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  • Hard Truths

    When the news came down this weekend that the Twins had traded Francisco Liriano to the White Sox for a pair of middling 23-year-old prospects, the reaction around here was understandably negative. The same questions echoed in the minds of fans across the state.

    Why did the Twins deal Liriano in the wake of his worst start of the season?

    Why did they back away from their stated goal of adding young, high-upside talent?

    And why – WHY – did they send a potential difference-maker to the one team that almost no Twins fan wants to see hoisting a trophy in October?

    The answers to these questions aren't especially difficult to figure. Terry Ryan settled on dealing Liriano to the Sox because they had the best offer on the table and he didn't expect better ones to come by Tuesday. Of course he would have preferred to pry away younger prospects with higher ceilings, but even with the increased number of buyers brought on by the new postseason format, clearly teams weren't knocking at the door to hand over those kinds of players.

    And while that's disappointing, it shouldn't be all that surprising.

    It's not because of Liriano's clunker last Tuesday (which happened to come against the team that traded for him). General managers aren't stupid enough to view one outing in a vacuum when it comes to evaluating a pitcher. Bad starts happen. The problem is that, with Frankie, they've happened too often over the past five years.

    Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2008, Liriano owns a 4.69 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Utterly mediocre numbers that have been very much in line with the ones he's posted this year. For all his flurries of brilliance, the league is also vividly aware of the fragility – physical, mental or both – that has made him so insanely inconsistent and unreliable.

    Rental players, in general, don't garner huge returns because no one wants to mortgage the future for two months of production from an impending free agent – particularly when it's a pitcher who is going to make, at most, a dozen starts. Occasionally a savvy GM can take advantage of one club's desperation, but in this case it became clear that nobody fully trusted Liriano. (Admit it, that includes you.)

    Based on the left-hander's recent run of success, fans were overrating their own asset and setting expectations too high, putting Ryan in an unfortunate position. There was literally no way he was going to be able to acquit himself in this situation; holding on to Liriano made no real sense and the impact offers weren't there.

    And sadly, I suspect he'll have a hard time making up for it in these final hours before Tuesday afternoon's deadline, because while trade chips like Denard Span and Josh Willingham are more appealing with multi-year contracts, they still don't have the kind of value that many fans want to believe.

    Jim Crikket had it right when he wrote two weeks ago that we should be prepared for disappointment during the days leading up to the deadline. In a season like this one, I guess we shouldn't have expected anything else.
    This article was originally published in blog: Hard Truths started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 101 Comments
    1. dwintheiser's Avatar
      dwintheiser -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      The convnience you're ignoring is the absolute objective WAR, where Liriano is comparable to Sanchex, or even faborable. He's also lefthanded, and poichting in the American league. 2 more slices in his favor.
      Both of these are very specious points.

      First off, actually looking at baseball-reference's WAR values shows that these two guys aren't really comparable:

      Since 2007 -
      Sanchez = 9.3
      Liriano = 4.0

      Bumping this back to 2006 is highly questionable, since it includes a season prior to Liriano's latest injury, but even so, Sanchez's 2006 was also really good (10-3, 2.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), so that the difference remains pretty much the same:

      Since 2006 -
      Sanchez = 12.9
      Liriano = 8.4

      Fangraph's WAR makes the two pitchers look much more equal, for reasons I can't figure out. You can cling to that if you want, but citing Fangraphs while dismissing baseball-reference would be as big a mistake as citing baseball-reference while dismissing Fangraphs -- and neither make Liriano look better than Sanchez.

      Second, the difference between the American and National Leagues in terms of pitchers' ERA isn't that huge; AL teams score an average of 4.46 runs per game, resulting in a mean ERA of 4.07, while NL teams score an average of 4.24 runs per game, resulting in a mean ERA of 3.97. So, sure, you could say that Sanchez's ERA might go up in the AL while Liriano's might go down in the NL. Even so, that Liriano's ERA will look better and Sanchez's will look worse doesn't mean that either pitcher will actually be better or worse -- all you're changing is the context, not the underlying value.

      While I'm not normally a fan of this kind of statement, in this case, I think the market got the analysis right -- Sanchez is a more valuable pitcher than Liriano, and is more likely to have a positive impact on his team, and thus was worth more to acquire.
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