February 14, 2011

Are the Twins giving up on Francisco Liriano?

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune caused a huge stir last week by reporting that the Twins "don't plan to sign Francisco Liriano long term" and added that he's "surprised how open they are" to the possibility of trading Liriano, citing discussions with "team officials" after the two sides avoided arbitration with a one-year, $4.3 million deal. According to Christensen "long-term talks went nowhere" and the Twins are worried about his ability to stay healthy.

Christensen is one of the best beat reporters in the country and rarely engages in speculation or rumors, so there's definitely plenty of fire behind the Liriano-related smoke. Tom Pelissero of ESPN1500.com later confirmed Christensen's report, talking to "baseball sources" who said the Twins are indeed willing to trade Liriano. After reading those two reports my first reaction was that the Twins are severely undervaluing what they have in Liriano.

He was impressive by any measure with 14 wins and a 3.62 ERA in 2010, but a deeper look at less mainstream stats shows a more dominant performance. He had the second-best strikeout rate in the league, ranked fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio, was one of seven starters to induce more than 53 percent ground balls, allowed just nine homers in 806 plate appearances, and posted the best Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) in the league at 3.06.

What kept Liriano from having a more easily recognized Cy Young-caliber campaign was a .331 batting average on balls in play that ranked as the second-highest mark in all of baseball and was 30 points higher than his career mark coming into the season. Whether you want to chalk that up to bad defensive support or bad luck he had an unsustainably high percentage of balls in play drop for hits and that made a great season appear more like merely a very good one.

And while the Twins have become more open to and interested in statistical analysis recently, they're still far more likely to focus on his 14-10 record and 3.62 ERA than his AL-best 3.06 xFIP or various other new-school metrics. If they viewed Liriano mostly through the eyes of modern statistical analysis, my guess is they'd have no interest in trading him and would do everything possible to sign him long term before his old-school numbers catch up to his new-school stats.

None of which means simply writing Liriano a blank check is the correct move either. Evaluating him based on last season's 14-10 record and 3.62 ERA is misguided, but concerns about his durability are valid. Liriano is now four years removed from Tommy John elbow surgery and his performance last year was that of someone fully recovered, but he did fade somewhat down the stretch following a heavy winter league workload and struggled for most of 2009.

However, since returning to the mound with a rebuilt elbow in 2008 he has 3.80 xFIP in 404.1 innings, which ranks 22nd among all MLB pitchers with at least 400 innings during that time. If the Twins want a No. 1 starter ... well, Liriano is it. He's been one of the top 20-25 starters in baseball since returning and performed as a top-10 starter in 2010. He's also still just 27 years old and, while reports have his asking price putting the Twins off, he's still relatively cheap.

Liriano will make $4.3 million this year and will be arbitration eligible for the third and final time next season, with a 2012 salary of at least $6 million and perhaps as much as $10 million likely if he turns in another strong performance. How much money and for how many years would be a fair offer to Liriano? Josh Johnson, who like Liriano has come back from Tommy John surgery to re-establish himself as an ace, recently signed a four-year, $39 million deal with the Marlins.

Johnson's contract covered his final two years of arbitration eligibility and his first two years of free agency. Two winters ago, before he was a Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke inked a nearly identical four-year, $38 million deal covering two arbitration years and two free agent years. One of Liriano's two remaining arbitration seasons is already locked in at $4.3 million, so using Greinke or Johnson as templates the Twins could offer about $34 million for three more years.

Now, if the Twins offered Liriano something along those lines and he turned them down and/or came back with a significantly higher counter-offer it makes sense that they'd begin to explore other options. However, if the Twins are just unwilling to pay the going rate for a young, elite starter's final year of arbitration and first two seasons of free agency they're either incredibly skeptical about Liriano staying healthy or drastically underrating his post-surgery performance.

  • TFINY

    It hurts so much when my favorite team makes poor decisions based on bad information. Hardy was traded for a RELIEF PITCHER, Punto was let go and signed for less than $1M, didn’t offer arbitration to Guerrier or Rauch…heck, I wish they didn’t sign Pavano or Thome and picked up the draft picks (I know I’m in the minority there). Sad day if they actually trade Liriano. Wait until next season, let him get his traditional stats awesome for another year, sell him high. Ugh.

  • Gart

    If the Twins are seriously beginning to give up on Frankie, I will no longer believe that their top office is run by decompensating self defeatists. No other justification is possible.

  • Gart

    Err.. sorry didn’t proof read. What I meant to say: “If the Twins are seriously beginning to give up on Frankie, I can only believe that their top office is run by decompensating self defeatists. No other justification is possible.

  • ben

    Why does the fact that they’re willing to trade him mean they undervalue him?

    You suggest it’s a bad idea to evaluate a player using “mainstream stats” while ignoring advanced statistics. But it’s even more silly to judge the situation on advanced stats while ignoring the perspective that Liriano’s own coaching staff has. Liriano’s stock is probably as high as it’s ever been. But it’s also fragile when you consider his injury history and violent delivery. When you consider how quickly his value increased (as recently as 2009 he wasn’t good enough to stay in the rotation) and how quickly it could fall (relative to other players), he is a reasonable player to consider for a trade.

    Whether you trust the front office to make a trade you’d be happy with is another story.

