Francisco Liriano is one of three legitimate candidates for National League Cy Young Award. Joining him in the top three are Clayton Kershaw and Matt Harvey, with Adam Wainwright just behind them. To say Liriano is having a career-reviving year with the Pittsburgh Pirates would be an understatement. He is a whole new pitcher.
To truly comprehend what Liriano is doing this season, the easiest way to do it would be to compare his 2013 season to his best two seasons before this.
First, let’s take a look at Liriano’s 2006 season: 12-3, 121 innings pitched, 10.71 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 2.16 ERA, 2.38 xFIP and a 55.3 ground ball percentage. As you can see, Liriano was able to rack up the strikeouts, limit walks and get ground balls. Those are obvious keys to success for any pitcher.
His next best season, not counting this season, was 2010. That season, he went 14-10 with 191.2 innings pitched, 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 3.62 ERA, 2.95 xFIP and a 53.6 ground ball percentage. Again, much like in 2006, Liriano was able to get strikeouts at a high rate, limit walks and get ground balls over half the time.
This season, Liriano has pitched 102 innings with a 9.35 K/9, 3.71 BB/9, 2.03 ERA, 3.12 xFIP and a 52.5 percent ground ball percentage. To no surprise, he is striking out tons of batters, limiting walks and getting ground balls. I see a trend, and I’m sure you do too.
Now, let’s look at Liriano’s worst season. He has a couple bad ones, but 2011 looks like the worst. That season, Liriano went 9-10 in 134.1 innings, with a 7.50 K/9, 5.02 BB/9, 5.09 ERA, 4.52 xFIP and a 48.6 ground ball percentage. Do you see the difference? When Liriano isn’t succeeding, he’s walking almost as many batters as he is striking out and he isn’t getting as many ground balls.
Sure, coming to the NL is also helping Liriano, having spent his entire career in the American League with the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox. One more important factor for Liriano is that he just isn’t giving up home runs. In 2013, he has a 0.38 HR/9. Can you guess the only other two seasons in which he had a HR/9 of less than 0.75? You got it, 2006 and 2010. Clearly, Liriano is no fluke, and he is going to be a Cy Young Award contender for the rest of this season, and hopefully for the rest of his Pirates career.