Aaron Gleeman

Baseball Daily Dose

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Liriano Dominates the DWL

Friday, January 29, 2010


Earlier this month Ron Gardenhire passed along a report he received from the Dominican Republic saying that Francisco Liriano was "throwing the living fire out of the ball" with his fastball around 92-94 miles per hour and a "filthy" slider.

Two winters ago Gardenhire passed along similar reports of Liriano "letting it fly" at 93-96 miles per hour "free and easy" while coming back from Tommy John surgery, yet he arrived at spring training throwing in the high-80s and was basically a mess.

So there were good reasons to be skeptical about third-hand reports of Liriano's velocity in winter ball this time around, particularly after he went 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA in 136.2 innings last season. However, my skepticism has faded because his numbers in the Dominican Republic are insanely good and last night he dominated while starting the final game of the league's World Series.

(And as an added bonus the game was broadcast online by ESPN, so those third-hand reports are no longer really needed.)

First let's talk about the stats, which prior to last night included a 0.82 ERA and 54-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43.2 innings. Whether his fastball was 85 or 95 those numbers are impossible to ignore. And it turns out last night showed that reports about his velocity were pretty accurate (assuming the radar gun used was based somewhat in reality).

He tossed five innings of one-hit, shutout ball while racking up 10 strikeouts, was regularly clocked at 93-95 mph, and unleashed some wicked high-80s sliders. To say that Liriano looked like the pre-surgery phenom who was baseball's best pitcher in 2006 would be hyperbole, but for one night at least he certainly looked closer to that guy than the one who averaged under 91 mph with his fastball for the past two seasons and constantly struggled just to throw strikes.

Ultimately the real test will come when he faces MLB lineups, but he faced plenty of major leaguers in the DWL and his video game-like stats match the glowing reports. His performance this winter has definitely wiped away lots of that skepticism, yet it's worth noting that Liriano isn't even guaranteed a spot in the Twins' rotation going into spring training. He's set to battle Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, and Jeff Manship for the fifth-starter job, with a relief role waiting if he falters.

Because of that uncertainty Liriano's current projection in Rotoworld's newly available Draft Guide calls for just 143 innings, but a predicted 3.90 ERA, 136/56 K/BB ratio, and 1.32 WHIP are all way better than 2009 and would make him a top-30 starter in AL-only leagues. Plus, my guess is that we'll soon be upgrading his projection following the DWL showing (which is one of the advantages an online Draft Guide holds over a print version).

Liriano's secondary numbers last season weren't nearly as bad as his 5.80 ERA, which was almost 30 percent worse than his decent 4.55 xFIP. And that was with Liriano struggling to command his fastball at 88-92 mph, so if putting some more time between his elbow and the operating table has led to last night's performance being somewhat sustainable--and certainly his numbers in nine previous winter-league starts say it was no fluke--he may have breakout potential a year later than everyone expected.

For more baseball talk and whatever else pops into my head, follow me on Twitter: @aarongleeman.


Aaron Gleeman is Rotoworld's senior baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. Also find him at AaronGleeman.com and on Twitter.
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