Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Turbulent Career of Frankie Franchise

I can still vividly recall Francisco Liriano's first start of the 2006 season.

The date was May 19, and the struggling Twins were in Milwaukee to face the Brewers. I was in attendance at Miller Park that day, sitting along the first base line and eager to see the electric 22-year-old southpaw break into the rotation.

It had been a long time coming. Over the first six weeks of a season that saw the Twins stumble to a 10-game deficit in the AL Central, Liriano was a rare bright spot, thoroughly dominating opposing hitters in short bullpen stints.

He excelled that day, hurling five innings of one-run ball while allowing only two singles and facing two batters over the minimum. For good measure, he chipped in an RBI double at the plate. Frankie Franchise had arrived.

He built on that first start and quickly became baseball's most dazzling rookie, figuring prominently into the biggest turnaround in franchise history by nearly guaranteeing a victory every time he took the mound. In 14 starts through the end of July, Liriano went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 105-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92 2/3 innings, holding opposing hitters to a .162 average and .482 OPS. Meanwhile, the Twins went from seven games below .500 to 17 above.

Liriano was a specimen the likes of which I'd never witnessed as a Twins fan. Sure, I'd seen some great starting pitchers come through; Brad Radke succeeded on pinpoint control, while Johan Santana kept hitters off-balance with a devastatingly deceptive changeup.

But Liriano was pure gas. He unleashed 96 mph fastballs and mixed in a steady diet of biting sliders that whipped across the zone in the upper-80s.

The young Dominican was an absolute joy to watch, and a gleaming beacon of hope for the club's future, so I was heartbroken when he slumped off the mound grasping his elbow after recording six outs against the Athletics in mid-September. He would require the dreaded Tommy John surgery, leading to an arduous road to recovery that featured far more valleys than peaks.

He missed the entire 2007 season while rehabbing. In 2008, he was mostly effective, if underwhelming. In 2009, he was a complete mess, unable to find the strike zone and maddeningly inconsistent. Following the season, he regained his confidence while pitching in winter ball and carried that momentum forward to put together his most complete season in 2010, looking at times very similar to the prodigy that took the league by storm in '06.

But last year, it was back to square one. Liriano's command unraveled, his shoulder barked, his work ethic came into question, and he gradually lost the confidence of his teammates, coaches and fans.

Now, with the 2012 season approaching, the Twins are looking to rebound from a disastrous campaign, and their ability to do so will be highly contingent on Liriano's ability to do the same.

In a rotation littered with mediocre contact pitchers, Liriano stands out as perhaps the one true hope for a dominant front line starter. He was obviously a far cry being that guy last year, so if the Twins are to contend this season they will almost certainly require a massive transformation from their most talented – and frustrating – starting pitcher.

Does he have it in him? Ever the Frankie diehard, I'll choose to focus on the similar metamorphosis that took place from 2009 to 2010 (especially since that offseason, like this one, featured a stint in the Dominican Winter League).

And I'll invariably drift back to that day in May of 2006 when this whole crazy ride began.


Anonymous said...

I really have no confidence that Liriano can still be a frontline starter for a contending team. 2006 is long gone and he's been so frustratingly inconsistent that I don't see how a team can think he's a guy to be counted on at the top of the rotation. I think the best option for Terry Ryan is to trade him to a contender who will try to plug him in the 2-3 spot in their rotation and see if they can get a top middle infield and starting pitching prospect - before the season starts. I have zero confidence in him.

cy1time said...

I'll remember 5/26/06 when Liriano beat Felix Hernandez 3-1. They were the two most exciting young pitchers in the AL, the excitement in the Dome that night was palpable. The details fade over the years, maybe the pregame gin was a factor, but I don't recall ever being any more excited to go see a baseball game. Too bad Liriano's career path didn't track a little closer to Hernandez's.

Mitch said...

If the Twins sell low on Frankie before this season even begins, it just might drive me to homicide. Yes, he's undependable, yes, he at times looks like he doesn't belong in the big leagues. But dammit, I'll take him over every middling rotation guy with low velocity and (sometimes) good accuracy we have. Or in other words, the entire Twins pitching staff.

But more than that, I cannot stand how many talented guys we've let slip through our fingers for mere peanuts in return because we decided to sell low. J.J. Hardy probably figures most highly on my list, but I'd also include throwing Jason Bartlet into the Garza trade as yet another complete failure for the FO to understand exactly what they have in a given player.

Mike said...

So what exactly do people think Liriano's trade value is? All I hear from people on boards like this is that they like his potential, but don't want him around because he's too inconsistent and can never be counted on, so the Twins should just go ahead and trade him.

