Francisco Liriano has had a roller coaster ride of a career. He was a Cy Young candidate in 2010 when he posted a 3.61 ERA and finished the season with a 14-10 record. Everyone assumed he had turned the corner after struggling in 2009. Yet, 2011 brought more woes as he concluded the season with a 5.09 ERA.
However, the Giants started his major league career by signing him as an amateur free agent in 2005 and they need him back, now.
Brian Sabean was dumb to trade him back in 2005. And that’s an understatement. The Giants were in need of a power hitting catcher to give slugger Barry Bonds some protection. So Sabean flipped Liriano and Joe Nathan to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for A.J. Pierzynski. Pierzynski would go on to have nothing more than a mediocre season while Nathan developed into one of the game’s best closers and Liriano climbed the ranks as one of the most devastating southpaws in the baseball.
Less then a decade later, the Giants are in desperate need of rotation depth. Two-time Cy Young award winner, Tim Lincecum looks like he belongs in the Colorado Rockies’ rotation, and southpaw, Barry Zito is walking on thin ice.
For Lincecum, things really can’t get much worse. He has the worst ERA out of all qualified starters in baseball, and has virtually hit rock bottom. For Zito, he’s just keeping his head above water. While he continues to keep his offense in games, history shows that it won’t be long before things go south.
Liriano has been the complete opposite of Zito and Lincecum during this past month, though, posting a 2.84 ERA in five starts including one against the Rangers in Arlington. He’s going good right now, to say the least. However, the hard throwing lefty brings back memories of former Giant southpaw, Jonathan Sanchez. A power arm and when he’s clicking nobody can touch his stuff. On the other side of the coin, he can surrender eight walks and couldn’t hit the ocean if he tried. Sounds a lot like Sanchez, right?
The last part of that definition sounds a lot like someone else on the Giants current rotation. Yes, Barry Zito. He can flick the switch from in control to in trouble before I even have a chance to sit down. There’s one slight difference, though. Liriano’s average fastball is 93 MPH and can sometimes clock in at 95 MPH according to Fangraphs. Meanwhile, Zito’s average fastball isn’t even 84 MPH according to Fangraphs.
So which one would you take, the power-thrower or the soft-thrower?
The choice is about as clear as it can get with Liriano. While both can be wild at times, Liriano can come back and strikeout the side to get himself out of jams. Zito, not so much. An 84 MPH fastball backed up with a loopy curveball isn’t going to send opposing hitters back to the dugout with their heads down. It’s going to have them trotting around the bases with their heads looking for a celebration if not located properly.
Sure, Liriano would be a steep gamble for GM Brain Sabean to take, but the addition could very well be worth the risk. Someone like Liriano could thrive at the pitcher’s friendly AT&T Park, an ideal destination for pitchers. Leaving Minnesota could also benefit him too, as he’s been wearing the blue and red for his entire career.
Whatever the move may be, an experienced starting pitcher is an area the Giants must address at the deadline. If not, all you can hope for is Timmy to be Timmy in the second half and for Zito to keep plugging away. Having one inconsistent starter is acceptable. Two? Forget it.