• Positive steps for Liriano. Will it continue?

    I have stated for some time that I believe Francisco Liriano’s greatest impediment to success is his erratic mechanics. One can argue that he may be struggling mentally but that would be a chicken-and-egg argument – is he getting down on himself because his inconsistent delivery or is his delivery out of whack because he is in his own head? Either way, getting him back to a consistent base in his mechanics would likely alleviate the mental side of his game.

    However, Liriano’s second biggest barrier to success – or perhaps issue 1B – is his inability to retire right-handed batters regularly.

    On Tuesday night, he made strides towards improving in both areas.

    Last month, I highlighted Liriano’s delivery issues in that he was failing to remain over his front leg and, far too often, pulling off to the third base side. This wreaked havoc on his ability to control his pitches, particularly his two-seam fastball which ran too far to the pitcher’s hand side of the zone and into the left handed batter’s box. From Angels Stadium’s off-set center field camera, we were not able to get a clear view of whether or not he remained over his front leg but FSN analyst Roy Smalley raved about how he was “stacked” better, which was essentially the crux of my analysis.

    Two things jump out from the Pitch F/X data which may confirm Smalley’s assessment: His fastball location was significantly better, throwing it for a strike a season-high 63% of time, and his slider was much crisper, getting a swing-and-miss 25% of the time, also a season-high.

    The latter stat, his slider’s performance, also carries into addressing Liriano’s pitching issue 1B.

    Retiring righties is a serious matter for Liriano as opposing managers have figured out that he struggles mightily against them. Prior to last night’s game, managers have allowed Liriano the platoon advantage in just 15% of his match-ups, the second-lowest behind Baltimore’s Brian Matusz. What’s more is after the Angels slotted all right-handed hitters to face him on Tuesday night, Liriano is likely to move ahead of Matusz as the pitcher with the least amount of advantageous match-ups.

    Liriano had become all too enamored with his changeup when facing right-handed opponents. Through his first four starts he would throw his change to righties as 25% of his pitch mix. This was not too far off his pace from the 2011 season in which he threw righties changeups 26% of his pitch distribution. However, so far into the 2012 season, the old standard of leaning on his changeup was not producing results – after all, his .474 weighted On Base Average (wOBA) against right-handed batters was a baseball-high and he had walked 10 and struck out 10.

    Liriano took steps to remedy his right-handed problem on Tuesday by easing up on the slow stuff and exchanging it for more sliders.

    In his first four starts, Liriano threw at least 13 changeups, maxing out at 25 against the Rays in his most recent start. In Anaheim, Liriano deployed just three changes to an Angels lineup featuring all right-handed batters. (Unfortunately, one wound up a Torii Hunter home run.) Instead, the Twins erratic lefty mixed in more fastballs and sliders. Tuesday night’s pitch distribution was much more consistent with his 2010 methods in which he would throw 40% fastballs and 30% sliders to righties rather than the 47% fastballs and 25% changeups he was throwing prior to the start this year.
    And it was not just that he threw sliders, it was that he had success with sliders.

    Compared to the rest of the year, Liriano’s slider has been far from the devastating whiff machine it had been in 2010. That year, he missed bats at the rate of 23%. Even last year he was getting hitters to miss at 21% of his sliders. This year, it had dropped to 15%.


    Liriano went to work attempting to improve that number by getting swing-and-misses on seven of his 28 thrown, his best rate of the season thus far. Part of what made his slider effective on Tuesday was regaining his mechanical base as well as being able to locate his fastball for a strike.

    Following the game, he sounded satisfied in his overall performance in spite of shouldering the loss:

    "The result wasn’t what I wanted. I made some better pitches than the last time. Feel more consistent with my slider.”
    Don’t misunderstand: Liriano has a long road back to becoming a contributing member of the Twins rotation; however, Tuesday’s start should be viewed as a positive step towards turning things around.
    This article was originally published in blog: Positive steps for Liriano? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 13 Comments
    1. deanlambrecht's Avatar
      deanlambrecht -
      Sure, maybe, but he ought to work it out in Rochester, not up here. I realize we have a problem with alternatives. Also, I have little faith that he'll be able to keep it together. He's a 6 year veteran, no? Each year except for one he's found a different way to turn promise into disaster.
    1. Yoshii's Avatar
      Yoshii -
      I am actually confident Liriano can get it done. Still have faith, through all the chances we have given him.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Liriano has been missing precision and consistency. Both those things come from precise control of your balance and footwork. Does anybody here see Liriano controlling his balance and footwork with precision on a consistent basis? Hell no. Every pitch starts and finishes differently, even on a "good" day when he gives up only 4 runs.

      To fix Liriano's delivery is going to take a lot of work. First, make sure he finishes in the same place on every pitch, preferably in position to field his position. The old "chicken wing" finish with his right elbow crooked, weight over the stride leg, drive leg swings around parallel like an outrigger, throwing arm relaxed and dangling between right thigh and chicken wing. It worked pretty good for Koufax, Lefty Grove, etc.

