Twins fans have seen this before from Francisco Liriano and now Pirates fans are seeing it too. Great. Terrible. Great. Terrible. Repeat as needed.
Liriano was a huge part of Pittsburgh’s rise to the playoffs last season, going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 161 innings on the way to the Comeback Player of the Year award. And now this season he’s 0-4 with a 4.86 ERA through 10 starts, serving up seven homers already after allowing a total of nine homers in 26 starts last year.
Compared to last season Liriano’s average fastball velocity is down from 93.0 miles per hour to 92.0 miles per hour, and both his slider and changeup are down about the same speed. However, he’s actually generating more ground balls and more swinging strikes than last season and his secondary numbers suggest he’s pitched more like a 3.50 ERA guy than a 4.86 ERA guy so far if luck were to even out.
Pittsburgh desperately needs Liriano to pitch like he did last season if they’re going to dig out of this early 18-26 hole and while he’s been frustrating to watch so far there’s reason to believe he can get back on track.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.