On Friday, June 29, the Blue Jays open a four game series against the Detroit Tigers. The game will feature a match-up of Marcus Stroman against his former teammate, Francisco Liriano.
Francisco Liriano is coming home, Blue Jays fans. When a Blue Jays fan mentions the fond memories they have of the lefty, they are likely reliving the trade that sent Teoscar Hernandez north of the border to Toronto.
Despite some good years in Pittsburgh, the left-hander never seemed to make his mark in Toronto. Despite strong numbers immediately following the trade in 2016—posting a 2.92 ERA and 3.98 FIP—the southpaw fell off in 2017. As the rest of the team failed around him, the hurler posted a 5.88 ERA and 4.73 FIP.
However, this was apparently enough for the Astros—where he was shipped at the deadline. With the eventual World Series champs, the starter was moved to the bullpen and posted a 4.40 ERA and 4.13 FIP. While in the playoffs, he pitched just 2 1/3 innings.
This season for Detroit, the big lefty has been mediocre, posting a 3.94 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 1.249 WHIP, and 111 ERA+. Overall, he has been worth a disappointing 0.2 fWAR in eleven starts for the Tigers.
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He does not offer much variation in pitch selection. This season he has used a sinker, slider, and change-up. As well, he has thrown a four seam fastball and curveball, but, both have been used sparingly, clocking in at use rates of 1.52% and 0.2%, respectively.
Liriano has thrown his sinker 42.1% of the time this season. The sinking fastball maintains decent velocity—averaging 92.62 mph—with minimal arm side run. Despite the unexceptional movement on the sinker, it has produced ground balls at a great rate of 50.68% of balls in play. As well, these ground balls have found mitts, as the pitch has posted a decent .238 BAA.
The left-handed starter has used his slider 38.9% of the time this season. The slider maintains some great last second hard cut to the glove side, while posting an average velocity of 84.67 mph. The pitch has produced whiffs at a great rate of 36.46% of swings, resulting in 31 strikeouts—by far the most in his repertoire.
The Detroit starter completes his pitch selection with a change-up, thrown 17.1% of the time. The off speed pitch has also resulted in a good amount of whiffs, posting a rate of 34.94% of swings. However, the change has not been nearly as lethal, as it has resulted in just six strikeouts. However, it has taken the sting out of bats well, posting a .300 SLGA and .025 ISOA.
If Liriano’s 3.94 ERA surprises you, it’s because he has been incredibly lucky on balls in play. The big lefty has posted a criminally low .228 BABIP for the season. For reference, his BABIP in the past three years has been .329, .296, and .293—clearly his current pace isn’t sustainable. His FIP suggests that without this luck, he has been pitching to the skill of a 4.88 ERA.
His strikeout and walk numbers are a perfect example of how his ERA is misleading. Through 11 starts, the left-hander has posted a below average 19.1% K-rate and 7.01 K/9. Even worse, he has managed a dismal 12.7% BB-rate and 4.67 BB/9.
However, he has prevented hard contact fairly well this season, posting a 31.8% hard hit rate and a great 20% soft hit rate. In other words, although his BABIP is incredibly low, this hasn’t been entirely luck, as it should be noted that he has produced weak contact at a decent rate.
The Blue Jays have fared fairly well against their former teammate. Leading the way, Randal Grichuk has five hits in fourteen at-bats. As well, Teoscar Hernandez has one hit, a home run, in two at-bats. Some hitters have struggled, though, as Russell Martin owns just two hits in 10 at-bats and Curtis Granderson has just six hits, including a double and home run, in a whopping 32 at-bats.
The Blue Jays, in John Gibbons words, hit rock bottom in a walk-off loss to the Houston Astros on Wednesday. However, they will look to bounce back off of a former teammate—who has been just slightly better than average this season.