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  • Liriano is out of whack mechanically

    Following a spring in which he struck out 33 and walked just five opponents, for three straight starts Francisco Liriano has failed to demonstrate much command over the strike zone.

    After posting a 49.2% first-pitch strike rate in 2011, the worst mark in baseball, the Twins left-handers has come out of the gate attempting to best that by throwing a first-pitch strike just 42.9% of the time. Meanwhile, as the rest of the league has peppered the strike zone with bullets 49% of the time overall, Liriano has been hitting the zone in just 41% of his pitches. This has resulted in nine walks in 11.1 innings pitch or, to look at it another way, he’s walked 14.2% of all the batters he has faced.

    And it is not as if he is just missing by a hair either. Watching him work, Liriano frequently misses his catcher’s target by a country mile. Last night Twins catcher Ryan Doumit would ask for a pitch slightly off Broadway only to receive a fastball that was launched into Hoboken.

    After the game, Liriano told reports that “Nothing is bothering me. I’m 100 percent healthy. I’m just missing my spots and pitching behind the count and you get hurt, especially with hitters like that.”

    In his blog last night, Lavelle Neal suggested that part of the reason he is having problems is that Liriano “lacks confidence” right now. While lack of confidence may be a byproduct of pitching poorly, Liriano is clearly struggling mechanically.

    Take a look at some images from Liriano’s very good 2010 season – one in which he worked ahead of hitters (62% first-pitch strike) and walked few (7.2% walk rate). Below we see Liriano in a July 16, 2010 start against the White Sox. Look at his front leg at the point of release. Notice that his weight is complete above his front leg which is driving towards the plate:

    Here is another example of that from a start on June 11 of that year. Once again, his lower half is well stabilized and he is driving towards the plate at his release point:

    This year, however, rather than maintaining good balance over his front leg, he has been driving his weight off of the driveline and towards the third base side of the field.

    The image below is from his April 12, 2012 start against the Angels. Notice now that instead of being directly over that front leg, his weight – particularly his front hip – is pulling towards his glove side at his release point:


    Here is another example:

    In his first start of the year in Baltimore, we see the same thing: when he plants, his weight is already shirting towards his glove side:


    What this does is rather than generate his momentum towards home plate he is carrying off of the driveline and thus losing the ability to command his pitches. It is part of the reason why his fastball so often jumps up and away into the left-handed batter’s box.

    Because the center field cameras at Yankee Stadium are so off-kilter, it is nearly impossible to grab a shot that you can see where his balance point is driving towards but I would surmise that his “flying open” likely played a significant role in last night’s start as well.

    Also, it is hard to distinguish if Liriano was exhibiting this fall off during the spring. The one game that was capture on camera was at the Yankees’ spring training complex which also has the same off-set camera angle from center field and provides little context and depth.

    Either way, I would suspect (hope) that this is something the Twins and Rick Anderson are diligently trying to get him to correct and reminding him before, during and after each start. Part of this could just be that Liriano, in efforts to make perfect pitches in his free agent season, is getting too amped up and overthrowing. A pitching coach can only remind a pitcher so many times to make adjustments before the pitcher must simply relax and listen.

