Monday, February 21, 2011

Liriano and Work Ethic

Signing Francisco Liriano to a multiyear contract this offseason has long seemed like an obvious move to me, so I was puzzled when the Twins expressed little interest in doing so. I was even more puzzled earlier this month when reports dropped that the team was open to trading the southpaw.

Three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Liriano had finally returned to his previous level of filthiness (or at least pretty close) and established himself as the Twins' most dominating and exciting starter since Johan Santana's departure.

And now, the front office was thinking about trading him, with free agency still two years away?

There had to be more to this. I know the Twins don't rely as heavily on statistical analysis as some other clubs, but they're certainly not ignorant to Liriano's relative dominance. Surely they are aware that he was one of the league's most prolific strikeout artists, and that no other pitcher was as stingy with home runs. They weren't asleep while Liriano was breaking off two lengthy scoreless-inning streaks last summer.

The coaching staff knows what a dangerous weapon Liriano is, and that's why the lefty was tabbed as Minnesota's Game 1 starter in the ALDS, even with Carl Pavano coming off a 17-win season.

The Twins are obviously familiar with Liriano's ability, so it seems odd that their attitude toward him this offseason could best be described as "indifferent." Long-term contract discussions between the two sides reportedly went nowhere, and while club officials haven't openly confirmed that they're shopping the left-hander around, they haven't really backed away from the reports of his availability either.

It may be that the Twins are afraid of another major injury. I've been a little baffled by that line of reasoning, since he was mostly healthy last year and has had a full offseason to rest his arm. Then, I came across this bit in La Velle E. Neal's Twins notes for today's Star Tribune, under the scalding header "Failure to exercise is Liriano's issue":
Liriano threw several bullpen sessions in the weeks leading to the start of camp but came down with tendinitis just before he left his native Dominican Republic for Fort Myers. An MRI done in Miami showed no structural damage.

Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said he asked Liriano whether he did all of his shoulder exercises during the offseason, and Liriano said no.

"He's been doing them here, and now his shoulder is strong,'' Anderson said.
That's a surprisingly direct criticism of Liriano's work ethic. I'm sure other Twins players have failed to keep up with their exercises in the past, but I can't remember ever reading about it. 

Well, actually I can. While I don't feel like digging through newspaper archives to find quotes, I'm pretty sure I've seen Twins officials grumbling about Liriano's work ethic before. Those gripes may have some validity. He showed up noticeably heavier in 2008 when returning from a year-long Tommy John rehab, suggesting he hadn't been working to keep himself in shape while away from baseball. He battled arm fatigue in the latter months of the 2010 season, a recurring issue which has been attributed to his between-start regimen.

I love watching Liriano pitch and would hope to see him do so in a Twins uniform for years to come. I still feel like buying out at least his first year of free agency should have been more strongly considered this offseason, and I still feel like the idea of trading him at this point in time is loony. 

But if quotes like the one Anderson provided above accurately reflect the lefty's work ethic, it's hard to fault the club for being hesitant to commit long-term, or for being perpetually irritated when apparently avoidable injury issues like his current shoulder soreness crop up.


cy1time said...

Let's hope that Liriano starts out hotter than the Yankees. Maybe they'll get nervous enough to overpay in a trade. I think that it is becoming more a matter of when Liriano gets traded rather than if he gets traded.

Scruffy Rube said...

I don't know if I agree with "cy1time" that it's "a matter of when Liriano gets traded rather than if". Teams with marketable starting pitchers have treated the last couple of trade deadlines like stubborn bank robbers, holding up other teams for three top prospects AND contract relief AND a pony even when their time to get it done is about to run out. Nobody wants to make the next Santana trade.

That said, if Lavelle's on the money with the read on Lirano's work ethic, cy's right and he'll be gone. Dissent is not tolerated in Gardy's benevolent dictatorship. (See Loshe, Kyle; and Garza, Matt)

Ed Bast said...

So our "ace" doesn't have the mental fortitude to pitch in big games, the stamina to pitch past the 6th inning, or the desire to condition his arm in the offseason a few years removed from major surgery. I know his sabermetrics were great in 2010. I also know the Twins aint going anywhere in the postseason with this guy as their #1.

Not saying get rid of him, but he just doesn't have the makeup or the desire, apparently, to be a #1. Make him a #2, lessen the expectations and the burden of being an ace.

Of course, that would require the Twins to make a significant move at the deadline.

JimCrikket said...

Quite a contrast to Santana's reputation as someone who was meticulous about his workouts both in the offseason and on offdays during the season. Can't blame the Twins for being reluctant to give this guy long term financial security. If he isn't mature/disciplined enough to know he needs to put in the necessary work when he DOESN'T have a long term contract, you can just imagine how motivated he would be if he knew he was going to get paid for four years, whether he works or not.

SethSpeaks said...

When Bill Smith or others are asked what they consider when giving a player a long term contract, a big part of that is "how he will handle the security." Clearly, we know now why the Twins didn't give him a long term deal, and why he isn't in their long-term plans.

