By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) White Sox fans can be excused for an initially negative reaction to hearing that the Twins’ Francisco Liriano had been acquired late last night for utility man Eduardo Escobar and minor-league starter Pedro Hernandez.
Liriano was pummeled by Sox bats just a week ago, giving up seven earned runs and three homers in fewer than three innings, certainly not looking like anything you’d want trying to bolster your staff in a playoff race.
The good news, however, is that since his return from a bullpen demotion at the end of May, that outing was his only truly bad game – the only time he gave up more than four earned runs.
A deeper look into his numbers shows that he still can be what he has been, an effective starter with a high strikeout rate. And another arm is sorely needed.
John Danks is embarking on a newly-adjusted throwing program to accelerate his rehab in the hopes that he could be ready to contribute in a month or so, certainly far from any certainty. Jose Quintana has been the baseball equivalent of finding a $20 bill in your pants pocket – had no idea it was there, very happy to have it, but you don’t expect it to keep showing up.
Chris Sale’s Friday start was alarming, with his fastball topping out at 91, and even then only when he sacrificed control to use every remaining muscle to speed it up. He has logged a team-second-most 124 innings in his first year as a starter and appears to need the break many both inside and outside the organization expected. To say Gavin Floyd is enigmatic is being kind, and there have been rumors that Kenny Williams has not been shy about involving his name in deadline conversations.
Liriano has been fine since his terrible start to the year. In March and April, he posted an xFIP of 6.16. In each of the ensuing three months, however, that number shrunk to more-than-acceptable levels of 3.88, 3.28, and 3.47. Also, his strikeout rate per nine innings has snapped back to above his career norms: just 6.61 in March/April, but 10.27 in May, 8.9 in June and 12.24 in July. What’s more, some of the blame for his early struggles can be seen in his .393 March/April BABIP against, which is roughly .093 worth of partially bad luck.
And he comes at a low cost, even as a rental. Escobar is just a guy at the end of a bench, described by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus as “a second-division shortstop who bats ninth.” Of Hernandez, he says “The entire package leaves most projecting future relief work for him. Still, some in the industry believe he could be a back-of-the-rotation type.”
Any organization that can’t part with two players fitting those profiles in the pursuit of a championship has far bigger problems.
Liriano has confounded both scouts and statistical analysts his entire career with eye-popping stuff that doesn’t always translate into results, and any proclamation of this deal as wholly correct or incorrect would be rash.
But considering the urgency of need, the statistical trends, the relatively minimal outlay, and the presence of a pitching coach in Don Cooper whose resume has earned him a bit of trust, it’s hard to see why this move isn’t worth it.