  • http://www.senseinthecenter.blogspot.com neckrolls

    The Greinke and Johnson comps are spot on. Each of those guys went on to lead their league in ERA in the first season of their new deals. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Liriano follow suit. If you think his stock is high now…

  • chris

    cannot trade him..he is our best pitcher…and if everyone knows they gonna to trade him…they will get nearly NOTHING in return…

    the twins look worse and worse right now….or?

  • David

    It’s no secret that long-term contracts must be judged according to risk and reward. Does Liriano’s dicey arm instill enough confidence to justify a four-year, big-bucks commitment? Tough call.

    Three additional observations:

    1. Liriano’s trade value is higher now–much higher, in fact–than it will be next year. Characteristically, guys two years removed from free agency fetch far more in return than guys entering the final year of arbitration or of their current contract. For evidence, just look at the pittance that arguably the best pitcher in baseball–Johan Santana–fetched with a year left on his Twins deal. So if Minnesota is going to trade Liriano, this is the year.

    2. Any trade must be weighed against the players received in return. What if the Yankees offered Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez, and Manny Banuelos? Would you pull the trigger? I sure would. So you say, “But the Twins have Mauer at C. Why would they need Montero?” With the beating he’s taken, Mauer’s days as an everyday catcher are numbered–two or three more years, tops. And who knows how effective Morneau will be going forward? Would you consider moving Mauer to first and putting Montero behind the plate? (What’s that you say? Mauer’s power projections don’t fit the profile of what you’re looking for in that regard from your first baseman? Maybe not the profile other clubs would have for their first baseman–but when you play in Target Field, maybe a doubles machine is the ticket.)

    On the other hand, If the Yankees offered Gary Sanchez instead on Montero–an offer I’m sure the men in pinstripes would make in a heartbeat–I’d say no thanks. The point is, the Twins must not–and, I believe, will not–give Liriano away.

    3. Is Liriano replaceable? Yes; his name is Kyle Gibson. Maybe not as the team’s “ace” this season, but surely by 2012. By 2013, Alex Wimmers and/or Liam Hendrickson should be ready to join the rotation. So this question is not merely what would the Twins lose by trading Liriano; it’s what would they have to replace him.

  • liner

    In addition to his arm health… I’m not so sure the Twins are very confident with Frankie’s “head health”. They have shown over and over again they do not like to deal with high-maintenance pitchers — Garza, Perkins, Neshek — or who they peceive as high-maintenance pitchers.
    They like yes-men, toe-the-line pitchers who “play the game the right way”. I don’t think they’ve enjoyed dealing with Frankie’s ups and downs and confidence issues. I’m not saying I agree with that, but maybe they are worried about his arm AND his head and the combination has them willing to shop him. JMHO

  • http://theliberalspirit.com/awretchedman/index.php Obie Holmen

    For what it’s worth, during Sid’s show yesterday, Gardy was asked about Frankie trade rumors and essentially suggested they were unfortunate and irresponsible.

  • TB

    It was frustrating to see reports they may trade him. We need an ace, but every time we groom one internally, we trade them away for chump-change-talent simply because we can’t put up the money. Sometimes money has to be spent to be earned…

  • Kurt

    “If the Twins want a No. 1 starter … well, Liriano is it. He’s been one of the top 20-25 starters in baseball since returning and performed as a top-10 starter in 2010.”

    - Well, you said it Aaron. The big IF. The Twins don’t want an ace, they would rather have 5 number 3′s like Slowey who post mid 4′s ERA.

    This trade report basically makes me sick, and also tells me that management feels our payroll is maxed out, and will be unwilling to go any higher.

    You mentioned the Twins focus on his record and his ERA, well his ERA is the best among all their starters…the Twins know that Liriano is their best pitcher, right… right?

  • JoeK

    Bill Smith hurts my brain. The Twins must be satisfied with having five No. 4 in the rotation caliber starters going into the season. Sounds like a great plan. At least we have Matt Capps!

  • Tom

    I think Liner is right–this has as much to do with Liriano not being a Gardy type of player as anything else (and I think ben is spot on, too–he’s not untradable, but it better be a hell of a deal). Liriano is a character, he’s not one of the bland, charisma-less automatons the Twins love so much, and the Twins have shown they have a hard time dealing with players who have personality. So aside from his injury issues and the fact that his trade value is very high right now, I think the fact that Gardy has no idea how to handle him has something to do with this. And, Obie, you notice that Gardenhire didn’t deny the rumors?

  • mike wants WINS

    Sure, if someone offers 6 AWESOME players in return, you think about it. But, Mauer and Morneau are in their prime. They just signed Thome. You all think Young is up for a big season. If you are not trying to win now (by trading your best pitcher for prospects), when do you try to win now?

    I’d rather they were trading prospects for proven players, than trading proven players for prospects.

  • Whistler1217

    Kinda cool, interesting and coincidental with this post, BA is reporting that we signed a 17 year old from the DR. I guess he’s a top pitching prospect from Latin America. 250,000 bonus I guess.

  • http://www.mog.com/funoka funoka

    I agree that the trade stuff is really stupid on the eve of Spring Training. Or do they just want to light a fire under Liriano?

    However, the Twins have not given the really BIG money over the long term to any pitchers(with the exception of Joe Nathan).