    With three poor starts under his belt and the team running low on starting options, Liriano needs to return to his 2010 form quickly.
    This article was originally published in blog: Liriano is out of whack mechanically started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 20 Comments
    1. deanlambrecht's Avatar
      deanlambrecht -
      I agree on the mechanics, but I think his failed mechanics results from mental problem. His mechanics are often great in spring training, and progressively terrible in the regular season. He's a head case when he steps on the mound in a regular season big league game. As I mentioned in the game thread last night, I think the correct diagnosis is "bi-lobal brain weakness".
    1. CP_ChristianP's Avatar
      CP_ChristianP -
      Awesome analysis. In his start against the Angels, FSNorth showed him "recoiling" after many of his pitches as well. Instead of striding through the pitch smoothly, he would essentially bounce back off of his plant foot and back towards the rubber after most of his pitches. I suspect this is a symptom of the same problem - i.e. being out-of-balance with his plant foot, but just wondering if you noticed the same thing and/or if there's another mechanical issue causing the recoil at the end of his motion. I unfortunately didn't play close enough attention last night to see if he was still doing the same thing or not.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      I suspect this is a symptom of the same problem - i.e. being out-of-balance with his plant foot, but just wondering if you noticed the same thing and/or if there's another mechanical issue causing the recoil at the end of his motion.
      -- I'm not convinced the recoil is a problem here. It's been something he's thrown with pretty much since day one. It's not an ideal throwing motion but I don't think it is as detrimental to his command in this case.
    1. ltwedt's Avatar
      ltwedt -
      Very hard to know what the problem is - he's such a head case - my solution is to deal him - or put him in the pen. He's not going to be here next year, then let's get something for him.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I love Rick Anderson, but I have a feeling next year when another pitching coach (or shrink) gets a hold of him, he's going to figure things out. The team's attitude with Liriano is strange too. He's absolutely frustrating, but I don't know why they vocalize it so often to the media. When Blackburn goes in his annual two month funk, all you hear from the coaching staff is support and faith that he'll turn it around, where is that attitude when Liriano struggles?
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      I have always felt that a motion like Liriano's is destined to not be consistent. When you fall off the mound so badly it seems to me that it makes for less chance to be repeatable with success. I know the experts focus on the balance at release but I can't help but think the rest of the motion also has something to say. There have been those like Pedro Martinez who have made it work but I feel the overwhelming amount of successful pitchers do not have these crazy mechanics. Look at Cliff Lee. His balance is perfect and he continues to be fantastic.
    1. twinsfan214's Avatar
      twinsfan214 -
      I have heard Bert talk about Lirano "flying open" often. It seems to be a known problem. When Andy goes out and talks to him, usually there are a couple of good pitches. What I don't get is, doesn't Liriano know by now that his problem is mechanics and when he's doing poorly, know what to do to fix it? He obviously does not. He should know! He should think, "ok I'm not striding in the right place" or whatever and change what he's doing. It was SO obvious from his body language and face that he didn't know what to do. By the end of it, he looked like he just wanted out.
    1. Teflon's Avatar
      Teflon -
      To me, it looked like Liriano was trying to pitch with an injured right leg last night. He would extend it stiffly and not use it as part of his drive-through. I wondered how he was still able to get up over 90 mph throwing like that.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      The game on the 12th was almost painful to watch as it just looked awkward--it's like he is falling towards third before he has released the ball.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Liriano's problem is pretty typical for guys with his stuff. Ever since he first picked up a ball as a child and saw he could throw hard he probably dominated the ball field. I'm sure he dominated every single level he's played. It's hard for guys like that to take coaching from someone who can't do what they do. And if they're not too bright and kind of a bully coaches tend to give up and let them pitch. The smarter ones understand and accept a coaches advice in the minors. Liriano didn't listen until he blew his elbow out. By then he had 15 years of bad muscle memory to overcome. I think he's going through what kids normally go through in HS.

      I just hope he's as smart as a typical HS kid.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Liriano's vertical pivot point is off line. If you study the delivery of various great pitchers (I looked at Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove and a few others), you can see one element that is common to all of them. At the end of their follow through, you could run a broomstick from the outside of their plant foot almost straight up between their chicken wing (glove arm) and their throwing arm, in the crook of their two elbows. I have dubbed this "hugging the broomstick," and Liriano was doing that in 2010, but not now. Today Liriano's broomstick is leaning towards third base, where it should be leaning towards home plate.

      Two other things I see from these photos:
      1) He's pitching from a few inches farther towards the third base side of the rubber. Maybe that's why he's opening up...he thinks he needs to do that to get the ball over the plate.
      2) Look how much lower his butt is...He's squatting down much more than last year (trying to look like Koufax?), which for most guys merely wastes energy and produces a lower release point, flatter trajectory.

      Here's a funny thought: If Liriano would simply stand in the middle of the rubber, it would fix his delivery. Can it possibly be that simple?
    1. BD57's Avatar
      BD57 -
      That "rounding off" & falling toward third thing has been an issue for a couple of years now.

      One other thing ... looking at Liriano's left knee - if all the pictures are taken at the same point in time in his delivery, then it looks like he's also lengthened his stride, because the left knee is quite a bit closer to the dirt now than it was in 2010.
    1. peterb18's Avatar
      peterb18 -
      I think Liriano's problem is too much coaching. He has been told to hit the spots. A fast ball pitcher has to bust the ball in there and let the natural movement of the ball take over. If you told Sandy Kofax to hit a certain corner consistently it would be hard. Some pitchers can do that. It is not Liriano's style. If Liriano would just go out and use his natural stuff and not try to control his fastball it would be better for him.
    1. JohnQBaseball's Avatar
      JohnQBaseball -
      Frankly, I think it may just boil down to this when it comes to Liriano: he's not very bright. Intellectually he doesn't seem capable of mastering the basic mechanics of pitching. And factoring in that so much of pitching is mental, he really doesn't stand a chance of being the superstar we all want him to be. The stadium, pitching coach, etc. don't really matter.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I don't think intellegence is a factor in Liriano's decline. I'm sure there have been plenty of mentally deficient pitchers who have succeeded in the league. He doesn't handle the stress of failure very well is his problem.

      I'm a fairly educated person, but when I'm staring at a 30 yard chip shot for a potential up and down for birdie, five times out of ten I get too anxious, forget my mechanics and come up 15 yards short. Liriano needs a sports psychologist, not continuing education classes.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      I have heard Bert talk about Lirano "flying open" often. It seems to be a known problem. When Andy goes out and talks to him, usually there are a couple of good pitches. What I don't get is, doesn't Liriano know by now that his problem is mechanics and when he's doing poorly, know what to do to fix it? He obviously does not. He should know! He should think, "ok I'm not striding in the right place" or whatever and change what he's doing.
      I cannot speak towards Rick Anderson's methods pertaining to straightening pitchers out, however, last year they fixated on his release point inconsistencies and, from what a front office member told me, the team's video guy -- normally reserved to compile at-bat videos against different pitchers -- took it upon himself to provide visual evidence of various release points to Liriano. Pure speculation, I wonder if Anderson is attempting to describe it to Liriano rather than showing this type of evidence (i.e., look what you were doing when you were doing good versus this past season). This may help Liriano understand better the extent of his mechanical failure rather than "keep your shoulder in" and "drive towards the plate" speech coaches give pitchers.