Anonymous said...

Sports can become no fun when every minute of every day becomes preperation. Let the guy do what he wants and as long as he does a good job then it shouldn't matter. Santana worked hiss ass off and it paid dividends for awhile but now look at him; can't stay healthy and no longer dominate. You can predict if had work is the right move or not. Sure maybe in general the elite players are the hardest working but everyones body is different. Just look at Bob Wells and Mo Vaughn.

-Zeus Cannon

Dave said...

Santana enjoyed a long streak of being the best (or second best) in the league. Maybe his dominance and innings caught up with him.

If Liriano was the only guy I had heard of recovering from Tommy John, I would be inclined to discount his supposed lack of dedication to exercise. But looking at Nathan work his but off all offseason and now have a good shot at starting the season with the club? Maybe those doctors know what they are talking about.

DK said...

This whole "work ethic" story smells a lot like the organization's typical smear campaign (Hardy, for instance) they like to start up before they dump someone. I don't think the organization needs or deserves to always be taken at its word (or the word of its mouthpiece LEN3), either.

Nick N. said...

Sports can become no fun when every minute of every day becomes preperation. Let the guy do what he wants and as long as he does a good job then it shouldn't matter.

He's a millionaire pro athlete, I have no sympathy or respect for him failing to keep up with extracurriculars during what is essentially a three-month vacation. There's two sides to every story, of course, but if he truly can't keep up with basic strengthening exercises during his long time off, there's no excusing it.

Santana worked hiss ass off and it paid dividends for awhile but now look at him; can't stay healthy and no longer dominate.

Santana was a model of health and durability with the Twins. Any pitcher can get injured, which is why I would never advise a contract longer than three or four years, but I'd be plenty satisfied with Liriano putting together even half as many healthy and productive full seasons as Santana. So far he has one.

This whole "work ethic" story smells a lot like the organization's typical smear campaign (Hardy, for instance) they like to start up before they dump someone.

Why do you suppose they want to get rid of Liriano? To piss off fans? There's got to be a reason for their disenchantment with him, and lazy work ethic strikes me as a fairly reasonable one (certainly more so than Hardy's lack of speed).

DK said...

They probably have the same notion about Liriano that a lot of fans coming out of the woodwork do now - that he somehow doesn't have the "stomach" they expect an "ace" pitcher to have, and they don't want to pay him when they think he doesn't.

Ed Bast said...

DK, that's a great point. I don't believe the organization deserves to be taken at its word. After all, this is the same organization that told the public for years that a new stadium would allow them to compete financially for a World Series. Now we're seeing the stadium was really needed to pad their wallets, and little else - the World Series is irrelevant to the Twins as an organization.

Already this year, we've seeing a small-market salary dump (Hardy) that true contending teams simply don't do. It's possible the latest Liriano news is a start of the "pitcher doesn't fit the Twins mold a la Matt Garza" propaganda campaign.

Let me be clear, I've never been a huge Frankie guy, at least as our #1 pitcher, and the work ethic story seems to be par for the course. But there's something to the fact that the typically guarded Twins are leaking this info (9 months and no one will say anything about Justin Morneau, for example).

Just like we can close the book on the widely-held notion that as a team the Twins "do the little things right", fans need to let go of the belief that this organization is "one of the best in baseball". They're as cold and calculating and shrewd and dishonest as any Fortune 500 company or politician.

Ed Bast said...

Nick, the Twins have no qualms pissing off fans. The decision to go all-cable with their broadcast package speaks to this. This is a typical Twins decision: they had to know it would piss off a lot of fans, but they decided, we don't give a shit because it's more money for us.

And why would they want to get rid of Liriano? I don't know. Why did they get rid of Garza? Probably he doesn't fit some magical mold of a baseball player for Gardy/Anderson. They certainly don't want to pay front-line starter money for him, that's for sure. Like every single issue with the Twins, money is definitely part of it.

At this point, I can't give the organization benefit of the doubt. Nothing they've done this offseason proves they've earned that.

Nick N. said...

They probably have the same notion about Liriano that a lot of fans coming out of the woodwork do now - that he somehow doesn't have the "stomach" they expect an "ace" pitcher to have, and they don't want to pay him when they think he doesn't.

Then why'd they start him in Game 1 last year? Obviously they value Pavano's qualities pretty highly.

And why would they want to get rid of Liriano?

You're getting awfully worked up over something that hasn't actually happened.

Dave said...

Bast, this is a guess, but you listen to a lot of GL don't you? Your rants show that you are a great conspiracy theory mind at least.

Exactly how much money should the Twins spend? No matter what crap you say, they are spending more now then before the stadium was built. Want them to spend more? Tough nuts, not your money. When a team spends over 100 mil I say they get a pass on any salary dumping concerns.

OB said...

The noted poor work ethic speaks volumes. It also serves as a fine reminder that, when a bit of light is cast, apparent madness is revealed as sound method.

CovetedNOPrizeWinnerWithOakLeafCluster said...

