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MLB trade deadline: Why nobody should trade for Francisco Liriano

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

With less than 24 hours until the MLB trade deadline, there is speculation about tons of players potentially being moved. One player whose name is particularly hot right now is Francisco Liriano. There are a plethora of teams who could use a cheap pitcher, and Liriano’s 5.88 ERA definitely labels him as such. Additionally, many teams might think they are sneaky by targeting a guy whose advanced metrics are much better than the numbers everyone is accustomed to looking at.

Despite that 5.88 ERA, Liriano has a 4.72 FIP this year, suggesting that his luck hasn’t been so great when it comes to relying on his defense. He’s also allowing the highest batting average on balls in play since his 2010 season with the Twins, with a .327 BABIP signifying that he’s due for some positive regression. He’s also stranding just 65.5% of baserunners this season, his highest left-on-base percentage (LOB%) since 2005. LOB% is often considered a metric that measures luck, since the timing of base hits is pretty random. All in all, it appears on the surface that Liriano has gotten unlucky this season, and many MLB teams probably think they could go trade for him and be the beneficiary of incoming positive regression.

Despite the positive regression that the above metrics indicate is coming, Liriano is aging, and it’s possible those metrics are a reflection of this, and not so much a reflection of bad luck. For one, he’s allowing batters to contact the ball much harder than in recent years. In 2014 and 2015, Liriano induced soft contact on 24.7% and 25.2% of batted balls respectively. In 2016, that number dropped to 19.4% in 2016, and now in 2017 he’s only inducing soft contact 16.8% of the time. His WHIP is also the highest it’s been in his entire career, and hitters are pulling the ball against him the most that they have since 2011. This means that any team considering him should evaluate how their park plays to right-handed pull hitters.

The final concerning metric that is trending downward for Liriano is his swinging strike percentage. Every year throughout his entire career, Liriano has induced swinging strikes on at least 11% of pitches. This year, he’s displayed a drastic drop off in this category, with a swinging strike % of just 9.6%. Lastly, his velocity is down slightly on every pitch this year compared to last year, which is yet another indicator that his age is catching up to him.

With all of this in mind, it may seem as though a case can be made for or against acquiring the aging Liriano. However, there are a couple reasons why most teams absolutely can’t go get him. The first reason is that Liriano pitches significantly better when he’s indoors. In 51 games in a dome, Liriano has a 3.49 ERA. When he’s outdoors, he has a 4.26 ERA. He also has a better ERA at night than during the day, further emphasizing his preference to stay out of the sun while pitching. Of the teams being talked about as potential suitors for Liriano, only the Houston Astros play in a dome.

The final reason that nobody should trade for Liriano is that he’s a completely different pitcher with and without Russell Martin behind the plate. With all of Liriano’s metrics trending downward, getting separated from his catcher could cause his MLB career to end much faster than he probably hopes.

The following picture shows Liriano’s 2016 stats when pitching to each catcher he worked with:

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You may remember that Liriano went to Pittsburgh at the start of the 2013 season and was suddenly a different pitcher. After three straight seasons with a 5+ ERA in Minnesota, suddenly Liriano was an excellent pitcher! He put together three consecutive seasons with an ERA of 3.38 or below, the first two of which he was working with Russell Martin as his everyday catcher. It was a complete transformation. Then all of a sudden in 2016, with Martin in Toronto, he wasn’t pitching well anymore. With an ERA of 5.46 on the day of the trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays decided they might have a solution. Put him with his old catcher Russell Martin again. And sure enough, Liriano pitched much better in Toronto for the remainder of the season, despite a park shift that should have negatively impacted a pitcher.

So now here we are in 2017, Liriano isn’t pitching well with Russell Martin for the first time in his career, and the Blue Jays front office knows it's time to get rid of him. If he’s no longer pitching well with Russell Martin, he’s probably never going to pitch well again.

Reportedly, every team involved is considering Liriano for a relief role. Let’s consider how that would go. Liriano’s worst inning this season has been the first inning. He needs time to settle in on the mound. His first inning ERA this season is 8.83. Granted, he’s probably facing the best hitters in the lineup (1-2-3 at least), but that’s a horrendous ERA for the first inning. If a team does acquire Liriano and put him in a reliever role, they wouldn’t be the first team to do this. Liriano has pitched 43.2 innings as a reliever and has a 5.15 ERA in the role. As a starter, his career ERA is 4.12. All of this likely shows that a switch to a relief role this season wouldn't be a smart move.

In conclusion, it would be very smart for the Blue Jays to deal Liriano right now, and it would be completely foolish for any team to acquire him. If Liriano is traded, I fully expect him to be a complete failure of an acquisition and end up with a higher ERA than he has now.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of MLBDD's writers or editors.

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