      In terms of fixing, that's up to Liriano. This appears to be a product of rushing. A stint in low leverage bullpen situations may be the right course of action in order to get him back on track.

      He's pitching from a few inches farther towards the third base side of the rubber. Maybe that's why he's opening up...he thinks he needs to do that to get the ball over the plate.
      I should have mentioned that in part of the write-up -- the first two images from 2010 are him facing left-handed opponents and the 2012 shots happen to be of him facing right-handed hitters. He's slid from the first base side when facing lefties to the third base side facing righties dating back to at least 2009.

      You asked, would getting him to stick in one place on the rubber help? I think it couldn't hurt. Mitch Williams in last Saturday's Twins-Rangers broadcast noted that the Rangers had Yu Darvish eliminate his over-the-head pitching wind-up to simplify his approach. Like Darvish, I think there may be some psychological effect to that which may help Liriano. The reason why he started to shift to the third base side for righties was to be able to locate his fastball better inside to them. Now that he throws his two-seamer more to righties, he's targeting the outer-half.

      One other thing ... looking at Liriano's left knee - if all the pictures are taken at the same point in time in his delivery, then it looks like he's also lengthened his stride, because the left knee is quite a bit closer to the dirt now than it was in 2010.
      I did not have a large selection of side views of Liriano's pitching so I couldn't accurately speak towards his stride length but it has been something I have been wondering about although I believe that the lowered left knee is more of a product of him pulling offline which is forcing his leg lower in the process.

      Frankly, I think it may just boil down to this when it comes to Liriano: he's not very bright. Intellectually he doesn't seem capable of mastering the basic mechanics of pitching.
      I've never seen any evidence that says he is not very bright.
    1. Yoshii's Avatar
      Yoshii -
      Parker brings up some good numbers, really wouldn't get too worried after 11.1 innings pitched.

      Increased walk rate and lower K rate is frightening though:

      7.5 to 6.35 K/9 from 2011 to 11 innings in 2012.

      and

      5.02 to 7.15 BB/9 from 2011 to 11innigns in 2012.

      Maybe he really is declining.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Has to just think about pitching each and everyday. Doing a job, his job.

      I sometimes feel players get caught up in "what ifs", especially in regard to potential payouts and such.

      Free agency is in the wings. A great big payday. Hell, even if he pitches just okay, someone might have to offer him arbitration and he'll get $8-9 million before thinking about fee agency again.

      The Twins could:

      (1) demote him to the bullpen. But they still lose him and get nothing if they don't arbitrate.

      (2) waive him right now and have someone pick up his salary, and if a higher-in-the-standings team really wants him, maybe a minor prospect in return. They clear payroll at least.

      (3) Hope his value increases in July and someone is desperate to give an A-prospect for him. Probably not, though, unless the trading team can sign him to a respectible 2-3 year contract. Remember, he can get $8-9 in arbitration even if he goes 1-14 with a 6.00 ERA.....possibly, probably, scarily!

      But nothing looks like he'll return to the Twins. Nothing. Like David Ortiz did with the Red Sox, he can hold the Twins up for money if they want to keep him an additional year and gamble that he gets his head together for free agency ($8-9 million from Twins if offer arbitration, or a $20 million 3-year contract elsewhere with a high option year, perhaps).

      The killer is that the Twins are losing ALL their starters -- Pavano, Baker, Marquis, Liriano -- at season's end. There is no stud prospect coming up this year, really. No one that could be a stud the next year. Wimmers won't be ready until 2014. Gibson until 2015. A rotation with Swarzak, Duensing, Diamond, Maloney saves money but strikes no fear...I'm sorry, with Blackburn eing the veteran. And even if they can buy a free agent, who wants to come here.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by JohnQBaseball View Post
      Frankly, I think it may just boil down to this when it comes to Liriano: he's not very bright.
      He seemed smart enough in 2006, and again in 2010. He underwent TJ surgery, not surgery for a brain aneurysm.
    1. shs_59's Avatar
      shs_59 -
      RE: rosterman---

      I personally Think Gibson will be ready long before 2015.... he may be like Phill Humber in that he won't start figuring things out untill 2015, or 2016 unfortunately.

      but yeah, if you had to predict our 2013 rotation today...it'd be something like:

      1. Blackburn, 2. Swarzak, 3. Hendriks, 4. Diamond, 5. FA .

      2014 however, could be much stronger...

      1. Gibson, Hendriks, Wimmers, Baker, Blackburn. , FA?
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