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White Sox Mon Jul 30 2012

Sox Rotation Gets Boost With Addition of Liriano

It looks like the White Sox got the starter they wanted. The team traded for Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano on Saturday night, and Liriano could make his debut on Wednesday against his former team at his former ballpark. Funny how things work out.

The trade, quite simply, was a win for the White Sox. A good get. It's a good deal considering what Chicago got - a 3rd or 4th starter who fills out the rotation, which they desperately needed - and what they gave up. Eduardo Escobar is a decent utility player and good clubhouse guy, but nothing too special, and pitcher Pedro Hernandez had one of the worst outings of the 2012 season for the Sox. Also, while Escobar was considered a marginal prospect, Hernandez was a little lower on the futures list.

Although I believe adding Liriano was the right move, his season as a whole has been subpar. He has an ERA of 5.31, and an ERA+ of 77 (100 is the average). He also had been dropped from the rotation by the Twins this season. He's not exactly Josh Johnson or Ryan Dempster here.

But for Liriano, we have to look at his last 11 starts. Since May 30, when he was reinstated in the Twins' rotation, Liriano has been very good. Not counting his most recent outing, where he allowed seven runs in 2.2 innings to the White Sox, he has only given up four runs three times, while allowing two or less six times.

What really stands out about the 28-year-old lefty is that he is a strikeout pitcher. His K/9 ratio is third in the American League, and he struck out a career-high 15 batters in a mid-July game against Oakland. Hits can be hard to come by off Liriano, as he has an opponent batting average of .239. He is what you would call a power pitcher.

Naturally, that has its drawbacks. Liriano walks his fair share of batters. His 4.95 BB/9 ratio is second-worst in the AL, and he's seventh in the AL in pitches per inning with 17.0. Because of that, Liriano usually gets pulled after six innings because he is already near or at 100 pitches. Expect the Sox bullpen to get some work in during his starts.

The big reason why I am a fan of the trade is because the Sox potentially added another reliable arm down the stretch. Right now, they have Jake Peavy, Chris Sale (though he hasn't been sharp in his last two starts), Liriano, Gavin Floyd (yes, still), Jose Quintana, and maybe Philip Humber and John Danks. Not saying all seven will be lights-out; just that they are all capable of winning big games later in the season as the Sox battle the Tigers and/or the other AL teams chasing a wild card spot.

This brings to mind the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers. As they were chasing the division-leading Cubs (ha!) and the Mets for the wild card, they were running on fumes. CC Sabathia, whom the team acquired in July, was their only starting pitcher worth anything, so they rode him like Secretariat over the last few months. He pitched a whopping seven complete games in his two-month stint with the team, and by September he would regularly be expected to pitch eight innings on three-days rest.

And who could blame the Brewers? Their other pitchers included Ben Sheets, who was good, but also Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan and Seth McClung. Those guys all had ERAs over 4. While Milwaukee did make the playoffs (due to a timely Mets collapse), they quickly flamed out in the NLDS.

By dealing for Liriano, the White Sox are making an effort to avoid that. Peavy and Sale have the talent to be big-game pitchers, Liriano can easily post lines like "6 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 4 BB, 9 K" and let Matt Thornton, Brett Myers and Addison Reed take them home, and both Gavin Floyd and Jose Quintana can have some good games and be relied on to not suck, basically. They can hope that Humber keeps up his recent mini-rejuvenation. Whatever they get out of Danks is a bonus.

The White Sox plan on going to a six man rotation in the short term, partially to keep Sale's young arm fresh for the rest of the year. I doubt they will continue that past late-August, but in the short term it will allow them to see who is worth anything on the staff, and will let them weed out the potential Bushs, Suppans and McClungs.

Trading for Francisco Liriano was a good move, and Chicago took a good risk in the attempt to strengthen their pitching staff for what is sure to be a tight September race for the postseason.

 
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