Francisco Liriano: While Attainable, Not a Fit for Houston


Free agent starting pitcher Francisco Liriano is not the first guy on many team’s lists. It’s because of this that the Houston Astros could become major players in going after the lefty. Last season, we saw Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales have to wait until the season was in full swing before signing deals. Why is that? They had received qualifying offers, and the team that signed them would have to give up a draft pick. If there is one thing the Astros don’t need right now, it’s more draft picks.

FanGraphs is projecting Liriano to receive a contract somewhere in the 3 years, $36M range, or a $12M average annual value. The price may be a bit high for the Astros this offseason, but if he isn’t getting a contract near that, a 3 year/$30M deal could be very beneficial to acquire the 31-year old.

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There are two worrisome factors with Francisco Liriano, with the first is his innings totals in recent years. In 2014, he pitched 162 1/3 innings, his highest total since 2010, when he pitched 191 2/3. The three seasons in between, he has averaged right about 150 innings per season, which means he’s not exactly a workhorse, and would put added pressure on an already suspect bullpen.

The other factor is Liriano’s walk totals. In his fantastic 2013 season with the Pirates, where he went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA, the southpaw still had a walk rate of 3.5 per nine innings. Again, that was his best performance since 2010. This past season, that rate went up to 4.5 per game.

While Liriano has a history of striking out more than a batter per inning (9.5 K’s per 9 over the last three seasons), his strikeout to walk rate is usually hovering around 2:1. Dallas Keuchel had a K/BB ratio of 3:1 in 2014, and Collin McHugh came in at 3.8:1.

Liriano has the potential to be a great addition to an improving Houston team, but he may be worth a little more than the Astros are comfortable with, considering the relative risk involved. PNC Park in Pittsburgh is considered a pitcher’s park, which may have helped Liriano improve his stats the past two seasons.

In Pittsburgh, the home run rate is 0.711 (with 1.0 being league average), which is 28th in baseball. In other words, balls don’t fly out of PNC Park. At Minute Maid Park, the home run rate in 2014 was 1.173, or 8th in baseball.

With Francisco Liriano’s walk rate, and transitioning to a ballpark where the ball tends to fly, at least more than it did in Pittsburgh, Liriano may be attainable, but would not be a wise signing for Houston.