) been so good that he's become a possible Cy Young candidate, even though he didn't make his first start until May 11. He would rank fourth in the NL in ERA if he had enough innings to qualify, is two wins behind league leader Adam Wainwright, and is fifth among NL starters in OPS allowed. In 15 starts, he's allowed no runs or one run 10 times. ... Liriano has been the glue to the rotation"
Liriano had an odd off-season, signing a two-year, $12.75 million contract that Pittsburgh reworked after Liriano broke his right (non-throwing arm) over the winter. His current contract had only $1 million in guaranteed salary -- a sign of his new team's skepticism -- and a chance to make the rest through incentives.
Here's Reds star Joey Votto on Liriano, also from ESPN.com: "For all the complaining people do about player contracts and players getting hammered for bad one-year deals or bad 10-year deals or whatever, there isn't enough being written about Francisco Liriano. That guy is so valuable to them."
Here's the complete ESPN.post.
So what happened? On the Sports Illuistrated web site, Jon Tayler broke down Liriano's performance. His post is called, "What is dead may never die; Inside the resurgence of Francisco Liriano."
Basically, Tayler said that Liriano has simplified his approach and bagged a fastball that was getting pummeled in favor of sticking with one that doesn't. The four-season (rising) fastball has been put away in favor of a sinking fastball.
Here's Tayler on Liriano before and after:
Before: "Last season, he got passable results with his sinker (.289 average against with a .380 slugging percentage) and excellent results with his offspeed and breaking pitches (.207/.370 with the changeup, .183/.304 with the slider). But the four-seamer got pounded: Opposing batters hit .351 with a .649 slugging percentage on Liriano’s four-seam fastball with eight homers in 111 at-bats."
After: "Where the four-seamer used to be his go-to first pitch and two-strike pitch, especially against left-handers, he now uses the sinker to set batters up, then his slider (against left-handers) and changeup (against right-handers) to finish them. It’s a winning switch, with his slider in particular getting devastating results: .117 batting average against, .180 slugging percentage against, and swings-and-misses on 20 percent of them thrown."
Here's Tayler's entire post.
When Liriano was putting together impressive outings at the start of the seaosn, you still had reason to be skeptical about whether he could keep going at that pace -- and whether it would matter much given that the Pirates last finished about .500 in 1992. (Yes, that's the season after the Twins last won the World Series.) But the Pirates are 20 games over .500 this season and, after Liriano's performance against St. Louis on Monday, only a haklf-game behind the Cardinals in the National League Central.
Here's are Liriano's game-by-game statistics, and you can click the tab for his career numbers.
Looks like a mystery has been solved that couldn't be figured out during Liriano's up-and-down years in Minnesota.