Monday, January 21, 2013

Pirates Finally Set To Sign Francisco Liriano

The Pirates have reached an agreement with Francisco Liriano, restructuring the original two-year, $12.75M contract, according to Ken Rosenthal. The lefty broke his right arm after agreeing terms with the Bucs at the end of December and if Liriano misses time due to the injury then his 2013 salary will be reduced (Jon Heyman describes it as language protecting the club). The club will need to make a move to make room on the 40-man roster once the deal is finalized after Liriano's physical.

I believe that Liriano will become a very strong addition for the Pirates. The switch to Pittsburgh will provide a further advantage than Liriano playing in the more pitcher friendly league. It’s normally assumed that left handed pitchers will receive a boost from pitching in PNC Park, however that can really be seen on the below “True” home run landing spots graph – as six home runs that were hit off Liriano in 2012 would have stayed in PNC Park – as I noted when I looked at Liriano in December:

 photo Liriano2012homers_zpsb9fd58a3.jpg

The Liriano signing provides the Pirates with a lot of rotation depth entering the season. He’ll join A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Karstens and James McDonald in the Bucs rotation, likely reducing Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson to Triple-A depth. Given Liriano’s injury, Karstens’ durability concerns and the question marks over McDonald, that depth could be needed very early in the season. Either pitcher could also find a spot in the Pirates bullpen, although I’d consider Locke to be the more likely to do so if the club begins the year with a pair of left-handers in the pen. 

Liriano had a 4.14 xFIP and 4.12 SIERA last season, which present a better indicator of future performance than his above-5 ERAs over the last two seasons - especially when the move to the National League and PNC Park are considered. If Liriano can keep the ball on the ground and improve his control then he has a shot at being a very valuable addition, however after a 1.8 WAR 2012 I would still consider him to be a lock to be a two WAR pitcher with the Pirates even if he fails to improve upon his ground ball and walk rates from last season.