      Thing is, he has to finish on balance and ready to field. Liriano doesn't do that, either. Even if Liriano physically is unable to do a standard delivery, even if his pitches absolutely require throwing himself through that funky pirouette, well, then he needs to have a consistent recipe for that delivery, one that ends with him on balance, finishing the same way each time. Such a recipe may be possible, but so far we have seen little evidence of it.

      On the other hand, I don't think Liriano needs to do his twirly dance to get guys out. I have seen him finish in the standard folded-over, on balance position, and it worked just fine. His fastball still popped, and his slider still slid. Liriano's twirly dance does not impart more speed or spin to a baseball than he could by executing a standard delivery properly. All it does is create uncertainty about his release point, plus risk wrecking his elbow and shoulder...again. After all this time, Francisco Liriano still appears to be a pitcher in search of mechanics that will bring him consistent success. Why not try mechanics that have worked for others?
    1. puck34's Avatar
      puck34 -
      I can't believe that we have dummied down expectations so much that last night was considered positive steps for Liriano. He still gave up 4 runs in six innings and didn't have the best control. When coming out of the game he threw his glove and stomped around. This guy has the tools, but is a complete head case. I have no confidence in him whatsoever. Sadly he will still get a decent contract from someone in free agency, but it won't be from the Twins.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by puck34 View Post
      I can't believe that we have dummied down expectations so much that last night was considered positive steps for Liriano. He still gave up 4 runs in six innings and didn't have the best control. When coming out of the game he threw his glove and stomped around. This guy has the tools, but is a complete head case. I have no confidence in him whatsoever. Sadly he will still get a decent contract from someone in free agency, but it won't be from the Twins.
      So it's being dumb to be able to figure out that getting more outs AND giving up fewer runs than in any previous start is better? Seeing that that's better than getting fewer outs while giving up more runs has anything to do with expecations?
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Liriano has been missing precision and consistency. Both those things come from precise control of your balance and footwork...
      Exactly right IMO. But I'm not sure he has the time to learn this stuff. Apparently he didn't listen to coaching until he blew out his elbow.
    1. puck34's Avatar
      puck34 -
      CDog.................

      So by that rational, you are absolutely correct. Anything would have been better than his previous starts. He was completely brutal before last night! Last night was okay at very, very best. I didn't see positive strides in the least, regardless of how many runs he gave up or innings he pitched. If we had any minor league system right now, Liriano clearly would not be a starter.
    1. James Richter's Avatar
      James Richter -
      In the spirit of helping Liriano build confidence by placing him in situations where he has the greatest chance to succeed, shouldn't the Twins juggle the rotation a bit to make sure that he pitches in Seattle on Sunday? The Mariners are 12th in the AL in OPS, 13th in OBP and have struck out the most. That's not a lot different from what the Angels have done so far, but the M's typical lineup includes 3 lefties (Ichiro, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders), and Safeco is as favorable a pitching environment as there is in the AL. I like his chances better facing that lineup for the first time this year than an all right-handed lineup that has already gotten to him twice in the past month.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Good article, Parker. It has always been my view of Liriano, that he never learned some of what would be the basics for most pitchers. He never needed them in the minors or when he came to the majors because his raw stuff/velocity was so incredible.

      Even since his TJ surgery, I think he believed he could just go back to what he had always done.(some quotes from Liriano last year indicated that belief) It has become increasing clear that he can't be successful in the majors without mastering his mechanics. It finally looks like Liriano himself realizes this.

      Liriano clearly still has enough stuff to be a successful starter. If he can get himself together it probably can still happen. I think the it is probably in the Twins best interests to keep him in the rotation, at least for awhile.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by puck34 View Post
      I didn't see positive strides in the least, regardless of how many runs he gave up or innings he pitched.
      He entered the game with an ERA above 11; he left with it under 10. Give him ten more starts, and he'll have an ERA under 0.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      I'm sick of Liriano. He is a big headache and despite having ace potential, he'll never be capable of reaching it with the Twins.
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      Only in Minnesota is the staff ace praised for a lackluster performance in a loss that was slightly better than the epically disasterous starts before. Can't wait for tomorrow's "Clete Thomas Improving by Hitting Fly Ball Outs 5 Feet Further Today" article.
    1. BD57's Avatar
      BD57 -
      Went looking for some video of 2006 Liriano. Couldn't find anything substantive from games - probably didn't look hard enough - but did find some "bullpen" stuff. Even accepting there's a difference between warming up & trying to get hitters out, there was a big difference.

      IMO, Liriano ought to be put on a mound with two short 'sidewalls" on either side - One that keeps him from falling toward third and the other which keeps his back leg from swinging around like a trebuchet on every pitch. He needs balance & he needs everything going toward home plate, neither of which is happening now.
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