There's been some mounting tension between Francisco Liriano and the Twins lately, and it's become a bit of a public display. According to Liriano's agent, the Twins are putting off a call-up to the majors so that they can delay his eligibility for arbitration, an argument we've heard against other teams involving other minor league prospects this season. There are logical arguments for each side of the debate, but the biggest hurdle facing Liriano is the fact that the Twins claim he's still not ready. He says he is, they say he's not. So, who's right?
When Liriano was called up from the minors in 2005, he was sitting on a 32% strike out rate, with 6.9% walk rate and a 55% ground ball rate. He went on to post a 34% K%/7.3% BB%/50% GB% in the majors that same year, showing good consistency with his minor league numbers. In 2006, Liriano maintained his walk and strike out rates, while increasing his GB% to 57%.
If we compare the Francisco Liriano of 2005 with the Francisco Liriano of today, how would they match up? Here's a quick side-by-side comparison.
While his overall numbers for 2008 are down, he has shown consistent improvement every month, and his July numbers in 3 starts are pretty close to his 2005 stats. It seems that Liriano has put considerable focus on mastering his control and walking fewer batters, and perhaps that's the reason his ground ball and strike out rates haven't quite rebounded to previous levels. Without really letting go with his mechanics and release, Liriano's breaking stuff isn't going to have the same snap and movement, but all those things should come in the next few months.
So, with the Twins in the midst of a pennant race, should they really be concerned that Liriano will become a liablity in the majors? Yes, and no seems to be the answer. He's still unproven, and his consitency hasn't really been established, but would a call-up be a high risk move for the Twins?
Let's just say for argument's sake that Liriano gets called up and suffers a 25% regression in his July stats, or even a 50% regression. How would he compare to Livan Hernandez, the consensus #5 starter for the Twins?
The 24% ground ball rate seems extremely unreasonable, so we're going to use a more realistic ground ball rate and slightly bump up his walk rate so that in the worst case scenario, Liriano posts a 15% K%/ 9% BB%/ 36% GB%. If that were to occur, Liriano would be doing just as well as Glen Perkins who is posting a 12% K%/ 6 BB%/ 37 GB% line for 2008. If Liriano were to do a little bit better -- say a 20% K%/ 6% BB%/ 45% GB%-- he would be very competitive with the Twins ERA leader Nick Blackburn, who has a 13%/3.6%/46% line this year. No matter how you cut it, Liriano would be a considerable asset to the Twins and there really isn't a good reason to keep him in the minors.
No matter what you hear or what you read, there's something fishy going on here between Liriano and the Twins, especially if he doesn't recieve a call-up soon. He's obviously progressing very well, and his current level of performance is MLB worthy. He's got the stuff, he's got the numbers, what else do the Twins need?