The signing of Francisco Liriano in February 2018 was not exactly ground-shaking, but on the surface it seemed like a wise decision for the Detroit Tigers. No one truly expected the team to compete for a postseason spot, so adding a mid-range veteran starter on a one-year, $4 million deal came with very little downside.
Liriano ended the previous season as a bullpen option for the World Series-winning Houston Astros after spending almost his entire career as a starter. Given this versatility, along with past successes, the Tigers saw plenty of opportunities for upside. At the very least, Liriano could be an innings eater, taking pressure off of a young rotation and maligned bullpen.
In the best case scenario, Liriano could play himself into a hot commodity at the trade deadline. Back-end starters frequently fetch a quality haul from contending teams, and any sort of prospect would be a huge return on a minimal investment. Unfortunately, none of this upside was ever achieved, and 2018 was a season to forget for both Liriano and the Tigers.
One big stat: 5.06 innings per start
Even the biggest optimists did not expect an All-Star season from the veteran lefty, but Liriano struggled greatly throughout the year. A 3.38 ERA during the first month of the season quickly faded back to reality; he ended with a 4.58 ERA overall, which was .40 runs higher than his career average.
His season might have even been worse than his ERA suggests. A 5.11 FIP was the worst of Liriano’s career, and a .285 BABIP helped keep down his run total from what it could have been. This large FIP was due to allowing 1.28 home runs per nine innings and a 16.2 percent home run per fly ball rate. So while he did surrender a healthy number of runs, the damage could have been much worse this season.
More runs allowed meant fewer innings pitched, which worked against the Tigers’ whole purpose for bringing him aboard. Liriano entered the season averaging 5.66 innings per start over 274 career games started. This number dropped down to just 5.06 innings on average during 26 starts in 2018. He was far from being an effective innings eater and ended up third on the team in innings pitched; as a veteran with a decent track record, this was a disappointment.
Even though Liriano was signed to sit at the back of the rotation, he became less and less reliable as the year progressed, and was a fringe starter at best. The hope that some contending team would take a flier on him never amounted to anything real. It is hard to blame them, as Liriano’s 1.50 WHIP and 12.5 percent walk rate did not inspire much confidence for anyone even looking for a bullpen piece. He also generated soft contact just 16.6 percent of the time, his lowest rate in six years.
It might be unfair to complain too much about a player signed to such a mild contract, but Liriano ended up being a meaningless part of the 2018 Tigers. He pitched himself out of trade potential and barely did more than show up every fifth day. Still, in the grand scheme of things, Detroit did not lose anything other than a missed long-shot at turning nothing into something.
What grade would you give Francisco Liriano’s performance in 2018?
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