Category archive: Francisco Liriano
The past couple of days have reminded me of something I'd almost forgotten. There is life after A-Rod-Palooza.
There is a great baseball season going on out there, friends. So let's stop talking about that third baseman for the Yankees and start focusing on all the fabulous baseball stories that are roaring toward their dramatic conclusion.
And what stories do I have in mind? How about these Five Stories I'll Be Watching (Instead of That Guy):
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesIt's hard not to get excited about the Pirates.
1. The Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to finish with a winning record, ladies and gentlemen. I have never felt more confident about saying that.
They are not going to have 10 pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery in the next 20 minutes. They are not going to lose 37 of their next 48 games. They are not going to reenact August and September of 2012, or August and September of 2011.
They're too good. They have the fourth-best run differential in the National League (plus-60). They've allowed the fewest runs in the major leagues (just 385) -- something they haven't accomplished over a full season since 1984. And opponents are hitting a ridiculous .229 against their pitching staff -- which would be the lowest average against any National League staff since Jim Deshaies' 1986 Astros.
I can't tell you these Pirates are going to win the World Series. I can't tell you they'll win any kind of postseason series. But they're still the best story in the major leagues. So let's just enjoy this ride. OK?
2. The races
The NL East race is over. The AL Central race feels like it's in guarded, but unstable, condition. And over in the NL West, the Dodgers have gained 14 ½ games in the standings on Arizona just in the past seven weeks. So we can see where that one is headed.
But the NL Central is shaping up as a must-see duel between the best offense in the National League (the Cardinals) and the best pitching staff (the Pirates) -- with nine riveting games left between these two teams. Sign me up for that.
And how about the AL West, where the Rangers just made a six-game Oakland lead disappear in a span of nine days. Those teams have two series left against each other. But the schedule, in general, favors Texas, which has the easiest remaining schedule of any AL contender, including 10 games left against their good friends from across the state, the Astros.
And then there's that AL East race, which has a chance to be the best of them all.
The Red Sox just became the first AL team to reach 70 wins -- and did it following a year where they didn't win 70 games all season. Think about that. Elias tells us they're the first AL team to pull off that trick (not counting strike-shortened seasons) since Harlond Clift's 1945 Senators, and (because those Senators got to 70 on the same day as the Tigers) the first to do it outright since George Herman Ruth's 1926 Yankees.
But then there are the Rays, owners of the best record in the whole sport over the past 81 games and a team so hot they just lost their first series in seven weeks. So pick against them at your peril.
And I'm not ready to write off the Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs and slugging, upgraded their pitching before the deadline and are currently on pace to become the first team in history to commit fewer than 50 errors in a 162-game season. (Heck, no one else in the expansion era has even finished a season with fewer than 60.) The Orioles have 16 games left against Boston and Tampa Bay. So stay tuned.
3. The awards
NL MVP: Yadier Molina was our midseason pick, but his knee issues are about to sabotage his MVP campaign. So are we ready for a starting pitcher (i.e., Clayton Kershaw) to win this thing? Do guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto have MVP finishes in them? And don't look now, but here comes Andrew McCutchen, whose credentials include this nugget: He, Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez are the only players in their league to rank in the top 10 in both stolen bases and slugging.
AL MVP: Uh-oh. Here we go again. If you enjoyed that vintage, old-school/new-school Miguel Cabrera-versus-Mike Trout debate last year, get ready for Round 2. As Jared Cross wrote the other day, Trout has injected himself into what once looked like a Cabrera-Chris Davis MVP conversation by charging up those AL leaderboards. But if this keeps up, some great sabermetric minds are going to have to explain to the masses how it's possible that Trout leads Cabrera in offensive wins above replacement, but is trailing Cabrera overall because of (gulp) Cabrera's defense. Incredible, huh? But let's save that issue for another day.
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez can tell you all about how Cy Young voters have finally learned to de-emphasize wins. But let's see them try to factor out wins this year, when King Felix is leading the league in ERA but trying to make his case against a guy who is 16-1 (Max Scherzer) -- and first in his league in WHIP, lowest opponent average and lowest opponent OPS. Can't wait for that debate.
NL Cy Young: With all due respect for the awesome seasons of Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner, Patrick Corbin, Francisco Liriano, Craig Kimbrel, etc., all Kershaw does every five days is remind us that he's the best pitcher in baseball. Still. Just so you know, if Kershaw can finish with the ERA (1.91), WHIP (0.88) and opponent average (.188) he has now, the only pitchers in the live-ball era who have ever been in that neighborhood (or better) over a full season are Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax and Luis Tiant. Whoever they are.
