Gabbin' Grapefruit: Francisco Liriano's Delivery
According to a recent John Shipley article at the PiPress, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson offered up a cure for what he believes ails Liriano:
"If he stays tall from the start of his delivery, so he's throwing downhill, he's great. And he'll be the first one to tell you, when he collapses, that forces him to jump out. I mean, there are times he's running to third base before he's throwing the ball, and that's because he's collapsing and getting out so far."
This is an interesting assessment because this is not the first time that getting Liriano to pitch more “downhill” as been brought up.
Following his eight-inning, nine strikeout performance against the Texas Rangers on June 12 of last year, the MLB Network crew took the opportunity to dissect the difference between the early season Liriano – the one who had gone 2-5 with a 7.07 ERA with a 21/27 K/BB ratio in 35.2 innings combined in his first seven starts – to the one who had just obliterated the future AL Champions. What MLB analyst Mitch Williams noted was that Liriano had a tendency of not “staying behind his head”. The former closer described this as rushing throw his delivery and that he would peel off towards the third base line with his momentum – just like Anderson said. This, noted Williams, resulted in a decrease in control.
Williams and his on-screen partner Dan Plesac also highlighted a key difference between his June 12 domination and a clip from a 2010 start against Baltimore: Liriano’s arm angle. Here you see the screenshot and notice the tilt variation between the still on the left (from 2010) to the one on the right (2011).
Williams said that Liriano’s 2011 angle was “much better” than his 2010 one and that gave him the ability to pitch “downhill.”
Fangraphs.com’s Pitch F/X charts confirm that his arm was much more vertical on that day versus that of his 2010 outing against the Orioles:
Release point vs Rangers 2011
Release point vs Orioles 2010
At some point during the early portion of the season, according to a source with the team, the Twins used visual aids supplied by the team’s videographer to show the left-hander how chaotic and random his release points had been at the season’s onset. Supposedly, they were working on getting Liriano to raise his release point. As Anderson mentioned to reporters, he feels that if Liriano stays “tall”, he will be able to create a better downward plane.
Many people interpreted the Twins staff’s tinkering with Liriano in 2011 as a way to convert the strikeout pitcher into a finesse-type who pitches to contact. To which Anderson denies:
“He made a comment last year, ‘I’m trying to pitch their way, and I can’t; I have to do it my way.’ You remember that? It’s not my way. I said, ‘Frankie, you’re violent, it’s the way you are. I don’t care. You’re a strikeout pitcher. I don’t care. My way is just getting you under control where you’re throwing it downhill.’ My way is to throwing it straight up and still being aggressive; I don’t give a darn. I said, ‘That’s you. I’m not going to make you Kevin Slowey.”
Without question, Liriano has some inconsistent mechanics - he pulls off towards third, he short arms at times, his rushes through his delivery, he throws from various slots, etc – and you can understand why Rick Anderson is trying to iron him out. Anderson claims that the higher release point will get him to throw “downhill” more. Mitch Williams echoed that sentiment by saying the downward plane leads to a “fastball that explodes in the last four-to-five feet” and gets more drop on the slider.
However, and with no disrespect to Mr. Anderson or Mr. Williams, but thus far the higher release point has seemingly done squat for Liriano. I understand that Rick Anderson has done wonders with plenty of pitchers but it is possible that what he describes as “his way” may not be the optimum position for Liriano.
In 2010, according to pitch f/x charts Liriano’s release point appeared to be somewhere between 10 and 11 o’clock (a bit lower) while this past season he moved it up closer to 12 (a bit higher). In 2010, his fastball command was far superior and his slider showed more bite. This past season his exercised some of the worst command of a fastball among all qualified starters. Based on that alone, one may consider reverting back to the 2010 mechanics if, for nothing else, to rekindle that flame.
In April of last season, I took a quick look at the difference between the 2010 and 2011 Liriano deliveries and found that in 2011 he was remaining tall (much like the Twins are encouraging him to do) but his follow-through lacked the same downward action that he showed in 2010. According to pitch f/x charts, it appeared that staying tall seemed to elevate his fastball. At that time, I figured the staff would try to get him to emulate his 2010 mechanics but it sounds like I was wrong.
It is curious to me that instead of attempting to re-create the environment that propelled Liriano towards his second best season of his career, Anderson has been trying to mold him into pitching “his way” and throwing it “straight up” - a manner in which Liriano has struggled.