Francisco Liriano was the best pitcher in baseball in 2006. Unquestionably. Sure, he didn't do it for a full season, because, you know, he threw almost exclusively 90 MPH sliders which tends to be hard on the old cannon.
The fact is, in 2006 when Liriano was on the mound, every game was an event. You didn't skip a Liriano start because you never knew what you might see. 20 strikeouts? Maybe. Flailing hitters looking like idiots? Certainly. Perfect game? Sure, why not.
Point is, Liriano was not only an ace in 2006, he was a once in a lifetime ace.
Flash forward to March 3, 2010. On the eve of the Twins first spring training game, Liriano is nearly an afterthought. Sure, there has been some rumbling lately due to his winter ball resurgence, but the reality is he right now Liriano is simply fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation.
After Tommy John surgery stole all of 2007 from Liriano and forced a rebuilding 2008, many fans had high hopes for 2009. When he showed a few signs of life in late 2008 (although nothing near his 2006 form) and unconfirmed reports about winter league dominance began to surface that offseason, fans began to believe the "Franchise" was back.
Then 2009 happened. Liriano was awful. Absolutely awful.
Between pitching poorly and putting too much pressure on himself, the man who seemed invincible in 2006 turned into, without a doubt, the worst pitcher in the Twins rotation. He lacked everything he once had.
Watching Liriano pitch in 2009, was worse than listening to Glen Perkins speak.
The point is, Liriano needs to turn the corner in 2010. It isn't fair to expect him to become the pitcher of 2006, but it wouldn't be fair to expect that even if he had never gotten hurt. If, however, he can reach into the same stratosphere as is 2006 performance, the Twins will go from being good to great.
It is kind of ironic that in some ways this is the most important season of Liriano's career, and yet he has almost no pressure on him. Nobody expects anything out of Liriano after his dismal 2009. Yet, if he fails, and has a repeat performance his career is basically over. Oh, he may continue to pitch, but certainly not effectively.
I for one, am jumping right back on the Liriano bandwagon. Guzzling down his kool-aid. The dude is coming back, and coming back big this year.
My reasoning has nothing to do with his stat line in the winter league, mind you. Yeah it was a beautiful stat line, but more importantly, after actually watching him pitch, he looked more like the Liriano of old.
He was slimmed down, looser, more relaxed. It looked like, for the first time since 2006 he was just letting it rip. And, while the cynic might say it is easy to do that facing Alexi Casilla and company in meaningless games, I say whatevs.
Even last year, Liriano's problem was confidence, not talent. The talent was always there. And now, it appears, he has that old swagger to go with it.