I agree that I'm tired of watching the FO seemingly sell guys for far too low, but what could reasonably be expected for Liriano? I mean, anonymous says that s/he has "no confidence that Liriano can still be a frontline starter for a contending team... he's been so frustratingly inconsistent I don't see how a team can think he's a guy to be counted on at the top of the rotation... I have zero confidence in him." And then says that he should be traded for a top middle infield and starting pitching prospect.

With such a negative view of this guy that can't be trusted and deserves no confidence, would my fellow Twins' fans trade away two top prospects to get him if he was on a different team?

I doubt it. A lot.

I don't know what to do with Liriano. I know I wouldn't give up much to get him if I was the GM of another team. Especially after last year's awful campaign. So if they trade him now, they'll have to sell short. If they keep him, they're hoping that his sketchiness is on the upswing. Both options are unappealing to me, but I guess I would rather see if he pans out.

Anonymous said...

if the twins were going to trade Liriano it should have been last offseason when he had value, after 2011 his value has plummeted. there is still a chance he could rebound and have a good season in 2012. might as throw him into the rotation and see what happens.

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

Agreed we shouldn't trade him. My frustration is really more that we didn't get someone better than Jason Marquis to upgrade the rotation, but that's a done deal anyway.

I hope Liriano has another 2010 (or better), but it still kinda hurts to go back to just how amazing he was in 2006. Of course he can't be put down for being unable to reclaim that, but like Nick said, I can't think of any Twins pitcher with that pure heat and precision. My first real memory of him was when he out-dueled Roger Clemens in Houston, and the whole time the ESPN announcers just went on about Clemens and hardly acknowledged this mind-blowing pitcher for the Twins.

Anonymous said...

Anon has it right. Trade Frankie NOW for middle infield help (sure hands and decent speed would be nice) and a young starter with a decent upside. Oh, please fire Gardy as well.

Anonymous said...

The problem the Twins have with Liriano is that they count on him to be their ace because he's the only starter with the stuff to dominate hitters, but he's so inconsistent that you can't rely on him in this role so he's just one more starter putting pressure on the BP. I do believe though that he still has value for a contending team as their 3-4 starter and maybe this would help him too by taking some pressure off him. Since Ryan has already signalled that this team isn't going to compete in 2012 why not try and get some good prospects for him now as opposed to letting him walk at the end of the year for a draft pick?

Anonymous said...

unrelated note: so according to phil mackey, the twins tv deal will get them an xtra 27 mil/yr. and they're cutting payroll by 15 mil. why are twins fans not outraged by this? somewhere ed bast is shaking his head.

Anonymous said...

Funny story about that day i was at a friend that got raided for drugs i was 18 at the time. We got taken outside while they searched the house, but one of the dea guys would come out and update me and my friend we had it on while they busted in. gl frankie that devasting slider needs a comeback with that fb

USAFChief said...

If I were Ryan I'd be trying to ink Liriano to a relatively cheap 3 yr deal while I still can.

Trading him now would be just another example of selling low. My guess is the same fans calling for Ryan to trade Liriano would be complaining about that deal a year from now.

Mike said...

That's pretty crazy if the Twins really are seeing a $27 million boost in the TV deal. It certainly makes it seem less logical to cut payroll by about $12 million this year. I wish the public had access to more financial information. And I wonder what other teams do with their revenue. The same article that anonymous referenced also said that LAA has a TV deal worth about $150 million per season. And despite being in a much bigger market, etc., etc., their payroll isn't way above Minnesota's considering that deal.

But I believe the new TV contract doesn't kick in until the 2013 season anyway. The original announcement of the last eight year contract said that it was running through 2012..

I still tend to agree with Mackey's viewpoint on payroll.

bates&8's said...

Anon has it right. Trade Frankie NOW for middle infield help (sure hands and decent speed would be nice) and a young starter with a decent upside. Oh, please fire Gardy as well.

Whoever made this comment is the biggest moron on the face of the earth. You don't fire a manager because of one bad injury filled season and you don't trade a potentially amazing pitcher after an awful season - that is like selling a stock when it is at its all time low. At best we would get back a group of career minor leaguers for Liriano right now and I don't think that anyone can deny that Liriano still has the potential to be great. More embarrassing is your request to fire Gardy though... he has been the most consistent manager in twins history and has been in the playoffs almost every single year. Gardy is a class act and has been nothing but great for the twins organization... you don't deserve to be called a twins fan nor do you deserve to be allowed to comment in any twins related posts. Please keep your idiotic opinions to yourself from now on. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Frankie definitely still has some attitude issues, but despite the surgery I think he can still be a top of the rotation pitcher. If we trade him, who else are we going to start? Our rotation is thing to begin with.