After an offseason that was filled with more promises for change than a Barack Obama rally, Francisco Liriano stepped up his game and delivered an eye opening start that should have baseball fans talking. In his first appearance at the newly opened Target field, the talented lefty dazzled fans and delivered a message to the mighty Boston Red Sox, collecting 8 strikeouts in 7 shutout innings. Liriano baffled hitters with his amazing slider, worked both sides of the plate with his fastball and even mixed in a few changeups to keep the Boston hitters off balance.
Liriano’s disappointing 2009 season put him at the top of many shell-shocked owners’ “Do Not Draft” lists. As time passes, many potential buyers forget about the 2006 season that made him one of the hottest young players in baseball. Before an arm injury forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery, scouts were drooling at his potential and had them dreaming of the next Steve Nebraska. As a 22-year-old, Liriano had one of the most impressive seasons of any young pitcher in recent memory. Liriano struck out an amazing 10.71 batters per nine innings on his way to a very impressive 2.16 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in a season that seemed like a glimpse into a career filled with Cy Young awards and dominant fantasy seasons. Four years after his breakout season, many fantasy owners have replaced memories of Liriano racking up strikeouts and making hitters look foolish with fears of his recent struggles.
It’s hard to just push aside Liriano’s 2009 performance. It wasn’t just bad; it was an epic tale of perpetual failure. Not only did Francisco have a 5.82 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP, but the Twins kept throwing him out there for over 130 innings. I know that’s not an overwhelming amount of innings, but it’s a lot of innings for someone that was pitching as poorly as Liriano. There was no mercy, no demotion, no one there to throw in the towel. The Twins probably should have done a better job of protecting their young arm as he bounced back from reconstructive elbow surgery. Last season allowed Liriano to experience some adversity, which could be a good thing as he matures. He certainly didn’t have any difficulty before the arm problems steamrolled his bright career. I blame his struggles in 2009 on a lack of confidence. He went from a bulletproof fireballing ace to a pitcher that couldn’t throw a strike. Part of his struggle was physical, but there was also a mental factor. The success that Liriano experienced in the Dominican winter league and spring training helped him to believe in himself. It helped me to believe in him.
Fast forward to Thursday, April 15th, 2010. Liriano turned back the clock. Most pitchers that “turn back the clock” are grizzled veterans, hoping for one last hurrah for the love of the game. Francisco is not Billy Chapel. He’s only 26-years-old and that’s what makes him so interesting. He’s had so many ups and downs in his career. He’s exceeded hype, he’s failed, he’s been through career-threatening injuries and now he’s back. He showed us that he can still be that great prospect. He picked up right where he left off before the injury. He looked like the same 22-year-old kid that helped carry our fantasy teams.
Should we get carried away just because of one start? Probably not, but there is definitely a reason to be excited if you own the Twins lefty on your fantasy team. Liriano admitted that he hasn’t felt this good since 2006. He knows he’s healthy and he’s starting to believe in himself again. That could be scary. I don’t think it’s time to proclaim Francisco Liriano the American League Cy Young award winner, but I do know that I feel pretty good about drafting him in a few leagues this year. I want to be realistic, but at the same time I do have high expectations for Liriano.
My projection: 3.50 ERA/1.26 WHIP/14 W/185 K/170 IP.
Tim George is a teacher and football coach from Huntington, WV. He's also a forum member at the cafe...TimGeorge2
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