Rookies of the Year: In the AL, Jose Iglesias has a shot to become the first rookie of the year ever to get traded in midseason. But Wil Myers can screw up that claim to fame. And in the NL, this remains one of the wildest rookie-of-the-year free-for-alls ever, with Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Evan Gattis and Yasiel Puig all making cases for themselves that are going to require many, many Advil for the ROY electorate.
Al Bello/Getty ImagesIchiro Suzuki is about to enter some rarefied air.
4. The 4,000-hit man
The folks obsessed with a certain troubled third baseman may differ. But in my neighborhood, the most interesting story in Yankees Land this month revolves around a man who is chasing a number very few living humans have ever seen chased.
That man is Ichiro Suzuki. That number is 4,000.
And no, that isn't how many reporters from his homeland follow Ichiro around every day. It's the number of hits he's about to have on his permanent record if we count the 1,278 hits he spewed in his nine seasons in Japan.
At the moment, he finds himself just 11 hits away. And I hope you don't let that milestone go whooshing by you too quickly before you stop to think about what it means.
The last time we witnessed anyone getting his 4,000th hit was April 13, 1984, when Pete Rose collected No. 4,000 off Jerry Koosman, in a stadium we no longer find on the baseball map (the late, great Stade Olympique in Montreal).
Just for perspective's sake, the Hit King got that 4,000th hit in his 3,259th game. That's nearly 200 more than Ichiro has played (3,075) on both sides of the Pacific. Which means he's going to beat Rose to No. 4,000 by more than a full season. Wow.
The only other 4,000th hit ever? Ty Cobb got that one -- on July 18, 1927. So if you weren't hanging out at old Nevin Field in Detroit that day 86 years ago, you've never seen any American Leaguer do what Ichiro is about to do. Pretty mind-boggling feat -- on any continent.
5. History majors
Finally, here's just a taste of some of the historic pursuits you can keep your eye on over the next two months:
Chris Davis: On pace for 58 home runs, 102 extra-base hits, 151 RBIs and 72 more extra-base hits than singles. There has never been a season like it.
Mike Trout: He's leading the American League in walks. He's tied for the league lead in hits. And if he can wind up leading in both categories, he'd be only the fifth player since 1900 to do that in the same season. The others: Rogers Hornsby, Richie Ashburn, Carl Yastrzemski and Lenny Dykstra.
Joey Votto: See that note above? How unreal would it be if two men finished first in their league in hits and walks in the same season? Well, Votto has a shot, too. He has a big lead in walks. He's three behind Jean Segura for the lead in hits. And Votto and Shin-Soo Choo have an outside chance to become the second set of NL teammates ever to reach base 300 times apiece (via hit, walk and HBP) in the same season. The other: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, for the 1997 Astros.
Miguel Cabrera: And then there's Miggy. He might not win the Triple Crown for a second straight year. But if he can stay healthy enough to get on the field regularly, Cabrera still has a chance to do something no Triple Crown winner has ever done -- hit that trifecta one year and then have a better season the next year.
Here are Cabrera's numbers from last season, and his projected numbers for this season. This is truly amazing:
2012: .330/.383/.606, 44 homers and 139 RBIs
2013: .359/.453/.668, 48 homers and 148 RBIs
I chronicled this a few months ago, but here it is again just to help you digest this man's greatness: Only one Triple Crown winner in history (Ted Williams) ever drove in more runs the following year. Just two (Williams and Mickey Mantle) had a better batting average the next season. And none of them hit more home runs The Season After. But this guy could do all of the above.
So once again, we find ourselves drawn to the flat screen every time Miguel Cabrera starts marching toward home plate. And that beats watching A-Rod-Palooza every day of every week. Don't you think?
Any time a guy with a 9.13 ERA throws a six-walk, two-whiff no-hitter, it's a Useless Information Department kind of phenomenon. So let's delve into the madness of Francisco Liriano's unlikely no-no:
• In case we hadn't made it clear, this was one ugly no-hitter. Consider this: The guy who threw it piled up almost as many balls (57) as strikes (66). Of the last 50 no-hitters, only two featured a ball-strike ratio that messy -- one by A.J. Burnett (64 balls, 65 strikes) in 2001 and the other by the losing pitcher in Liriano's game, Edwin Jackson (70 balls, 79 strikes) last June.
