Liriano’s great start – what does it mean?


Francisco Liriano, fresh off a three week exile to the bullpen for being awful, utterly dominated the Oakland Athletics yesterday. After allowing almost a run per inning (and nearly that many walks) for a month and a half, Liriano yielded none. He struck out nine batters and retired the last 11 men he faced. The only force capable of stopping him was his pitch count – when he neared the 90 mark the Twins relieved him, not wanting to stretch him out too much after all the bullpen work.

In short, the Francisco Liriano we have gotten used to these past two seasons suddenly turned into the Francisco Liriano who destroyed the world in 2006.

I would dearly love to think that the old Liriano is back, but I cannot. Sorry if I’m raining on any parades, but three inconvenient facts prevent me from getting excited:

  • Liriano’s successful outing was against the Athletics
  • We’ve seen this from Liriano before
  • It’s too little, too late

The first point might be the biggest reason to take Liriano’s performance with a grain of salt. Or for you more dedicated Twins fans, a fifth of whiskey. You see, the A’s are technically an MLB team, but their hitters do not seem to realize this fact. The A’s came into that game with a .289 on-base percentage. That’s right, not a .289 batting average, a .289 OBP! Their average was even more dismal at .212. Aside from competent hitter Josh Reddick, the Athletics do not have a single player on the roster with more than 100 at bats and a .250 or higher batting average. So while Oakland may be a perfect team for a pitcher in need of a pick-me-up, this game becomes absolutely useless as a gauge for future performance.

Fine, but let’s say for the sake of argument that you want to pretend the A’s are a Major League lineup. I’m still not buying that Liriano has made any lasting improvement because he has done this to us before. The most obvious example is his no-hitter last year. After an April that was almost as pitiful as this year’s, Liriano blanked the White Sox in a truly remarkable effort. But in his next start he lasted just three innings and allowed four runs. A month later he flashed some pure genius on the mound against Texas, holding the Rangers to just two base runners in eight innings. But two starts later, Liriano got battered again versus the Brewers, and he finished with a 5.09 ERA. Unless and until Liriano strings together four or five good starts, I refuse to believe that the rumors of his pitching demise are an exaggeration.

The things is, even if he is magically cured of his inability to pitch, it’s far too late to do any good. You may have noticed that the Twins have the worst record in the American League – and it’s not particularly close. This team has no chance to contend for anything this year. They may want to win next year, but Liriano won’t be any help, since he’s a free agent after the season. All the efforts the Twins have spent fixing his pitching problems will benefit another team (if it benefits anyone at all). With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it’s doubtful that Minnesota will even get a draft pick out of the deal.

The best they could hope for is that Liriano pitches well enough for long enough to make him a viable trade candidate. That would be nice, but let’s hope that whatever team the Twins try to trade him to wasn’t paying attention these last six weeks.