Fire Gardy

Mismanaging games since 2002

Liriano is not The Franchise

Jim Souhan emerged from hiding today to do his very best to hide what might be an interesting idea deep within his typical tired dreck. I’ll skip over the bullshit and go straight to the thesis.

Glen Perkins probably will return from the disabled list in the middle of June, after two starts in the minor leagues. If Swarzak continues to pitch well in his next two starts, the Twins should keep him in the rotation and let Perkins replace Liriano, and move him to the bullpen.
Given that Perkins is the one with more bullpen experience, I was kind of expecting him to be the one relegated to the pen if Swarzak continues pitching well. But this could actually be interesting. Perkins doesn’t have great stuff, and his role in the bullpen has been as a long reliever rather than a late inning guy. It would be far too dangerous to rely on Perkins in the 8th inning of a close game if he hasn’t already been rolling for seven.

But let’s do a little more investigating than Souhan is capable of. Check out Liriano’s numbers…

The first time through the lineup, opponents hit just .163/.253/.263 against him, with a 26/8 K/BB ratio and just 5 runs in 91 batters. The second time: .325/.400/.575 with a 12/9 K/BB and 13 runs in 90 batters. The third time? .396/.460/.717 with a 9/8 K/BB and 21 R in 64 batters. (Holy shit, were you aware that 33% of the batters who come to the plate for a third time in a game against Liriano SCORE? That’s just absurd.)

So his numbers balance out to be pretty crappy overall, and Souhan’s gut feeling may actually be correct here.

Let him enter at the beginning of the seventh or eighth inning and throw as hard as he wants for an inning or two. Remove concentration, consistency and stamina from the equation, and let him try to strike out the side.
The overall bad numbers paint an uglier picture than is really there; namely that for the first 2-3 innings of his starts, Liriano is dazzling. We’re talking 5.5% of batters come around to score. His times-through-the-order split is what it looks like right before everyone realizes you’re a reliever. And given that Liriano definitely has good stuff (just not great stuff like he had three years ago), he’d probably be successful in the bullpen. And the Twins just so happen to be in desparate need of a dominant late inning reliever, who can strike anybody out, and can go 2-3 innings if need be. Liriano, apparently, is exactly that player.

But remember the part about how he simply has better stuff than Perkins? There’s a reason the Twins have been giving him every possible opportunity to make it as a starter, and it’s not totally because they remember his 2006. Starters are simply vastly more valuable than relievers. In 2006, Liriano was worth 4.1 wins in limited duty (between entering the rotation late and getting injured early). But let’s toss out that mirage and look at something else. In 2008, just last year, he was worth 1.4 wins, in just 14 starts.

Last year, how many Twins relievers were worth more than those 1.4 wins? Exactly one, Joe Nathan. In fact, the second best reliever was Craig Breslow and his 0.9 wins. Even in 2006 (the last time the Twins bullpen was any good), only two relievers bested that 1.4 win mark — Nathan and Rincon’s career year. This point has been hashed and re-hashed about a million times here on the wide open plains of the internet, but it’s worth repeating: it doesn’t matter how good a reliever is, he’s just not as valuable as a good starter.* Even Mariano Rivera last year — one of his best — wasn’t as valuable as Mussina, Pettitte, and Chamberlain’s few starts.

* I know a lot of people don’t buy it, but Nathan wasn’t nearly as valuable in 2008 as Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn. No reliever is EVER as valuable as the team’s top 3-4 starters.

So it’s totally understandable that the Twins would want Liriano to be a starter.* Maybe the first time through the lineup is the real Liriano, and if he can only be taught to concentrate and stay consistent he can become a dominant starter! Surely that’s the dream in the hallways of the Twins front office.

* Even though it’s pretty obvious that the Twins have absolutely no way to figure it out based on any sort of objective system.

The problem is that it’s not going to happen. He’s not that guy any more. So if the choice is down to a pretty good chance of 6-7 innings and 1-3 runs from Swarzak and Perkins every time out, versus one of them plus a pretty good chance of 4-6 runs in 5-6 innings from Liriano … then you go with what’s more likely to win you ballgames, and that’s not Liriano. Liriano fulfilling his destiny as a dominant late inning reliever would be a very nice bonus.

