Detroit Tigers: Is newly signed Francisco Liriano a starter or reliever?

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NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Francisco Liriano #46 of the Houston Astros throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees in Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Francisco Liriano #46 of the Houston Astros throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees in Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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The Detroit Tigers have added another veteran to their pitching staff, signing left-hander Francisco Liriano to a one-year, $4 million dollar contract.

Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila hinted last week that the team is not done adding pitchers. That was indeed the case, as the Tigers just inked 12-year veteran Francisco Liriano to a major league contract.

Liriano, 34, was a longtime member of the AL Central rival Minnesota Twins, and thus has a lot of familiarity with Detroit’s coaching staff. New manager Ron Gardenhire was the skipper for Liriano’s Twins from 2005-2012. Tigers bullpen coach Rick Anderson was Minnesota’s pitching coach, and bench coach Steve Liddle and quality control coach Joe Vavra were both on staff in Minnesota as well.

Liriano was excellent from 2013-2015 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitching to a 3.26 ERA with a 9.6 K/9. Things unraveled in 2016 however, and Liriano was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays at midseason. He rebounded nicely up North, with a 2.92 ERA in 49.1 innings.

2017 saw Liriano begin the season with the Blue Jays, but after 18 starts with a 5.88 ERA and an 8.1 K/9, Liriano was shipped to Houston. While in Houston, Liriano exclusively came out of the bullpen. He had a 4.40 ERA and an ugly 6.3 BB/9 in 14.1 innings of work.

Starter or Reliever?

It is unclear what role Liriano will hold in Detroit. Similar to Travis Wood, he is a left-hander with experience as both a starter and a reliever. He will likely compete with Buck Farmer, Matt Boyd, Alex Wilson, Ryan Carpenter and Wood for a spot in the starting rotation. If he does not land it, he could join fellow left-handers Daniel Stumpf and Blaine Hardy in the bullpen. Wood, if he does not make the rotation, will likely make the team as a reliever as well.

Liriano could make a case to be the team’s LOOGY next season. For his career, he has held left-handed hitters to a .222/.297/.306 line with a stellar 3.16 K/BB ratio. Even in 2017 when Liriano struggled he held opposing left-handers to a .247 average and posted a 4.40 K/BB ratio.

Fellow left-handers Stumpf and Hardy do not post great numbers against left-handers, which is a huge bonus when evaluating a left-handed reliever. Liriano could contend for that vital role in Detroit’s bullpen next season, while also serving as a mentor for young left-handers like Norris and Boyd.

Next: Detroit Tigers Fantasy Baseball Guide

Liriano may not be a flashy pickup, but he provides depth as both a starter and a reliever. His familiarity with the coaching staff is a bonus, and his ability to mow down opposing left-handers will be valuable. Liriano is the type of player who can help a rebuilding team in ways that may not show up in the box scores.

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