The Pittsburgh Pirates have improbably enjoyed a great start to their season, currently holding a 36-25 record and sitting just 3.5 games out of the lead in the National League Central. Despite being in third in their division, they actually have one of the best records in the MLB right now. A big reason for their success has been their pitching.
The Pirates’ bullpen, nicknamed The Shark Tank, has been one of the best in the league this season, led by their closer Jason Grilli, who leads the majors with 23 saves. Their starting rotation has been hit by injuries, though. However, Francisco Liriano, who didn’t make his first start until May 11, has been fantastic since joining the rotation.
Liriano made his sixth start of the season on Friday afternoon against the Chicago Cubs, lasting seven innings and giving up zero runs while striking out eight. He allowed just two hits, but did allow a season-high five walks. His seven shutout innings were enough to spark Pittsburgh’s 2-0 win on Friday.
Friday’s start brought Liriano’s record on the season to 4-2 and his ERA to an unreal 1.75 ERA. He also has a solid 1.17 WHIP on the season, and has a fantastic 11.75 strikeout-per-nine-innings right now. The only real issue with Liriano has been his walk-rate at 3.5 walks per nine innings, but that hasn’t bit him yet this season.
The most amazing thing about Liriano’s season is how unexpected it has been. In his past four seasons, his best ERA was just 3.62 and his best win-loss record was 14-10, both of which happened in 2010. Last year, when he split time between the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, he went 6-12 overall with a poor 5.34 ERA. This performance from Liriano with the Pirates has been far from what anyone expected.
Liriano obviously doesn’t have a history of pitching as well as he has this season and he will likely regress slightly as the year goes on. However, he’s posting the second highest groundball rate of his career, hasn’t allowed a home run this season, and has a 1.62 FIP and 2.50 xFIP on the season. His numbers may worsen as the season goes on, but it definitely seems like Liriano is on the way to the best season of his career.