He burst onto the scene in 2006 as a member of the Minnesota Twins. In 121 innings, he struck out 144 batters and sported a 12-3 record with a fantastic 2.16 ERA. And then, just like that, Francisco Liriano‘s career seemed to take a long drive off a short cliff. He missed the last seven weeks of the regular season, the divisional playoffs and all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery. He did win 14 games in 2010, earning Comeback Player of the Year honors but at the end of each of the following two seasons, his ERA was over 5.00. The Pittsburgh Pirates decided to give him a one year guaranteed contract worth $1 million dollars with a club option for 2014 at $8 million dollars.
Right now, he is the bargain of the year.
The 29-year old lefty is the rotation’s ace, with a National-League leading 14 wins and an ERA of 2.53, good enough for fifth in the Senior Circuit. These are outstanding numbers for a guy who started the season on the disabled list and did not make his first appearance until May 11th. He already has two complete games in 2013, doubling his career total; his only one prior to this season was his no-hitter that he threw on May 3rd, 2011 against the Chicago White Sox. The Bucs were just coming off a seven loss in nine game stretch when Liriano took the mound last night in San Diego. Once again, he was brilliant, throwing seven innings of shutout ball allowing only four hits and striking out 13 as the Pirates defeated the Padres 3-1. The victory enabled Pittsburgh to keep their slim one game lead in the National League Central. The Pirates are now 3-7 over the last ten games; two of the victories were in large part to Liriano, who could very well be the team’s Most Valuable Player.
At 73-51, the Pirates have the second best record in the National League with 19% of them coming from a player who had his original contract voided by the team in December because of an injury. It’s hard to imagine a guy in the NL who deserves Comeback Player of the Year more than Nelson Liriano.