• Gabbin' Grapefruit: Francisco Liriano's Delivery

    The 2011 season was quite a mess for Francisco Liriano. Coming off the solid 2010 season, expectations had been high for the lefty and instead of moving forward he regressed heavily, turning in one of the worst seasons among qualified starters. Command-wise, his 12.7% walk rate was the highest among pitchers with a minimum of 130 innings pitched.

    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

    As we know by now, Liriano’s outing against Texas was not the pivotal turnaround moment that most hoped for (or that MLB Network predicted). Instead, he sputtered throughout the remainder of the season and walked 12% of batters faced.

    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.
    This article was originally published in blog: Gabbin' Grapefruit: Francisco Liriano's Delivery started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Apostle43's Avatar
      Apostle43 -
      Is there any way to get Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson to read this article? Mr. Hageman, your point is very insightful and sure as heck should be considered by the coaching staff. Maybe someone should mail him the article.
    1. Jon Marthaler's Avatar
      Jon Marthaler -
      Seems to me there's a chance that "throw downhill" is a thinly-veiled euphemism for "WOULD YOU JUST THROW THE BALL ****ING STRAIGHT FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE."
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Liriano's release point has always been a mess. Here is what I wrote about it about 3 seasons ago (the beginning of the '09 season.) If you look at the PitchFx graphs from his performances there (in the linked post) are eerily similar to these ones. (and at that thing 3 years ago I made the same plea as Apostle43, only a tad stronger )

      Then I start watching him pitch closer and, yes, he drops occasionally. That is problem 1 and accounts for the vertical variance mostly. Problem 2 is that he has been, more than occasionally, changing the side of the rubber he stands on when facing Lefties or Righties. This is why that major horizontal variation. That practice is nuts imho and a pitching coatch should change that. The camera ankle in the Dominican games was awful so I could not see much this winter as far as that goes.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Is there any way to get Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson to read this article? Mr. Hageman, your point is very insightful and sure as heck should be considered by the coaching staff.
      Thanks Apostle. Not sure if Andy needs my questioning but it is curious to me why he would prefer to move forward with getting Liriano to raise his arm angle/release point when he had so much more success with his methods in 2010.

      Liriano's release point has always been a mess.
      Here
      is what I wrote about it about 3 seasons ago (the beginning of the '09 season.) If you look at the PitchFx graphs from his performances there (
      in the linked post
      ) are eerily similar to these ones.
      Yes, his release point/arm action has been a knock on him since he was in the Giants organization.

      Then I start watching him pitch closer and, yes, he drops occasionally. That is problem 1 and accounts for the vertical variance mostly.
      He occasionally drops and he occasionally stretches to release more vertically -- as evidenced by the pitch f/x charts. More importantly, watching video of him while he is struggling you see that he rushes through his delivery and overthrows (pulls to the third base side, as both Anderson and Williams said) which causes him to lose command no matter which release point he has.

      Problem 2 is that he has been, more than occasionally, changing the side of the rubber he stands on when facing Lefties or Righties. This is why that major horizontal variation. That practice is nuts imho and a pitching coatch should change that.
      In theory I agree with you. We saw Matt Capps last year suddenly decide to implement shifting spots on the mound depending on if there was a lefty or righty at bat. This was strange because he had never done that before in his career. In Liriano's case, he's been practicing the rubber shifting dating back to at least 2008 (video and pitch f/x quality before then are pretty tired). It was terrible for him in 2009 and 2011 (particularly against righties who hit a combined 34 HRs off of him) but it worked well in 2010. While I would not necessarily encourage the practice, I do not see it as a problem for Liriano.
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      Nice analysis Parker. I have a lot more to watch on Liriano than his body language, it seems.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      If I'm reading the two charts correctly, and if the two photos are representative, then the higher release point was giving Liriano a tighter snap and a better look-down angle, a phenomenon I recognize from tennis. A lot of people think that a good flat serve requires leaning as far as possible into the shot, thus theoretically giving you more forward thrust via body lean. Instead, the best serves are met higher in the air, with relatively modest body lean. The idea is to drive the heel of your hitting hand upwards and forwards, like a shot putter, then relax the hand at apex and let the racket head snap over naturally, like a mouse trap. If you do it right, you create an effortless wave of power that starts from your feet and moves up your body, ending in a loud bang as the ball explodes off your racket. A pitcher like Tim Lincecum does the same thing by executing what amounts to a low aerial cartwheel, using his entire body to create the power wave. That's why he's able to generate the fantastic power - he's using his gymnastic training to throw a baseball.
      Liriano isn't going to throw himself through the air like Lincecum, but he is able to generate a lot of pop at the top if he gets upward thrust. That's why the higher release point works so well for him.
    1. BD57's Avatar
      BD57 -
      First, the disclaimer - I am a full-blown "amateur" at analyzing pitching mechanics.

      With that said .... who throws well to the plate when their momentum carries them toward the third-base on deck circle? It's like he's constantly trying to throw a bit "behind" himself.

      Find a way to get Frankie to drive all his momentum toward home plate & I'd bet he gains command.
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