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Stats Corner: Pirates' Liriano better than his ERA suggests

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By David Golebiewski
Saturday, May 24, 2014, 9:10 p.m.

Strong starting pitching was the lifeblood of the Pirates' streak-busting 2013 postseason run, with the rotation combining for the fifth-best ERA (3.50) in the majors. Entering Saturday night's game, Pirates starters had the sixth-worst ERA (4.47) this season.

Aside from recent roster casualty Wandy Rodriguez, no starter has regressed more than Francisco Liriano. Or has he?

The left-hander was brilliant after signing with the Pirates, posting his lowest ERA (3.02) since 2006 and becoming the first player to win Comeback Player of the Year twice. But Liriano's ERA has ballooned to 4.86 in 2014, and he's averaging just 5.4 innings per start after lasting 6.2 frames per outing last year.

Dig deeper, though, and you'll find that Liriano still is pitching more like the guy who shut down Cincinnati and St. Louis in the playoffs than the manager-torturing enigma of years past.

He's striking out batters (8.9 K/9) and scorching earth (52.3 percent ground ball rate) while displaying acceptable control (4 BB/9) — the same recipe for success as 2013. But his ERA has spiked because he's stranding few base runners and allowing lots of home runs per fly ball hit. Those stats are more a product of luck than skill and tend to regress toward a player's career averages over time.

Years Strand Rate HR/FB Pct.

Liriano, 2014 69.4 16.3

Liriano, career 70.9 10.7

Source: Fangraphs

Liriano's ERA should be in the mid-threes according to expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), which estimates runs allowed based on strikeouts, walks and a normalized HR/FB rate. He has the fourth-largest gap between ERA and xFIP among hard-luck NL starters:

Pitcher ERA xFIP Diff.

Brandon McCarthy 4.67 2.88 1.79

Homer Bailey 5.34 3.60 1.74

Bartolo Colon 5.34 3.81 1.53

Francisco Liriano 4.86 3.53 1.33

Edwin Jackson 4.94 3.71 1.23

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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