  • Sean

    I think it’s smart to trade Liriano when his value is high. The Yanks are desperate for a front line pitcher. Why does everybody think we don’t need Jesus Montero? The guy isn’t going to play catcher. He is a DH/1B/OF for the future. It’s almost a sure thing he is going to hit and for power. The Twins would have him for 6 years. Trade Liriano & Kubel for Montero, Gardner, Joba & Banuelos. You free up payroll. The Twins seem to be overextended. Gardner improves outfield defense and doesn’t need to play every day. Montero can spell Morneau, Mauer and DH. Joba fills a bullpen spot. Liriano is good but not great. To me he is overvalued. He can’t consistently repeat his arm motion. He gets tired and nervous out on the mound. He is an injury risk. Sell high and get back guys that can contribute now with a prospect or two for the future.

  • mike wants WINS

    Sean, you’d rather start Blackburn or slowey for 30 games than Liriano? Really? Yuck.

  • TMW

    Did he ever even say that?

    Count me in the ‘If the price is right, do it. If not, take the 2 years of service and draft picks’ camp.

  • mazeville

    People are really overreacting to this–including, obviously, Aaron Gleeman.

    So let’s just make this point: If the Twins are giving up on Liriano, it’s not that they undervalue him. It’s that they, like many other teams, worry about injuries and the prospect of wasting $40 million and are thus considering offers at the moment when his value is highest.

    Neither report suggested that the Twins are even talking to anybody. They just said they’re open to the prospect, which means that they would listen to offers. I don’t think anybody on this blog would fault the Twins for trading Liriano now if the Yankees or Rangers offered a bunch of top prospects, especially if those prospects included hard-throwing pitchers and middle infielders.

    If the Twins don’t get such an offer, then they should keep him and see what happens this year. If Liriano is still performing, but the Twins are out of contention, teams might still be willing to overpay at the deadline. If the Twins are in contention and Liriano is performing, then a $40 million contract would be in order.

    Wait and see what kind of players would be brought back in return before saying that the Twins are undervaluing Liriano.

  • Dave T

    I think the Twins are looking at Liriano’s arm motion when he throws his screwball and have decided to sell high. it seems odd to me that they would leak this information. Maybe they are shopping him around, and figure it is better that Liriano knew about it first?

  • mike wants WINS

    mazeville: count me among those that would be disappointed if they traded their best pitcher for prospects, while M&M are in their prime and they have Thome. I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. Just ask Torii Hunter and Johan Santana.

  • by jiminy

    Mazeville, what you’re saying is 100% logical, but unfortunately it’s does not reflect the Twins’ thinking.

    You say, why commit the money now when they don’t have to; make sure he’s really able to repeat last year again, and if he can, “then a $40 million contract would be in order.” Agreed on all points.

    But that’s not how the Twins see it. What Christensen and others said is that Liriano’s agent proposed a three year, $39 million EXTENSION (just to be clear, that was not including this year’s $4.3 million bargain) — a million dollars less than you proposed — and the Twins reacted saying that was so outrageously high that there is no way they would ever sign him to a long-term contract and so they are looking to trade him.

    THAT is why we are all freaking out that the Twins are undervaluing him. We worry they have no commitment to keeping the only real ace they have, and who they desperately need to compete in the playoffs. And we’re freaked out that because they undervalue him they will give him away for way too little — just as they did with Hardy, Ramos, Garza, and Bartlett.

    The idea that Matt Capps is worth $7.15 million, but a starting pitcher with the best xfip in the league isn’t worth $13 million, or that the shortstop with the best UZR in the league is only worth two minor league relievers, or that the best catcher in their system and the only real insurance they have for their $23 million star is only worth an overpaid reliever whose value is inflated by the “save” statistic, makes us worry that we are about to lose perhaps a player who is arguably as essential as any other player besides Mauer to a legitimate World Series run, for no good reason.

    This team has appeared content to be “competitive,” meaning a few players short of legitimate world series contenders, for their entire sparkling run of division championships and relevancy. But they’ve always fallen just short, because of money. Now, they have the money. They’ve invested a lot in a core group. Trading away their only real ace for financial reasons, when what he’s asking for is totally reasonable — remember, they’re paying almost that much to Carl Pavano, whose upside is Liriano’s downside …

    well that’s all I can muster right now!

  • David

    Jiminy wrote:

    “…the Twins reacted saying that was so outrageously high that there is no way they would ever sign him to a long-term contract and so they are looking to trade him…”

    There is so much wrong with this sentence I scarcely know where to begin:

    1. “The Twins reacted…” I must have missed this. To my knowledge, the Twins have made no public response to any supposed proposal whatsoever. We don’t even know for a fact that his agent did indeed submit a proposal, let along for the duration and money cited.

    2. “…saying that was so outrageously high…” See No. 1.

    3.”…that there is no way they would ever sign him to a long-term contract…” Nonsense. They have said nothing of the sort. You have extrapolated fact from speculation and rumor.

    4. “…and so they are looking to trade him.” As in, they’re desperate to unload him for pennies on the dollar?

    Jesus, I’m tired of the Internet rumor mill, where unfounded speculation and unsubstantiated gossip is quickly embraced as fact, with a little embellishment added by posters just to make it sound more concrete than it is.

  • toby

    This makes me sad. It’s deflating. It gets harder and harder for me to separate my affection for the theoretical idea of the Twins — my hometown ballclub — from the reality that the people actually owning and running the ballclub may not be worth my loyalty. As jiminy specifies: it’s not wrong to consider a worthwhile trade for ANY player — you make a ridiculous enough offer and I’m fine shipping Mauer to Mordor — it’s just wrong to dismiss out of hand a totally reasonable contract overture, and it’s incredibly frustrating to read about it when we all know these decisions are almost assuredly rooted in significant part in (1) an iconoclastically antiquated and beknighted player evaluation system and (2) an equally beknighted (albeit not thereby so iconoclastic) manager’s dimwitted and vanilla predilections.

