The Pirates have reportedly agreed to terms with left handed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano on a 2 year deal worth approximately 13 million dollars. Liriano is coming off two very poor seasons but has had significant success in the past, in fact he was one of the best pitchers in the game just two short years ago. The last two seasons have seen Liriano struggle to stay consistent, battling shoulder problems and most of all walking a ton of players. His walk rate being above 5 the last two seasons has probably been the largest factor leading to his poor showings. Still there is considerable upside here. Liriano has a very good fastball especially for a lefty and a nice compliment of secondary pitches. He comes with great success as he is one of only 13 pitchers to post a 6.0 WAR or higher in a single season over the last 3 years. There are also the positives that he is a strikeout pitcher usually striking out one batter an inning or more and that he keeps a good ground ball rate at least in the high 40s and maybe even topping 50. Above all Liriano at only 29 years of age is no over the hill vet, he is in theory at least in the prime of his career. In short Liriano is the type of impact free agent fans have been campaigning for the Pirates to sign for years, he is young (late 20s, early 30s) and has had in the past tremendous success in the major leagues.
In short the Pirates committed a fairly significant sum to a player who is indeed a big question mark. In all honesty if I had to break it down I’d give Liriano a 15% chance of being completely awful and unusable a 45% chance of being a solid back of the rotation starter, a 30% chance of being a solid #3 starter, a 9.999% chance of becoming a very good #2 and the remaining .001% is the odds I’d give him and rediscovering it all, putting it back together and reclaiming his spot as one of the best pitchers in the game. As you can see my expectation is that he will be somewhere in between a decent back of the rotation starter and a good middle of the rotation arm. That .001% chance may seem small but it is still a very significant number and with what Liriano would bring if that long shot comes through the risk of 13 million dollars might just be worth it.
So in short I think this is a terrific high risk, high reward move by Huntington and the only real complaint I have here is that Huntington doesn’t do these types of moves more often. Signing guys like Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz, Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes and Russell Martin and hoping they will be able to be average but knowing the chances of epic failure are slim are not moves that are going to make the Pirates a significantly better ball club but taking a cut on someone like Liriano could just do that.