If you had told me back in November that the Tigers would sign Francisco Liriano to a one-year, $4 million contract, I would have been pretty excited. Sure, Liriano hasn’t been great over the past couple years, but he’s not terribly old at 34, and was just one year removed from striking out a batter per inning.
If you had told me that he would be the Tigers’ best starter through the first couple weeks of the season, I would not have been all that surprised. For one, it’s a small sample of games to work with — remember how good Alfredo Simon was in April 2015? — and Liriano has been that kind of pitcher as recently as 2015. Plus, with Michael Fulmer coming off elbow surgery last winter, a slow start for him would not have been terribly shocking.
Well, here we are. Liriano’s signing was still a good price even after the sluggish winter slashed contract values across the game, and it took a rough start from Fulmer on Thursday to push Liriano into “best Tigers starter” territory.
It’s odd that Liriano hasn’t fanned too many batters yet -- he has seven strikeouts in 12 2⁄3 innings — but it’s hard to argue with all of the weak swings he has generated so far. Plus, with Comerica Park looking something like Hoth this morning, we’re not going to waste too many words on a game that might not happen.
If it does? Look out. The Yankees rank seventh in baseball with a 126 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season.
New York Yankees (7-7) at Detroit Tigers (4-9)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Luis Cessa (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (1-1, 2.13 ERA)
Game 14 Pitching Matchup
Tigers fans may be familiar with Luis Cessa, who was a prospect in their system for a couple of months in 2015. He came to Detroit along with Michael Fulmer in the deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to New York. After seven rough starts at Triple-A Toledo, Cessa was then shipped to the Yankees in exchange for reliever Justin Wilson. Cessa made his major league debut for the Yankees in 2016, and has shuttled between the majors and Triple-A ever since. He sports a 4.40 ERA in 108 1⁄3 career innings across the past couple seasons, and advanced metrics like xFIP and SIERA are in lockstep. His FIP is a full run higher thanks to an elevated home run rate, but the dingeritis hasn’t been so bad away from Yankee Stadium.
In terms of ceiling, Cessa still has some developing to do. Those that were paying attention to him during his brief spell with the Tigers may remember that he started out as an infielder, and didn’t move to the mound until 2011. He’s still only 25 years old, and has only been pitching full-time for six years. He has averaged 95 miles per hour with his fastball in his early career, but sits more in the 93-94 range during starts. He has lost velocity at times deeper into his starts, but odds are the Yankees will go to the bullpen early in this one unless Cessa is cruising.
While Cessa’s raw stuff looks good, it hasn’t translated to dominant numbers at the higher levels. He has posted ERAs in the threes at Triple-A over the past couple years, but his minor league strikeout rates — 22.3 percent in 2016, 20.7 percent last year — are relatively mundane. He uses a slider and changeup fairly heavily to support his fastball, along with the occasional curveball, but neither of them have shown much consistency so far. The changeup has been his best secondary pitch, as opponents are hitting just .194 against it in the major leagues.
Key matchup: Baseball vs. rain
The Tigers and Yankees may have trouble getting their next two games in this weekend. Saturday’s matchup was already postponed due to rain, and forecasts call for even more on Sunday, along with enough winds to make conditions miserable for players and fans alike. The two teams will do everything they can to get at least one game in today, but it might make for a long and annoying afternoon for all parties involved.
Liriano and the Tigers stop their skid... if this game gets played.