Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Proof is in the Pudding: Liriano's Latest Start

A couple of days ago I made a case for why Francisco Liriano deserved to be in the Twins rotation, and last night Liriano presented his own case to the Twins.

In 7 innings against Toledo, Liriano struck out 10, while giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks. Since simple stats don't really describe how dominant he was, I wanted to give a quick inning-by-inning breakdown of Liriano's start.

1st Inning

* Freddy Guzman strikes out swinging.
* Timo Perez strikes out swinging.
* Brent Clevlen strikes out swinging.

3 K, 0 BB, O H, O GB, O FB, O LD

2nd Inning

* Jeff Larish grounds out, third baseman Trevor Plouffe to first baseman Garrett Jones.
* Mike Hessman strikes out swinging.
* Clete Thomas strikes out swinging.

2 K, 0 BB, 0 H, 1 GB, 0 FB, 0 LD

3rd Inning

* Mike Hollimon pops out to third baseman Trevor Plouffe.
* Erick Almonte doubles (21) on a line drive to left fielder Darnell McDonald.
* Max St. Pierre strikes out swinging.
* Freddy Guzman pops out to second baseman Alejandro Machado.

1 K, 0 BB, 1 H, 0 GB, 2 FB, 1 LD

4th Inning

* Timo Perez flies out to right fielder Howie Clark.
* Brent Clevlen walks.
* Jeff Larish grounds into double play, second baseman Alejandro Machado to shortstop Matt Macri to first baseman Garrett Jones. Brent Clevlen out at 2nd.

0 K, 1 BB, 0 H, 1 GB, 1 FB, 0 LD

5th Inning

* Mike Hessman called out on strikes.
* Clete Thomas grounds out, second baseman Alejandro Machado to first baseman Garrett Jones.
* Mike Hollimon strikes out swinging.

2 K, 0 BB, 0 H, 1 GB, 0 FB, 0 LD

6th Inning

* Erick Almonte flies out to center fielder Jason Pridie.
* Max St. Pierre strikes out swinging.
* Freddy Guzman lines out softly to shortstop Matt Macri.

1 K, 0 BB, 0 H, 0 GB, 1 FB, 1 LD

7th Inning

* Timo Perez flies out sharply to right fielder Howie Clark.
* Brent Clevlen walks.
* Jeff Larish singles on a ground ball to third baseman Trevor Plouffe. Brent Clevlen to 2nd.
* Mike Hessman flies out to left fielder Darnell McDonald.
* Clete Thomas strikes out swinging.

1 K, 1 BB, 1 H, 1 GB, 2 FB, 0 LD

Total: 10 K, 2 BB, 2 H, 6 GB, 6 FB, 2 LD

I've heard several different arguments as to why the Twins have kept Liriano in the minors, and I want to debunk them right here and now.

1. Liriano tires in later innings.
What pitcher doesn't tire in later innings? Does Livan Hernandez pitch better after 6 innings? We all know that complete games and high pitch counts are about as dead as the dinosaurs, so if Liriano looks good through 6 or 7 innings, isn't that all the Twins need? During last night's game, from the 5th to the 7th innings Liriano had 4 strike outs, 1 hit, and 0 walks. His GB/FB balance began to teeter towards the fly ball side, but he wasn't losing control or giving up hard hit balls, so unless his velocity is dropping by greater than 5%, I don't see late inning fatigue as a valid excuse for preventing a call up.

2. The Twins already have 5 solid starters.
I recently wrote an article outlining why the Rangers should keep Chris Davis in the line-up despite the return of Hank Blalock from the DL. In basic terms, I compared Davis' projected stats through 300 at-bats with Blalock's career highs in offensive production, and in the end Davis was the hands down winner. Let's do a similar comparison between Liriano's July numbers and the Twins top 5 starters.

Of course Liriano's numbers will see a slight regression once he faces major league hitters, but even with a significant regression, Liriano would still be the best starter in the Twins rotation. It wouldn't even be close. Let me repeat. Liriano is without a doubt the Twins best starter. If the Twins really think they have a "solid" top 5 and they can't fit Liriano in somewhere, then they're a lot dumber than I thought.

3. A Liriano call-up will disrupt a winning team's mojo.
Does anyone really believe that the players in the Twins clubhouse are going to be upset or perplexed that a guy with Liriano's talent is starting for their team every fifth (or sixth) day? I would think that keeping Liriano in the minors during a tight playoff race would make the Twins' players more upset than bringing him up. He's put in his time, proved himself, and deserves a spot in the rotation as much as anyone.

4. The Twins are in a playoff race and don't need Liriano.
Let's be honest. The Twins don't have a World Series caliber team. They might be able to secure the wild card spot, or maybe even win the division. But they don't have 2 dominant starters to get them through a 5 game division series followed by 4 wins in the ALCS. Even with Liriano in the rotation, they don't have the offense to guarantee wins in close games, and the Twins are well aware of these facts. The bottom line is that Liriano will make them a better team -- but not great -- at a price, and that's all that matters.

If anyone can think of a good reason for keeping Liriano in the minors, I'd love to hear it. But there isn't one. There's a chance that the Twins want to keep him there so that he'll be ready for the playoffs, but if he's going to put in the innings, why not have him winning games in the majors instead? Because more wins means less money (and remember we're not talking a few twenty dollar bills here, we're talking millions of dollars) for the Twins.

...Read more

1 comment:

Joel L said...

I tend to agree with you on this, Liriano has nothing more to prove at AAA and his addition to the rotation can only help them. I posted an article by Sutcliffe on why he thinks he should just be patient. I'm sure you've probably read this already.