MLB Free Agent Profile: Francisco Liriano

Pirates RumorsJon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields are the big names available in this offseason’s free agent pitching market. The rest of the market appears to be waiting for these dominoes to fall. Lurking behind this trio are a few solid options.

Francisco Liriano declined the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ qualifying offer of $15.3 million. The 31 year-old lefthander has spent the last two seasons with the Pirates, and rejuvenated his career. While Liriano has struggled to stay healthy and has never thrown 200 innings in a season, he possesses excellent stuff and is one of the game’s better strikeout pitchers.

Liriano broke into the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins, and posted a stellar 2.16 ERA in his 2006 rookie season. However, injuries limited him to just 76 innings over the next two seasons, and he had a brutal 5.80 ERA in 2009. That began a string of inconsistent seasons. The lefty had a great 2010 season, striking out 24.9 percent of hitters and producing nearly +6 WAR. However, he struggled greatly in 2011 and 2012, walking almost 13 percent of hitters.

The Pirates picked up Liriano for a song after the Chicago White Sox declined to tender him a contract. He was a big reason for the Pirates first playoff appearance since 1990 as he authored a 3.02 ERA and +3 WAR despite making only 26 starts in 2013. Liriano picked up the win in the Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Reds, throwing seven strong innings.

Liriano missed time with an injury in 2014, and had an ugly first half ERA of 4.27. But, he had a strong second half, and finished the year with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts and a 25.3 percent strikeout rate. His swinging strike rate of 13.6 percent was once again one of the best marks in the game.

In his two campaigns with the Bucs, Liriano has a 24.9 percent strikeout rate that is the 9th best mark in baseball. His walk rate will always be on the high side, and since 2013, only Ubaldo Jimenez has issued free passes at a higher rate. Still, he owns a 3.20 ERA and opposing hitters have hit just .218 against Liriano.

While health is a concern, especially with all the sliders he throws, he’s one of the toughest pitchers in baseball to hit. He owns the highest swinging strike rate in baseball over the last two years at 13.4 percent, nearly a full percentage point ahead of Clayton Kershaw, the next best whiff generator. Since he debuted in 2006, Liriano has the lowest rate of contact allowed among all qualified starting pitchers.

Giving Liriano a multi-year deal is a big risk with his spotty health record. But, he possesses top notch stuff, and his fastball hasn’t lost velocity. He’ll make at least $15 million a year, and a three or four year offer will likely be in play.