  • Josh

    I think one of the critical points is where Liriano is pricing himself in the market. Since his camp is pushing 3 years for $39M, that’s significantly higher than say, Josh Johnson or Greinke’s deals. (It’s a little better if it’s tacked on to this year’s $4.3M…but it’s not exactly a bargain for the Twins)

    If Liriano turns in another year like last season, he’ll be in line for a contract between $8-10M in all likelihood. Less if he dips back or gets hurt again. He’ll need this year and next to stay at last year’s performance levels or better if he wants to get “ace” free agency numbers and pull the $100M contract. Which someone like the Yankees might be willing to give.

    But long-term contracts carry a lot of risk for pitchers and I don’t think the Twins are wrong to play a little more wait & see here.

  • Brian

    3/39 is a completely fine starting point for an agent to ask for. It’s an opening proposal from an agent. of course it’s going to be a tad high. Then the Twins counter with 3/32 because of his injury concerns, and all of the sudden we’re within 7M with room to negotiate for vesting clauses and such.

    But to ignore it like it was completely insane to ask for that much is counter productive.

  • by jiminy

    Hi David!

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious — that people shouldn’t just make stuff up without looking for the facts first. I think that’s a desirable goal for everyone. But it’s darn near mandatory for people who say things like “I’m tired of the Internet rumor mill, where unfounded speculation and unsubstantiated gossip.” So before you start attacking people for just throwing around their opinions as fact, why don’t you try reading a little yourself? Or is, say, the Star-Tribune website too obscure for you?

    While Joe Christensen said the 3/39 numbers did not come from the Twins (shocker!) he defended the story and said he got it from another source.

    And he did say

    “One thing is clear: The Twins don’t plan to sign him long term.”

    What the hell more do you want???

    Regular readers of Twins coverage know that it makes a big difference who writes stuff like this (Souhan or Reusse? Just making it up. Christensen? You get worried.

    I’m worried.

  • mike wants WINS

    How do you not plan to sign him long term? I don’t get it.

    toby was right on with this:

    “It gets harder and harder for me to separate my affection for the theoretical idea of the Twins — my hometown ballclub — from the reality that the people actually owning and running the ballclub may not be worth my loyalty. ”

    Posnanski wrote about this last year, how, as fans, should we react when the team we root for is run 180 degrees off from how we’d like our team to be run (not that the Twins are off by that much….)?

  • mazeville

    Jiminy:

    Calm down before you give yourself a heart attack. David’s point, and I fully agree, is that you drew numerous conclusions based on the Christensen report, notably that the Twins thought that the price was “so outrageously high” that they are now trying to trade him.

    That report said no such thing. The report didn’t even indicate that the Twins turned the offer down. It SAID that talks “went nowhere” and that the Twins are worried about his injury history and violent delivery. If anything, the conclusion that you should draw is this: The Twins are too worried about Liriano’s injury history to give him a three-year contract.

    (I might also point out that Mr. Christensen, upon whom you place so much trust, noted that if 3/39 was Liriano’s number then “the Twins were wise to pass.”)

    Thus, the issue here is injury, and it’s the one that you and Aaron refuse to acknowledge. Aaron’s stupid assumption is that the Twins are undervaluing Liriano. No they’re not. They’re freaked out about him getting injured again. Period.

    So, if you see a pitcher every day, you see the way he throws the ball, you know how often he’s been injured in his career thus far, you see his value right now as being the highest it’s been — do you consider the possibility of trading him now when you might be able to get a couple of top prospects for him that would help you a whole hell of a lot sooner than would two draft picks? Damn right you do.

    This is not to say that the Twins are going to sell him for a couple of cigars and an old Buick. This means that they’re telling two or three teams desperate for pitching that they’d be willing to CONSIDER and offer. It doesn’t mean they’re going to take the best they can get like they did with Santana. It means they want to see what they can get.

    Now, if they DO trade Liriano for some cigars and an old Buick, then rip them to shreds and piss on the bronze glove outside Target Field. And I’ll very angrily join you.

  • mike wants wins

    I’m sure much like Hardy, they can deal him for some more bullpen guys….

  • mazeville

    Mike Wants Wins:

    Here’s why you don’t sign him long-term: He has a significant injury history and a violent delivery that makes another injury possible. It’s perfectly legitimate to avoid signing a guy you think has a good chance of getting injured again. Have you forgotten Joe Mays already?

    Let me make this clear: I would much rather Liriano be on the team. I just think it’s perfectly fine for the Twins to see what they can get for him now in light of those various concerns, and the fact that in the past the Twins waited too long to trade guys — especially Santana — and that cost them in the end. And again, in my mind what matters is what they’d receive.

  • Anare

    Love watching Frankie pitch, would hate to see him go, however…he seems fragile. He loses focus and then starts throwing all over the place. How many times do we watch Mauer & Rick Anderson try to keep Frankie’s head screwed on straight before we figure out that it just is what it is. Hate to say it but maybe Frankie has hit a plateau. Does anyone think he is going to be significantly better this year than last? I don’t blame the Twins if they are testing the water.