• So how rarified is a six-walk, two-strikeout no-hitter? Well, more rarified than a moment of silence from Rex Ryan, among other things. This was the 249th no-hitter in history. It was the first by a guy who walked that many hitters and whiffed that few.
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastFrancisco Liriano tossed the seventh no-hitter in Twins history.
• Liriano's 66 strikes were the fewest in any no-hitter since another fellow who was in attendance, Mark Buehrle, threw 66 strikes in his 2007 no-hitter. But it's kinda tough to compare those two games because Buehrle tossed only 94 pitches that day. So this was the fewest in a 100-pitch no-hitter since the 65 Burnett worked into his busy 129-pitch no-hit schedule 10 years ago.
• Now here's something that's really hard to do. Liriano walked the same hitter (Juan Pierre) THREE times during his no-hitter. How unusual is that? The Elias Sports Bureau reports Liriano is only the second pitcher to do that in the last 41 years, since Dock Ellis handed out three walks to Steve Huntz on June 12, 1970. The only no-hit pitcher to do it in between? Justin Verlander walked Bill Hall three times on the way to no-hit glory on June 12, 2007.
• And now something that's just as hard: Thanks to those three walks, Pierre actually raised his on-base percentage while his team was being no-hit -- from .307 to .321. Try that on your PlayStation sometime.
• By the way, Liriano issued all those walks to a team that hasn't been renowned for its count-working. Only three AL lineups have walked less this year than the White Sox have. And this was just the third time all season they'd walked six times (or more) in any game.
• Here's another strange one: We think of Liriano as the Twins' one true strikeout pitcher, right? So what were the odds that he, of all people, would become the first pitcher since 1980 (Jerry Reuss) to strike out two hitters or fewer in a no-hitter? Uh, not good. Liriano has made 96 starts in the big leagues, counting the postseason. This was only the third time he's pitched more than four innings without whiffing more than two of the hitters he faced.
• If you're a Game Score fan, my buddy David Schoenfield points out that Liriano's 83 Game Score was the worst by any no-hit pitcher since Cliff (Lefty) Chambers put up an 83 in an eight-walk no-hitter for the 1951 Pirates. That was 140 complete-game no-hitters ago, counting postseason no-nos.
• Another bizarre Liriano tidbit from ESPN's fabulous Stats & Info crew: Not only had Liriano not been taking any no-hitters into the ninth on a regular basis lately, he wasn't even regularly taking no-hitters as deep as the SECOND HITTER of the game this year. In three of his previous four starts, he'd given up a hit to the first batter he faced.
• Meanwhile, Liriano needed double-play balls to wriggle out of three of those innings. That's the most GIDPs in a no-hitter, according to Elias, since Joe (Don't Call Me Mercedes) Benz in 1914. By the way, Joe Benz was so inspired by all that, he went on to lead the AL in losses that year (with 19).
• Hey, if it makes Liriano feel better, these are some of the names he's joining in the prestigious I Walked Six (Or More) in a No-Hitter Club: Nolan Ryan, Jim Palmer, Randy Johnson, Johnny Vander Meer, Dwight Gooden, Jack Morris and Ubaldo Jimenez.
• You may have heard afterward that Liriano's 9.13 ERA was by far the worst of any no-hit pitcher this deep into a season. But if you lower the bar to three starts, according to Elias, he ranks second to Bill (Bullfrog) Dietrich of the 1937 White Sox. He took a spiffy 10.13 ERA into a no-hitter against Harland Clift's St. Louis Browns.
• Liriano said afterward he didn't realize he had a no-hitter going until the eighth inning. You could understand why. With all those walks, he wound up throwing 39 pitches from the stretch -- in a no-hitter!
• Then again, if you were going to pick a team in baseball to get no-hit these days, the White Sox -- despite all those big names on the roster -- were an excellent candidate. They started three position players -- Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Brent Morel -- with batting averages submerged beneath the Mendoza Line. And the man who made the last out -- Dunn -- ended the night with a picturesque .158 average. That's the lowest batting average by a hitter who made the final out in a no-hitter, according to Elias, since that .135-hitting Gerald Laird made the final out of Buehrle's 2007 no-hitter against Texas.There's something fitting about a no-hitter ending with a guy named "Dunn" at the plate. But it was about the only thing fitting about one of the oddest no-hitters ever twirled.