A.J. Burnett Or Francisco Liriano: Who Is The Pittsburgh Pirates' Ace?

By Zach Morrison
A.J. Burnett
Daniel Shirey-USA Today Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a “problem” that every team in MLB would love to have: they don’t know who their staff ace is.

A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano have been outstanding all season, seemingly matching one dominant performance with another dominant performance. Deciding who is the best of the two isn’t important or even necessary, but it is fun to contemplate.

Burnett is the leader of the Pirates’ clubhouse. He is the veteran pitcher that every team would love to have. Along with being an outstanding veteran presence, he’s also a pretty darn good pitcher. In 128.2 innings, Burnett has a 2.73 ERA and a 2.99 xFIP. His 9.86 K/9 is among the best in the NL. The reason this debate was even started up again was because of Burnett’s complete-game gem on Sunday afternoon.

The only other complete game turned in by a Pirates starter this season was thrown by Liriano, which leads me to …

Liriano is 12-4 this season. He has gotten a decision in all of his 16 starts so far. His ERA is 2.02 and his xFIP is 3.11, and he owns a 9.29 K/9. While he missed the beginning of the season due to a broken arm he suffered while trying to scare his children on Christmas morning, he has dazzled opposing offenses since his return.

When both pitchers are at their best, I tend to lean towards Liriano as being the best pitcher. However, they are human, and they will have days when they don’t feel the greatest and have to grind through a start. If that happens, I lean towards Burnett being able to grind through seven innings easier than Liriano.

It really is a difficult decision. Liriano is a lefty, which may also give him an advantage; but then again, Burnett is the leader of this Pirates’ team. If I had to choose between the two for a one-game play-in scenario in the Wild Card, I would probably go with Liriano, but there really isn’t a wrong answer.

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