  • Jon

    Thanks for covering this Aaron. I don’t live in the U.S. anymore, so when I read Christensen’s article last week I was sort of left with a hollow “WTF are the Twins thinking” feeling, without really having the ability to view it in the context of his day-to-day performance. Glad to see that my gut feeling about Liriano’s quality last year wasn’t overblown. I can understand the reluctance to give Liriano a long term deal based on his injury history, and the type of thrower he is, but they’d be insane to be unwilling to commit to a 3-year deal the likes of which you describe.

  • Zach

    I agree with Ben and Seans’ takes. Since when is Liriano a pitcher you can’t think about replacing? If somebody is willing to overpay to him, do you say no thanks because you feel he’s your staff ace? Has anybody witnessed what has happened when he goes up against an actual staff ace in the playoffs? How come ballpark effects aren’t taken into effect for his statistical prowess, but BABIP is? BABIP is also a very subjective stat. Generally speaking, a bad BABIP that isn’t supported by bad peripheral stats such as ERA, like in Liriano’s case, means that this pitcher has good stuff but makes too many mistake pitches over the plate. Big leaguers don’t miss those, and BABIP has less to do with luck than most believe. Frankie’s mistakes find a lot of the plate and are usually hit hard, but thankfully aren’t frequently mixed in. Just frequently enough to make it appear that he gets unlucky. We should look closer at his duck fart base hit to laser statistic. Can’t think of too many games where I thought he was motoring along and then bad luck just happened to rear it’s ugly head. And yes, I understand that a certain number of lasers are caught, but if you’re suggesting that his season was thrown off because an inexorbinant amount of his lasers weren’t caught, then it’s unfair to label him as an ace. An ace would never allow that reasoning for a high BABIP.

    Also Liriano doesn’t throw a screwball as somebody else suggested. He gets some arm-side run on his 2-seamer, but it’s a fastball. Also, the stress on his arm comes from his slider, not his fastball…

    Finally, Hardy played marginally well but has bad wrists and is largely replacable. I’ll take a bullpen arm for him. Wouldn’t have been sad if he was just outright released. It’s too bad he wasn’t healthy and I wish he had done more, but he didn’t.

  • toby

    Maybe I am just wrong about this, but when I read “their long-term talks went nowhere” in a mainstream newspaper’s beat reporter’s article which mentions only the decidedly not crazy opening negotiation position of the player, I readily translate that in real world terms to something like “the team rejected realistic longterm contract talks out of hand”, and it’s a short, not overly bold step to assume the Twins viewed Liriano’s agents position as “outrageously high”, per jiminy.

    If they only viewed it as “slightly high” or “moderately high” would they not have countered? Would meaningful talks not have happened, rather than “going nowhere”?

    Christensen’s article does not so much as HINT at a team source for his statement that “For one thing, Liriano is still an injury risk,” a truism he seems to adduce only to support his similarly unsourced opinion that “the Twins were wise to pass.” I reiterate: the stuff about injury appears to be Christensen’s own justification.

    I’m not saying it’s not POSSIBLE that the Twins were disinterested in anything but an absurdly lowballed longterm deal because they firmly believe he extremely likely to breakdown again. I’m just saying we have no evidence to that effect, which makes it fair to assume that the Twins, given their ongoing willful ignorance of seemingly every statistical advance in the last 30 years, may well have stonewalled Liriano’s agent for reasons that boiled down to something like: “he was only 14-10 and therefore isn’t really worth that kind of longterm commitment, especially with the injury history.” In other words: for perceived performance reasons with a side dish of injury concern. Do we really believe an F.O. that a year ago was talking to the media about WHIP and OPS being advanced statistics fully gets how good he was last year?

    If they just think he’s gonna get hurt again, period, it raises weird ethical questions if they let him run out with mechanics they believe are going to tear his arm apart, but it’s my understanding that his mechanics post-surgery are an order of magnitude less risky than pre-surgery, albeit still not the picture of sustainability. (I’m not able to evaluate that sort of thing at all, but I read a ton of stuff when he was in AAA rehabbing about his mechanics being cleaned up.)

    Regardless of what they are (not) saying, this boils down to (1) the Twins believing with all their hearts and/or minds that Liriano is likely to get seriously injured again, while their best beat reported is unable/unwilling to quote even an anonymous team source to the effect that injury concerns were the decisive factor; or (2) the Twins F.O. undervaluing to a significant extent (at least right now) one of the dominant pitchers in baseball.

  • toby

    Zach, there’s a kernel of truth in your statement:
    “Generally speaking, a bad BABIP that isn’t supported by bad peripheral stats such as ERA, like in Liriano’s case, means that this pitcher has good stuff but makes too many mistake pitches over the plate. Big leaguers don’t miss those, and BABIP has less to do with luck than most believe.”

    That kernel is that BABIP isn’t totally luck independent: for non-junkballers it correlates slightly with good DIP numbers. That is, not only was Liriano’s BABIP unlucky/not a measure of his true skill last year, given his K/BB numbers it was REALLY unlucky.

    If you’re interested, BABIP numbers by batted ball type are out there. Go to baseball reference, pick pitching, then pick splits for 2010.

    Liriano allowed totally ordinary line drive rates and his BABIP on line drives was normal, so this wasn’t about “lasers”. Instead, his BABIP on flyballs was .254, which is CRAZY-high. (Normal is around .150.) Kubel, Cuddyer, Delmon and Span, probably assisted by, yes, a little bad luck in the placement of those flyballs are the reason his overall BABIP was elevated.

