As promised, here's my take of Franciso Liriano's season thus far. If you had to pick the best/most valuable pitcher in the AL off the top of your head, who would you pick and how far down the list would you place Liriano? The only pitchers with a higher WAR this season are Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson. However, here's a rundown of Liriano's stats from this season:
6-7, 107.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 117 K, 30 BB, 2 HR
Some of those numbers are great, others are just OK. But why do sabermetrics show Liriano as the most valuable pitcher in the AL? WAR isn't just the only advanced statistic that looks great for him, either. Fielding Independent Pitching is a metric used to quantify a pitcher's ability by removing all luck and factors outside his ability, as the name suggests. His FIP is 2.18, meaning his peripherals suggest his ERA to this point should be 2.18, and his xFIP predicts his ERA should be around 2.97 the rest of the year. I'm going to break down some of these peripherals, which should (hopefully) naturally lead into figuring out what the heck is going on.
Looking at his record, his pitching performances in his game log more or less reflect that record, if being a tad unlucky in deserving another win, maybe 2. He has 3 losses where he only gave up 3ER, but the other 4 involved him getting shelled. In 2 of the last 3 he was rocked, with his last start being 1.2 IP and 7ER. I'm not saying his last start should be ignored, but for perspective, if you do take out that last start, his ERA drops to 3.29, further indicating he's been pitching great.
So if we do assume this, why in my last post did I say he's tough to read, as he's been lucky and unlucky all at once? First, his WHIP is surprisingly high for a guy who doesn't have all that many walks so far. Where he's getting unlucky is with a .361 BABIP. That number throws off his WHIP by itself. Here's some quick pencil and paper math: for argument's sake, if you regress his BABIP to league average to .300 (slightly rounded up), proportionally, he's given up 18 more hits than he should have. Subtracting out the 18 hits, his WHIP drops from 1.28 to 1.13, which would tie with Tim Hudson him for 15th in WHIP, and tie with John Danks in AL only for 7th.
Finally his K/9 rate is great at 9.83. This ratio hasn't been this good for him since his 10.71 in his rookie year in 2006, right before he had Tommy John surgery. With the league average of 7.02 K/9, he's really cleaning up here. Ks are a big predictor in FIP, so he's getting a big boost from this alone.
Now after going through all that, it's a little more obvious why his WAR is so high. However, I did say I felt he is getting very lucky in some places. The one that really jumps out is allowing only 2 HR, which were in the same game in Boston on May 20th. His HR/FB% (Home Run/Fly Ball) is a paltry 2.6% right now. The league average is around 9-11% and normalizes around 10.6%.
There are a bunch of studies about how pitchers can control their FB% (skill) but have almost no control over their HR/FB% (luck). Target field's yielded the second fewest home runs in the league, so it's definitely a pitcher's park, but 2.6% is unsustainable. It won't happen all at once, but I'd expect that number to creep up over 7% by the end of the year, even if he continues to pitch very well in the 2nd half.
After going through these numbers, I was actually surprised for them to come out this favorably to Liriano. Going into this, I anticipated the numbers to indicate that he would trail off, but I'm beginning to think more and more that he could sustain his level of pitching in the standard pitching categories for the rest of the season. Fangraphs indicates his slider is back to being dominant again, saving him 14.9 runs this season, which hasn't been this high since his breakout 2006 season. Also his percentage of batters swinging and missing is 12%, which is a huge number---as a reference, the league average is 8.4%.
His stuff may be back and could be in for a nice run, assuming his last start was only a hiccup and not a sign of things to come. He may not have the numbers or record at the end of the year to be in the discussion for any of the end of the season awards, but don't be completely shocked if a couple analysts start mentioning his name come the end of August.
The Friendly Indians - I Know You Know (Psych theme-season premier tonight!)