To be the favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year is surely a bit bittersweet. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano was declared the winner today of the Sporting News National League Comeback Player of the Year award. Liriano finished with 5o more votes than any other player in the NL. The second and third place finishers? Fellow Pirates Mark Melancon and Marlon Byrd. The Pirates were well represented on this ballot, and they will probably be well represented on several more before all the awards are announced.
Liriano had a horrible 2012 season. In 156.2 innings with the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins, Liriano went 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA. Perhaps his most alarming statistics were his 5.00 BB/9 and 1.09 HR/9.
In 2013, Liriano had a tremendous season that had him competing for the NL Cy Young award for a while before Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw took complete control of the pitching world. In 161 innings, Liriano went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA. He threw two complete games as well. Liriano had a very good 9.11 K/9, but most importantly, he brought his BB/9 down to 3.52. A major key to Liriano’s success, along with limiting his walks, was inducing ground balls. Liriano’s best two seasons prior to 2013 were 2006 and 2010. Those were the only two seasons in which Liriano had lower walk rates and higher ground ball rates than 2013. He had a lower walk rate in 2005, but he didn’t even throw 50 innings that season.
Liriano winning Comeback Player of the Year seemed like a sure thing for a long time. The cool thing from a Pirates’ perspective is that the top three in votes were all Pirates. If you’re general manager Neal Huntington, you have got to be happy about that as well; all three of the Pirates in the top three were acquired prior to the 2013 season. See, Pirates fans, this is what it is like to have a winning baseball team. Good teams actually have players capable of winning awards!