    BTW, J.J. Hardy was worth 2.4 wins last year, even with the injuries, which obviously muted his impact. 2009 Joe Nathan, with his 47 saves and 2.10 ERA was worth 1.9 wins. Yup, totally worth trading for a middling reliever.

  • John P.

    Sure, long-term contracts for high priced pitchers are very risky, especially one with a delivery and a history like Liriano’s.

    On the other hand, the rewards are also great if he stays healthy and manages to improve his composure.

    Let him go if you must, but in the name of all that’s holy in the game of baseball, don’t trade him for a used jockstrap. That’s what I am worried about, considering the return they got for Hardy.

  • Marshall Garvey

    I too am with Toby on this one. It’s disappointing to think the front office would consider this right now. As others have said, Liriano is the best thing we’ve got internally as far as an ace, even though I still hope we go out and get at least one more. But Frankie’s stuff is fantastic and his recovery has to be taken into perspective, he didn’t win AL Comeback Player of the Year for nothing. My take is that he’s only bound to get better this year and hopefully he’ll mature mentally as well…I really, really do not want to watch my favorite sports team effectively trade away a shot at a championship in favor of watching more starts from Nick “Hit Me” Blackburn and company in the near future.

    I understand the injury risk and why the Twins don’t want to commit too much money, especially seeing all the bad contracts they’re saddled with right now. But it’d be better to see some more out of Liriano before delving into trade talks.

    The only way this trade would ever be good is if it was “lopsided,” like the Frank Viola trade that got us Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, and David West. Even then, Viola had delivered plenty for us (1987 WS MVP and Cy Young the year after) and was ready to go without hesitation. Not to mention, the majority of what we got in return helped us win the World Series two years later. Liriano, on the other hand, is still young and I feel he’s got plenty left to prove.

  • scot

    Trade Liriano ONLY with an offer that blows us away otherwise keep him for 2011. We do not need another Santana like trade where the Twins get zero MLB ready players in return.

  • Zach

    Are you using win-shares over the average replacement player for Hardy, because I’m not all that interested in how many wins a SS contributes to a team versus a closer. I’m assuming their aren’t many GM’s who would have given us a top-5 closer in return even given the fact that your statistic was readily available. Looking at Hardy’s paltry 1.4 WAR, he has rightly earned the “sub”, as in non-starter, tag. Again, I won’t get bent out of shape that we let a player giving us “sub” production while starting (sparingly) is swapped for a bullpen arm, especially when you’re starter performing as a sub earns $5.1 million. For comparisons sake, Alexi Casilla’s WAR is lower, but still places him in the “sub” nomenclature as well. Not saying I think Casilla is on par, he isn’t, but the difference isn’t gaping, and as a Twins fan, that’s unfortunate to me. Their salary difference is though. What’s unfortunate in my mind is that the Twins middle infield is made up of interchangable parts, so when one leaves and is replaced by another, I can’t get worked up about that. There may be a reason James Jerry Hardy was sent down to the minors in 2009 by the Brewers after all…Fact is, Hardy can be replaced by subpar production, and the Twins wouldn’t be losing much because, as the numbers show, he didn’t provide much.

    My overall statement regarding Liriano’s BABIP is that I don’t feel it was that unlucky eventhough you won’t see many pitchers with as good of peripheral numbers who have that high of a BABIP usually. It’s easy to say that is a luck stat. I don’t believe it is in his case. His mistakes are pronounced and his BABIP should reflect that, luck or not. I think it would be very safe to say that Liriano’s BABIP in correlation with his ERA and other stats will likely look deceiving. Watching him, I just don’t think it is. Way too many bad mistakes, which I’m guessing is due to lapses in concentration. His mistakes should be (and are) pronounced.

    If I could nitpick this statement of yours a little too:
    ” Christensen’s article does not so much as HINT at a team source for his statement that “For one thing, Liriano is still an injury risk,” a truism he seems to adduce only to support his similarly unsourced opinion that “the Twins were wise to pass.””

    1. It is Christensen’s opinion that Liriano is a health risk. He’s had injuries since he was in the Giants system and a major surgery while with the Twins. His history and advancing age doesn’t exactly point to a future Gehrig-like run. Cleaner mechanics only do so much, and his aren’t the most consistent. I’m not sure his opinion isn’t valid here without approval by a team source.

    2. The “Twins were wise to pass” referred to the initial price tag Liriano’s agents had thrown out there. Again, this is his opinion, and therefore doesn’t need to be cited, and I for one don’t think Christensen needs to start going 3rd person on everybody to clear this up. “Joe Christensen thinks that the Twins were wise to pass on that price tag,” says I (Joe Christensen). <-Why we don't source opinions. Anyway, I enjoy the good banter and you are clearly an avid, well-researched and smart baseball fan. My overall premise was that Hardy is very replacable and gave us little, which the stats indicate and that Liriano wasn't that unlucky, his stats are about where they should be given the way he pitched last season. I'm not a front office apologist, but I can't fault them much for making minimal impact moves.

  • Breaker

    I’m not a huge fan of trading Liriano, but I am wondering why everyone assumes the Twins would trade him for prospects. Granted, that’s how it is typically done for teams that aren’t contending, but I don’t believe that is what the front office considers this club to be.

    What if the Twins were able to land a major league established everyday player for him? A right handed, power hitting outfielder that could replace Cuddyer or Delmon after this year (or from my perspective, preferably this year as well)? That would have get everyone’s attention, wouldn’t it?