It’s close to time to declare that Francisco Liriano is not, in fact, The Franchise. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a big success.

PS: Here’s a bonus for everyone who actually read all the way through this on a Friday afternoon. Proof that Souhan doesn’t actually watch the games!

Swarzak pitched 11 scoreless innings to start his big-league career. He has given up three earned runs in 13 innings, and one of them resulted from a misplay of a bloop to right-center in the seventh inning Thursday.
Really? Swarzak’s third run scored on a misplay of a bloop to right center? Because I saw that play, and it scored on a fly ball to right, on which the right fielder (Kubel) actually made a great play and threw the runner out at the plate. The umpire screwed up the call and then ejected the catcher, but I think calling it a “misplay of a bloop” demonstrates one of the following:
  1. Jim Souhan didn’t watch the game
  2. Jim Souhan doesn’t know anything about baseball
I can’t decide which is more likely (though they’re probably both true). I just find it quite amusing. In fact, it makes me glad I didn’t rant about that play. I feel much better about it now that I have Souhan’s “take” on the whole ordeal.


5 Comments so far

  1. thrylos98 May 29th, 2009 4:12 pm

    The misplay on the bloop allowed the runner to reach. It should have been an error on Tolbert (and not an ER) because the ball got in and out of his glove. I think that Souhan confused the plays :)

    That said, Liriano needs to use his change up more. I generally trust him more than Perkins at this point, and Perkins would probably be better at the pen. I’d love to see the Twins replace Andy with Cuellar so all Twins’ pitchers start working and using change ups. Every pitcher not named Blackburn or Guerrier has regressed from last season. This has to be on Andy, a tad…

  2. sirsean May 29th, 2009 5:05 pm

    Ah yes, I recall being furious at Tolbert for a) not catching it, and b) if you’re not going to catch it, don’t knock it away from the outfielder coming in. I guess I just forgot it was that inning.

    I guess it’s up for debate whether Perkins or Liriano would be better in the pen. I think Liriano has the stuff to be a good reliever, and the numbers seem to indicate that he lacks the makeup and/or ability to make adjustments necessary to be a starter. But Perkins has had some success there already.

    I’ve been souring on Anderson for a while now. He’s nuts about the sinker … and I think it’s notable that the only starter on the staff that throws one (The Blackburn) is the only one who’s capable of pitching any more. I like Anderson, but it very well may be time for a change. Or he could just learn to adjust his style to the talents of the pitchers.

  3. Eisenhower McSteele May 30th, 2009 2:54 pm

    I’ve been arguing for Liriano to move to the ‘pen all this week at the MnTwins Re-Education Center. While I agree that starters are much more valuable than relievers, the variable you have to factor into this equation is Ron Gardenhire’s stupidity. His overmanagement of the pitching staff means that a good handful of games (10-15) will be lost because of his managerial decisions regarding the bullpen in innings 7 and 8. Because the regime refuses to stretch their starters out, and because they refuse to let Joe Nathan go more than one inning, middle-relievers for the Twins are perhaps more important to their success than other teams. They won 4 division titles from 02-06 because of a steady middle-relief, and it’s no surprise that they haven’t won anything since then, as it’s coincided with the deterioration of the middle relief. Liriano has the stuff to be dominant in a short-relief role, and it would also be kinder on his arm. It makes plenty of logical sense to move Liriano to the bullpen, which means that the Twins probably won’t do it, or will wait too late to do it (Liriano blowing out his arm again, e.g.)

  4. sirsean May 30th, 2009 3:18 pm

    Middle relief wouldn’t be any easier on his arm if Gardy’s the manager.

    See: Crain, Neshek, Guerrier, Rincon. Also all those other guys whose arms fell off because Gardy got that warm fuzzy feeling from pitching every single pitcher every single game.

  5. [...] guess he also hasn’t taken a look at Liriano’s struggles the second time through the order, which I’ve talked about in the past: The first time through the lineup, opponents hit just [...]

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