Francisco Liriano is playing for a new contract at seasons end, and if I’m a general manager looking at how poorly he’s pitched to any catcher other than Russell Martin over the course of his career, I know I’m going to have serious doubts when it comes to offering him any kind of sizeable contract.
Everyone knows that Liriano prefers pitching to Martin. With Martin catching, Liriano has a 2.92 ERA. This compared to the 4.34 ERA he has with everyone else who’s ever caught him. The problem is, there’s no guarantee that even while he’s with the Blue Jays that Liriano will always get to pitch to Martin. As we’ve seen recently with Martin being on the disabled list and Liriano having to make one forgetful start (2.0 IP, 7 ER) with Luke Maile catching before the left-handed starter found himself on the DL.
Going back to his very first start of the season, when Liriano had to pitch to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and lasted all of 0.1 IP, while giving up 3 H, 4 BB, and 5 ER. Saltalamacchia certainly wasn’t on top of his game this season, but there was no reason whatsoever for Liriano to pitch so poorly to him during that game back on April 7. Especially when you consider that Liriano had pitched most of spring training to Saltalamacchia and was practically unhittable, recording 29 strikeouts over 18 innings of work, and posting a 2.00 ERA. By no means do I want to blame the miserable beginning the Blue Jays had to their season on that god-awful start by Liriano, but it certainly didn’t help matters, as Toronto would go on to lose 8 of their next 9 games.
Even though Martin has proven over his career to be one of the more durable catchers in the game, there’s still no guarantee he’s going to be healthy throughout the entire season. What does Liriano do then if he can’t pitch to Martin? Just because he’s not pitching to Martin shouldn’t make him any less effective a pitcher. Martin is an excellent catcher, and is renowned for his ability to handle pitchers well, but it’s not like Maile or Mike Ohlman are slouches. They’re big league catchers too, and in the case of Maile, his greatest strength by far is how well he handles pitchers. If Liriano can’t pitch anywhere near as well to a player like Maile as he does with Martin, then there’s a serious problem and you have to start wondering what’s going on in Liriano’s head when Martin isn’t behind the plate.
Moving forwards, Liriano can do himself and the Blue Jays a lot of favours by starting to pitch just as well to Maile, Ohlman, or any other Blue Jays catcher not named Russell Martin. If he doesn’t, he’s likely to contribute less than what he’s capable of to the Blue Jays, in addition to costing himself a lot of money when he hits free agency at the conclusion of the season.