    I don’t know if that player is out there, but more than likely I would trade a starting pitcher for an everyday, impact hitter. Don’t get me wrong; Liriano was great last year. Given his injury history, don’t they have to have concerns about his future?

    Just curious what folks think.

  • toby

    Zach, I wasn’t suggesting Christensen cite himself or in any way criticizing his writing/reporting. Sorry if it came off that way. I was only pointing out that for all the talk in this thread about the Twins nixing longterm talks due to Liriano being an injury risk, Christensen didn’t actually REPORT that that was the case, he just speculated/opined. There was NOTHING wrong with his reporting nor with his offering his dubious opinion, but anyone talking about injury concerns and stating flatly, “THIS is why the Twins didn’t talk seriously with Liriano’s agent re: a longterm offer” is out on a limb.

    I assume you’re looking at baseball reference’s WAR since I know fangraphs (which uses uzr instead of total zone) had him at 2.4. WAR is a also a counting statistic, so Hardy’s injury time hurts him there. Your statement that no GM would trade a top closer for an elite defensive/above average offensive shortstop like Hardy, if true, only adds to the mountain of data suggesting closers are dramatically overvalued in the marketplace.

    Finally, if you want to ignore the evidence on BABIP, no one’s gonna stop one, but that IS what you’re doing. Liriano had an above average BABIP in one batted ball type — flyballs — and he had a terrible outfield defense. Coincidence? Were these mashed, “laser” flyballs that somehow weren’t line drives AND somehow weren’t homeruns? There’s proverbial mountains of evidence demonstrating that pitchers of a basic MLB caliber exercise precious little control over their BABIP, and most of that small control is tied to DIP numbers. Liriano has great DIP numbers and a high BABIP. He was either unlucky or he made a tremendous number of bad mistake pitches while um, not concentrating that allowed the hitters to neatly place their bloops and flyballs into areas the outfielders couldn’t cover, because that’s what hitters do with mistake pitches: hit non-line drives in the air that stay in the park but end up in hard to reach areas.

    Again, I have no problem with the Twins trading Liriano if they get sexy-good value for him. I have a BIG problem with the front office not understanding (and seem to refuse to even try to understand) how to evaluate the value of players’ performances.

  • Zach

    Toby, 1st, on the Hardy topic, durability factored into WAR is a good thing. Durability matters (ref. Crede, Joe). Also, if you look not even that closely, you would never confuse my statement about GM’s not trading truly elite closers for good defensive SS’s with above average power. GM’s would definitely do this. Unfortunately Hardy is not this unless you think, which I’m assuming you do, that if GM’s were privy to your statistics and used them (which many do), many of them would be lamenting how they couldn’t give away a closer like Nathan for 2.4 WAR’d, oft-injured SS’s like Hardy? I’m not saying elite closers are the all-encompassing difference makers, I’d just rather have one than a SS if my SS was a 2.4 WAR replacement player who gets injured and was sent to the minors for performance related issues as recent as 2009. If we’re talking about Hardy 2008 and that didn’t look more like an anomaly than anything else, then yes, point taken, but he’s a shell, and his compounding injuries and poor performance leave him like Liriano, adequately valued. Again, I wish Hardy was Hardy of the first-half of ’08, I really do. Not thrilled with any of the middle going into this year, much like I wouldn’t have been with J.J.

    I’m not dismissing BABIP, but I do feel it’s a flawed stat and wouldn’t be surprised if Liriano’s BABIP and DIP #’s stay almost exactly the same this year. Then what do we conclude, that he is the unluckiest pitcher in the league year after year? I love the new statistics used in baseball, but this isn’t strictly a science. There has also been much discussion on how subjective the ratings are for DIP and BABIP (same with WAR). Different people compile and decide on these stats. It’s like errors to a certain extent, it really depends a lot on who is doing the official scoring. I’m just saying, take these statistics with a grain of salt and that while I do think Francisco is probably our best starter, he’s expendable at the right price. Everybody is expendable at the right price. I just haven’t seen many recent World Series teams with a #1 starter as weak as Liriano. Not that he’s a bad pitcher, just not an elite starter, in my opinion. His career BABIP is high for a pitcher of his caliber, but I don’t think this can be attributed year after year to luck. He was probably unlucky last year, but his FB%/HR rate was outrageously low last year compared to his career…I’m thinking ballpark effects actually helped him there, while subpar defensive outfield play probably did hurt him…

    Finally, I’m not sure if the front office has refused to try to understand how to evaluate players and I’m not sure how that is inferred since Liriano hasn’t been traded. If you still think the Hardy deal was outrageous, then your indictment should be levied on all owners as the market for J.J. Hardy was incredibly, incredibly weak, which I think was about right. $5.1 million, for that? Mind you, it’s $5.85 million this year that we got another team to take off of our hands. I’m not expecting perfection in trading and like every other team, they’ve made mistakes, but general consensus is that the on-field product has been pretty good despite a smaller payroll (in the past) and their farm system is generally believed to be in the top half to top-third in baseball right now, so how is this explained? Luck? Like in the case of Liriano, I’m guessing the biggest factor isn’t luck, good or bad. I think they may actually have and do embrace trying to understand how to evaluate the value of players’ performances, just sounds like it’s different than maybe yours or mine.

  • http://aarongleeman.com aarongleeman

    I’m not dismissing BABIP, but I do feel it’s a flawed stat and wouldn’t be surprised if Liriano’s BABIP and DIP #’s stay almost exactly the same this year. Then what do we conclude, that he is the unluckiest pitcher in the league year after year?

