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July 28, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Liriano Heads to Rival White Sox

by Bradley Ankrom and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Francisco Liriano from the Minnesota Twins for SS-S Eduardo Escobar and LHP Pedro Hernandez. [7/28]

Those who doubt the existence of miracles need only watch Kenny Williams at work in the days leading up to each summer’s non-waiver trade deadline. Despite a farm system that hasn’t ranked higher than 24th since 2007, Williams is always on the prowl, looking for clever and creative ways to improve his major league club.

Having already upgraded third base (Kevin Youkilis) and the bullpen (Brett Myers), Williams continued his acquisition spree on Saturday, procuring Francisco Liriano from Minnesota in exchange for infielder Eduardo Escobar and relief pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

At first glance, it isn’t obvious where Liriano fits into the White Sox rotation, which appears set with Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Philip Humber, and Jose Quintana. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the plan, initially, is to “slide him in to give others an extra day of rest or two.” Chicago went with the six-man rotation for several weeks last summer before dealing Edwin Jackson at the deadline, so this should be familiar territory. Recent reports have indicated that the White Sox are “eager to move Floyd,” meaning that there’s a fair chance of a natural turn in the rotation opening up for Liriano sooner rather than later.

In Liriano, the White Sox acquire one of baseball’s most enigmatic and frustrating pitchers, a man who flashes ace-caliber stuff yet whose results in recent years have rarely aligned with the scouting reports. Liriano has been worth 5.8 WARP over the last five seasons, but nearly three-quarters of that value came in 2010 when he posted a career-best 4.3 WARP. In 234 1/3 innings over the last two seasons, Liriano has been worth four-tenths of a win above replacement, failing to stabilize a Twins rotation that has lacked consistency at the top since it lost Johan Santana after the 2007 season.

Inconsistency devolved into incompetence this spring when Liriano opened the season with four-consecutive starts of five earned runs allowed, followed by a pair of four-earned run efforts. An 0-5 record and a 9.45 ERA earned Liriano a ticket to the bullpen, where he was mostly effective in five outings, before returning to the rotation on May 30 against Oakland. Since then, Liriano has gone 5-6 with a 3.68 ERA, 10.8 K/9, and 2.72 K/BB in 66 innings, surrendering more than four earned runs just once—against the White Sox on July 23. —Bradley Ankrom

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Acquire SS-S Eduardo Escobar and LHP Pedro Hernandez from the Chicago White Sox for LHP Francisco Liriano. [7/28]

The White Sox gave up a pair of big league-ready talents for Liriano, but neither will play a huge role for the current club.

Escobar has been in the majors all year, but he's done little while getting limited playing time. On the positive side, he is an outstanding defender with the ability to provide value with the glove at second base, third base, and shortstop. He has excellent defensive instincts, good hands, and a strong arm. He has an idea at the plate and can occasionally show gap power, but he's not an especially instinctual hitter and even in the most perfect of projections is a second-division shortstop who bats ninth. More likely, he spends another decade in the game bouncing up and down as a useful utility player.

Hernandez came over from the Padres in the Carlos Quentin deal and was rocked in his one big league start this year, although he's put up solid (if unspectacular) lines at both Double- and Triple-A. The undersized lefty is an almost classic Twins pitcher in that he throws strikes and doesn't miss bats. He does have solid velocity for a southpaw, sitting at 89-92 mph with his fastball, but it comes in straight and often up, leading to a disturbing fly ball rate. Neither his slider nor his changeup are especially effective, and the entire package leaves most projecting future relief work for him. Still, some in the industry believe that he could be a back-of-the-rotation type. —Kevin Goldstein


Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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