Wins can be an overrated stat for pitchers. They can exaggerate how good -or bad- a pitcher has performed throughout a season. Chris Sale is an excellent example of this. Sale has a 6-10 record despite posting a 2.69 ERA, 149 strike outs and just 31 walks over 137 innings. He’s good but his record looks more like the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers than one of the best pitchers in the American League.
Francisco Liriano’s record, on the other hand, speaks for itself.
Liriano is 11-4, earning decisions in his first fifteen starts of the 2013 campaign. His win total has him placed fifth in the National League, two shy of Adam Wainwright whom the Pirates will see on Wednesday when the righty squares off against Jeff Locke.
The eleven wins is supported with 100 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA that would place Liriano fourth in that category, had he not missed his first seven starts with a broken arm. In fact, if Liriano would have kept this pace with a fresh start in April, he may be the leader in wins and strikeouts while posting a solid ERA.
Not bad for a guy who was viewed as having his best years behind him.
The Pirates initially signed Liriano in December of 2012 to a two year deal but the contract was voided after he hurt his non-throwing arm slamming a door in an attempt to play a practical joke on his kids. He would sign two months later but, already, it seemed Liriano was going to be the butt-end to what has become an endless list of Pirate signees over the last two decades.
But even before the injury, Liriano’s deal wasn’t big news in Pittsburgh. He had Tommy John Surgery in 2006 which cut short his brilliant rookie campaign with Minnesota. After a bounce back season in 2010, Liriano was dreadful in 2011 and was eventually shipped to the Chicago White Sox the following year.
Liriano was an after-thought which made him an affordable free agent for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the conclusion of the 2012 season.
Many, including me, thought the rotation would struggle having only two credible pitchers in the rotation (Burnett and Rodriguez) and a bunch of unproven talents filling in the final three spots. On paper, there was reasonable doubt to think that this rotation could stay afloat.
Instead, the rotation is sitting on the deck of a massive cruise-liner. Burnett has been solid, Jeff Locke has been one of the best in baseball, Charlie Morton has rebounded from Tommy John Surgery, and Gerrit Cole has been a rookie phenom. And yet, despite all of that, Liriano is the anchor even if he was a bit late to the party.
AJ Burnett may be the leader in the clubhouse and with the pitching staff, but if you had to win one game -which may be a calling for the Pirates in October- it’s hard not to give the ball to Frankie. By coincidence, the Pirates handed him the ball to kick off a five game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
In what was deemed as the most important series in the twelve year history of PNC Park, Liriano dominated with eight strikeouts while allowing just one run and four hits over seven innings. Suddenly, the best hitting team in all of baseball looked like a team of guys pulled off the street to play a pick up game. The fastball/slider combination had hitters fooled all night as they swatted over top of slider after slider.
Liriano may have seven fewer starts than the average Major League starting pitcher, but if he keeps this up, he’ll be getting some hardware at the end of the season, possibly beating out his teammate Jeff Locke. For now, Frankie will have to settle for eating up six or seven innings a start and adding another tally to the win column.