    You do realize that his BABIP last season was 30 points higher than his previous career mark, right? And if you want to bet on his BABIP staying “almost exactly the same this year” I’ll take any sized bet you want on that.

    There has also been much discussion on how subjective the ratings are for DIP and BABIP (same with WAR). Different people compile and decide on these stats. It’s like errors to a certain extent, it really depends a lot on who is doing the official scoring.

    There is zero subjectivity in BABIP. A ball is either in play or not. And it is either an out or not. The statement “it really depends a lot on who is doing the official scoring” is 100 percent false.

    I appreciate the dissenting views and the debates that follow, but I would encourage everyone to get a little more familiar with some of the topics before they form such strong opinions on them and then post those as lengthy comments.

  • Zach

    I realize that Liriano’s BABIP was higher last year than normal for him, but also realize that for a pitcher of his caliber, his is generally higher than pitchers in his same class, and that is what I wouldn’t be surprised to see again, a higher BABIP than would be considered “normal” for a pitcher with his his peripheral stats. It’s just interesting that his is consistently higher compared to similarly effective pitchers.

    BABIP, was poorly worded, but it was pointed more towards stats like DIPs and xFIP, and that just because they don’t seem to support a high BABIP, that I don’t believe this BABIP statistical result is overwhelming luck-based for Frankie. So while one could say, Francisco’s DIP numbers are x, therefore his BABIP is shear luck because it’s too high, I’m saying DIPS and xFIPs are subjective to an extent, which means that when these stats are used in conjunction, they may or may not be accurate (more likely to be may) in all cases. Part of that is due to the subjectivity in how these stats are recorded. Not all line drives, fly balls and ground balls are created equally. So, BABIP is not the subjective stat, when used in conjunction with subjective stats, I’m just saying they don’t give you a fully-proofed equation and that they’re is room for debate on why Liriano’s BABIP is consistently higher than his similar pitching comps and counterparts, and my conclusion is that this cannot just be explained with luck, though last year he may have been more unlucky than he usually is, but I can see where that would get confusing given the previous segment of my overall statement.

  • http://aarongleeman.com aarongleeman

    I realize that Liriano’s BABIP was higher last year than normal for him, but also realize that for a pitcher of his caliber, his is generally higher than pitchers in his same class, and that is what I wouldn’t be surprised to see again, a higher BABIP than would be considered “normal” for a pitcher with his his peripheral stats. It’s just interesting that his is consistently higher compared to similarly effective pitchers.

    Again, this is wrong. You’re missing the entire concept behind xFIP and DIPS, which is that the quality of the pitcher doesn’t have as big an impact on BABIP numbers as people believe.

    You say his BABIP “is generally higher than pitchers in his same class” and “a higher BABIP than would be considered normal for a pitcher with his his peripheral stats” and “consistently higher compared to similarly effective pitchers.”

    These are not factual statements. Prior to a flukishly high BABIP in 2010, Liriano had a career BABIP of .302. Other pitchers in the .295-.305 range include Roy Oswalt, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Josh Johnson, and Josh Beckett. Most pitchers, even great ones, have a BABIP somewhere in the .290-.310 range.

    You’re saying things that are not factual as part of strongly worded arguments against things you appear not to have a particularly strong understanding of and, like I said earlier, it may serve you best to learn more about some of these stats before commenting on their validity and usefulness.

  • toby

    Mr. Gleeman beat me to several points, but I will too will put up a big fat wad of cash and take your bet.

    Regarding subjectivity in BABIP, I was going to say “what relevant subjectivity could you possibly be referring to?” Not to call Gleeman wrong, but there is, I suppose a modicum of subjectivity in BABIP: the assignment of errors vs. hits, a subjectivity that enters into basic batting average as well, is a small factor. I can remember quite a few flyballs last year that were simply poorly played by the Twins (corner, mostly) outfielders but still scored as hits. Were these called errors by a different official scorer, Liriano’s opponents would have had a lower BABIP and, assuming some of these contributed to runs, his ERA would have dropped. Note, though, that this doesn’t exactly help your argument, since it just highlights that there are things outside of Liriano’s control that hurt his traditional numbers.

    As for the Hardy salary savings, I’m not upset with the trade in the sense that I think he was worth more than the dollars saved, I’m upset with it because I think he could have been a 3 1/2 win player on a contending team. Look at his second half, post-injury-recovery numbers.

    No offense, Zach, but when you type things like “2.4 WAR replacement player” it makes it sort of apparent that you need to do a little homework. Really? A 2.4 Wins Above Replacement replacement player? Hm, ok.

  • ewen21

    I don’t undestand why the Twins or the media covering the team would advertise Frankie as a trade option right after he was signed. I think Joe did the Twins a disservice with that article. He isn’t a FA until 2012 and it would make no sense at all to deal him now when the team has no leverage whatsoever…… because we CAN’T trade him now! If they want to deal him the only scenario I see as being beneficial would be to deal him before the trade deadline THIS YEAR. And that would only work if the team were out of contention. With Philadelphia stocked up the way they are you have to think the Yankees, or Red Sox or whichever hot AL team might want in on Frankie. That would be the time we might score a victory on a trade. The team needs to be more DECISIVE if you ask me. They seem to sit on their hands and ponder things for a very long time. It seems as though they don’t have a plan and that they are afraid to take risks. TO quote James T. Kirk: “RISK! RISK IS OUR BUSINESS!!”