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|Written by Dan Snyder|
|Wednesday, 18 April 2012 06:33|
I didn't end up with Francisco Liriano on any of my teams this year, and that disappointed me; in at least one league I wanted to be a part of the hype. In 2010 Liriano went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 200 K. 2011 had been an off year, but surely his fantastic 2012 spring training was a sign of good things to come.
Let's go back to 2010, Liriano's comeback season after a lengthy recovery from 2006 Tommy John Surgery. His 2010 success was based on two things that were likely dependent on each other: his slider's value and his fastball's velocity.
Only Ervin Santana (36.9%) and Ryan Dempster (35.1%) threw their slider more often than Liriano (33.8%) that year, but neither's was close to Liriano's in terms of value. In fact, according to Fangraphs' cumulative pitch values, Liriano's slider was king.
What did his fastball have to do with his slider? Well, the news that spring (other than his 30 K and just 5 BB in 20 IP) was his increased velocity. A pitch that he delivered at an average of ~91 mph in 2009 was all of a sudden averaging 94 mph. Meanwhile, his slider's velocity remained relatively unchanged (<.5 mph difference). It would stand to reason that when you can better differentiate between your pitches, each will be more effective against the opposition.
Liriano was among league leaders in several key categories that season. In outside-swing%, the percentage of offerings outside the zone that batters swing at, Liriano was 4th (highest) with 34.4%. In outside-contact%, the contact rate for those swings on outside-the-zone pitches, he was 3rd (lowest) with 55.8%. Inducing the opposition to swing and miss at non-strikes; not a bad strategy, as long as that opposition doesn't catch on. To top it off, Liriano's 73.4% contact rate was the league's lowest, and his 12.4 % swinging-strike rate the league's highest.
One of the reasons I liked Liriano heading into the 2011 season was because of his 2010 BABIP; his .331 mark was the second-highest in the league and nearly 40 points above the league average, meaning his 3.62 ERA and 1.26 WHIP were inflated. But Liriano's 2011 spring was uninspiring - 18.2 IP, 23 K, 9 BB, 4.82 ERA, 1.55 WHIP - and his regular season followed suit. Gone was his 94 mph fastball (it dipped back to 91 mph), and with it went the value of his slider despite little change to the pitch's velocity (though it's horizontal and vertical movements did chance a good bit). His O-swing% and SwStr% all regressed (he did improve his contact%, but barely); opponents weren't swinging as much at his offerings, which contributed to his 2.72 BB/9 from 2010 jumping to 5.02.
Which brings us to 2012 - oh those spring numbers! 33 K and just 5 BB in 27 IP – 2010 all over again! Well, through three starts (11.1 IP) he’s walked nine, struck out eight, and allowed 22 hits and 15 earned runs. His ERA and WHIP are sitting at 11.91 and 2.74, respectively. His contact rate has soared to 80% as his fastball remains in the low 90s and his slider has slipped to the low 80s. His SwStr% has fallen below 10% for the first time in his career.
Earlier I said that the pitch differentiation crated by increasing his fastball velocity and maintaining his usual slider velocity would be a good thing. So why wouldn’t maintaining fastball velocity and decreased slider velocity be equally beneficial? For two reasons: 1) obviously, decreasing velocity gives hitters that extra whatever –nth of a second to catch up to the pitch and find it, and 2) whether it’s because it’s lost velocity or not, his slider doesn’t have the same kind of movement on it that it did in 2010; according to Fangraphs’ PitchFx data, his slider this year looks much more like a league-average slider than it used to (click on “Show Averages” to compare Liriano’s data to the league averages).
I can’t speak to what it was that fueled his impressive spring. Was it just “small sample size” rearing its ugly head? Weak opposition teeming with replacement level players? Two rays of hope lie in his velocity charts this year – both his fastball and slider are trending up:
His ownership is plummeting (it’s down to 14% in ESPN and 42% in Yahoo), so if he’s available and you can spare the roster spot, I’d suggest adding him … and keeping your fingers crossed. Oh, and wait until his streak of allowing 5 ER comes to an end (it's at four, going back to last season).
|Last Updated on Sunday, 22 April 2012 14:46|