Twins fans somehow think Homerun Baker and Carl Pavano are aces. Or, Duensing or Slowey or Blackburn. At Target Field, everyone looks like a potential ace. There is only one Twin pitcher right now that is an ace. The team sees the freak homerun from Granderson or the high 2010 BABIP and thinks otherwise, but Liriano brings the goods. And so far I have heard, he doesn't beat his wife or drive drunk, which by MLB standards makes him a solid citizen.

Scott Erickson said...

It's obvious the Twins are going to deal him. For the reasons stated in the article. Not to mention his constant 90 pitches after 5ip he constantly amasses. A lot of fans got really punch drunk last season with this guy. Another 2009 season is probably just as likely as repeating last year's nice season.

Dan said...

I think I remember reading an article in 2006 after he had surgery where he opening admitted that he didn't work out ever. He also said that he now realizes he has to, or he'll get hurt. However, it looks like he was only blowing smoke and wasn't serious about it.

Dan said...

*openly admitted

SethSpeaks said...

Coveted... - Actually Liriano had a spring training DUI a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Ed Bast, running the Twins IS a big business, how long would the team last if the FO wasn't shrewd? This is not a NPO, owners are looking for a return on their dollar. So the Twins don't like players who go rogue. So what? That's business.

I love watching Frankie pitch and I would be sad to see him go, but I also said several times last season, that he had to get his head screwed on right because he seemed to need way too much hand holding. So maybe the FO is thinking about trading him, or maybe they are letting a rumor float to see if it gets Frankie's attention that he'd better shape up, literally, if he really wants to keep playing for the Twins.

Anonymous said...

Why do Twins fans love JJ Hardy so much? He spent way too much time on the dl and wasn't very productive when off it. His all-star days are behind him. Talk all you want about the Twins being cheap but I'd dump Hardy too...not simply because his salary is too high but because he isn't that good of a player anymore. If you want to get past the Yanks and teams of that caliber Hardy certainly isn't the answer at SS, maybe Casilla or Nishioka aren't either but I'd rather see the Twins give someone else a shot then run out, tired, slow, receding power, injury-prone JJ Hardy.

Why is there so much talk about Liriano being an ace? He's not, at his best he's a number 2 but really more of a 3. The Twins don't have an ace. You can quote stats all you want...Liriano can be a very good pitcher but he can also be terribly erratic. So take Liriano's injury history, his violent slider delivery, his supposed poor work ethic and his erratic performance...bundle it all together and you can't really blame the Twins for being skeptical and holding back on a long term deal. If they are going to trade him then this might be the best time to trade him, his stock may not be this high again.

Ed Bast said...

Dave, don't know what GL is. You're okay with the Twins hitting some magic payroll number, and who cares about the results. That's fine. I'd prefer the Twins spend enough to make them legitimate World Series contenders, like they promised they would in the decade leading up to the stadium being built (with taxpayer dollars).

Anon, you're right, it's not an NPO. All of the people who invest in the club - through ticket sales, merchandise, etc. - are not stockholders. They voluntarily give their money to the team with no expectation of "return on investment" other than the product on the field. And there are a ton of "stockholders" that are very content with the Twins being just okay and getting slaughtered every time we happen to make the playoffs. But there are some of us that would like to see more - that would like the team to realize that because of our market and revenue there are not a lot of opportunities to be legitimate Series contenders, but when those windows open, to go for it, to not be content with merely contending but to fully pursue a World Series (again, just like the front office promised they would). We are in such a window now. I'll say that window is 2010-2012 or so. Last year we took steps to that, but when it came time to make a move at the deadline to take the next step, we didn't. This offseason has been a step backwards.

Again, I fully understand the business side of things. But it's also baseball. It's a game funded by fans. Some fans care about winning. Some fans are tired of the playoff embarrassments. But everything the Twins have done this offseason tells me the organization simply does not care about winning in the postseason. And that tells me they don't care about the fans. As a fan, that's pretty hard to take.

CovetedNOPrizeWinnerWithOakLeafCluster said...

Those who put a lot of stock in W/L and ERA have no idea how good Liriano's overall numbers are unless they look back to 12-3, 2.55 from 2006. Take luck out of the equation (which advanced stats try to do) and the same W/L percentage and ERA could have very well happened in 2010, with more innings pitched. But, I have to concede that, except for the numbers, Liriano is not an ace.

I admit that I forgot Liriano had a DUI in 2008. You have convinced me that this is the heart of the Twins problem with Liriano. And, evidently, Cuddyer was unsuccessful at teaching his magic tricks.

Shane Wahl said...

Honestly, this seems like much ado about nothing. I doubt any actual decision has been made yet about what to do with Liriano. If he has another very good-to great year, they very well could re-sign him for a longer deal. If the Twins somehow blow up this year and are in a position to sell, THAT'S when he might get traded (same for Capps). Until then, this (the comments, not the blog post) is all rather silly.

Note: Liriano also pitched last fall/winter. People who complain about him wearing down last year should realize that.

kareem said...

ok, dun know actually