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  • Liriano Rediscovers the Slider

    Francisco Liriano’s first six starts of the season were nothing short of disappointing.

    With plenty of raw talent, the Twins potential rotation leader failed miserably, throwing 26.2 innings, allowed 37 hits (six of which were home runs), posted a terrible 21-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio and failed to pitch into to the sixth inning in all but one start.

    In that time, Liriano was drastically out of whack mechanically and the coaching staff had even tried to recreate his spring training success by getting him to throw his four-seam fastball more than his two-seamer which he struggled to command. The changes did not keep him from derailing and a shift to the bullpen would be required.

    After several outings in the ‘pen, injuries and perhaps a need to inflate his trade value necessitated his return to the rotation. Even though the team’s record in those four starts may not reflect it (1-3), Liriano has been a better pitcher during this more recent stretch. He’s worked 23.2 innings (completing six innings in all but one start in which he fell one out shy of the mark) and has allowed just 12 hits to go along with a much improved 29-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    One of the main reasons for this subtle rejuvenation is that he has increased his slider usage.

    In the past three years, Liriano has had one of the game’s best sliders. According to Fangraphs.com, since 2010 Liriano’s slider has been “worth” 23.6 runs above average, making it the eighth most valuable slider in that time. However, he was encouraged to throw his two-seam fastball more often in attempts to get more quick outs – a ground ball here and there – to avoid getting into deeper counts like most strikeout pitchers do.

    So, during his first stint in the rotation this year (April 1 – May 7), Liriano favored the two-seam fastball, throwing it 52% of the time and, of those, threw 56% for strikes – a good not great rate. Because of favoring his two-seamer, he threw his slider just 26% of the time in those six starts. In his second stint in the rotation (May 30 – Present), Liriano has leaned more on the biting slider, mixing it in now at 38% of the time.

    Francisco Liriano – Slider Usage (2012)
    Two-Seam Fastball Slider Batting Average
    April 1 – May 7 52% 26% .346
    May 30 – June 15 38% 38% .143

    What’s more is that not only is Liriano using the breaking ball more frequently across the board he is also using it quite a bit to start off each batter in efforts to get ahead of opponents. One of Liriano’s shortcomings these past two years has been his inability to get ahead of hitters. In fact, of starters who have thrown a minimum of 150 innings since 2011, Liriano’s 51% first-pitch strike rate was the lowest in baseball. Not surprisingly, Liriano mainly threw his two-seam fastball on the first pitch and 62% of the time in his first six starts. Meanwhile, in his second go round, he has increased the amount of slider’s he has thrown (from 22% to 36%) and reduced the amount of two-seamers (from 62% to 38%). Because his slider has a much higher strike rate than his fastball, Liriano has found himself ahead in the count more in these last four starts.

    The change in his pitch distribution has led not only to more strikes but also more ground balls. Liriano’s slider is a ground ball manufacturer and in his first six starts, he exercised a GB/FB split of 0.69, meaning he was inducing more fly balls than grounders (as seen in his six home runs allowed in that time). More recently, that batted ball ratio has increased to 1.00 GB/FB which means the amount of grounders has grown (and he has allowed just one home run in those four starts).

    What we are likely seeing is Liriano upping his value from absolute zero to something that could bring the Twins a decent prospect in return if he continues this performance and the Twins decide to move him. Watch for Liriano to throw more slide pieces in tonight’s start again Pittsburgh.
    This article was originally published in blog: Liriano Rediscovers the Slider started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 45 Comments
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Another nice job Parker. It's hard to weigh the worth to the team in keeping Frankie vs flipping him. I'm at about 51% on my mental scale that he should be kept.
      For 2 reasons:

      1. Pitchers, even stupid pitchers, get wiser about their job as they get older. And pitchers can stay in the game until their stuff erodes and no one wants to pay them anymore. Frankie's stuff is great.

      2. There's SO much potential.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      I agree with Paul. The Twins desperately need good starters, and if Liriano can be good, then he is worth keeping.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      It would be nice to keep him, but at what price?? Blackburn money? Hes a border line head case but with his potential I think the Twins will get outbid for him.
    1. twinzgrl's Avatar
      twinzgrl -
      Liriano has been better. Color me skeptical that he can keep it going. But, I think Terry Ryan will make a decision based on all the factors (as we all know there are many). We need competent starting pitching. Can he give it to us? At what price? It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I would guess if Gardy and Anderson have a say (and at this point they actually may not) they would cut him loose. I've never heard either of them as exhasperated as when a reporter asks them about a Liriano performance. I'm for keeping him around at a reasonable price but the coaching staff tends to prefer stability even at the expense of a useful player.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      Keeping him for what? August and Sept taking up a spot on a very bad pitching staff that could be taken by somebody that might help next year? Is there a 5% chance he resigns next year? I doubt it.
      Why after all these years of hope and failure would they even consider giving him a new contract? With all the teams looking for pitching there will be a least a couple that will offer him a stupid amout when he hits the market. The choice isn't the Twins anyway he's a free agent after the season.
      Get what you can for him, which likely won't be much, and move on.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      I do believe he's worn out his welcome in Minnesota but if he continues this trend, he'll definitely be a buy-low type of pitcher either at the trade deadline or in free agency at the end of the season.
    1. YLT's Avatar
      YLT -
      For as many question marks there are surrounding Liriano, there is no way the Twins give him the kind of money he'll demand as a free agent. I don't care how much potential he has. If he goes on to another team and finds a little of his old self again I'd be very happy and not incredibly surprised. It just doesn't seem like it's going to happen in MN. Ultimately though it comes down to the cost.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Everything I read says Gardy and Anderson like him a lot and i think he has not worn out his welcome. He is rumored to be a stand up guy and very liked by the team. Its just he is not very good right now.
      I fear he goes to a team like the white sox and gets put on track by some other team.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Everything I read says Gardy and Anderson like him a lot and i think he has not worn out his welcome. He is rumored to be a stand up guy and very liked by the team.
      It's not personality, it's performance related.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      I was hopeful the Twins would have reached a reasonable extension with Liriano over the past winter, and remain hopeful they'll find a way to keep him around in the future. There is little chance the Twins will find a pitcher with a better chance of being well above average next winter, at similar cost. I bet he'd take a 3 yr deal right now if offered. Maybe it backfires on the Twins, but who wants to go into next year with Blackburn or some other free agent off the scrap heap at the top of the rotation?

      I know he started the year terribly, but the guy has more talent than any starter on the Twins, and more talent than anything they're likely to sign over the winter.
    1. tcarlic's Avatar
      tcarlic -
      And then he goes and throws like is tonight... through 5 he only threw 56 pitches or something like that. All the dude needs to do is throw the ball over the plate.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by tcarlic View Post
      And then he goes and throws like is tonight... through 5 he only threw 56 pitches or something like that. All the dude needs to do is throw the ball over the plate.
      Facing the Pirates helps a bit. Still, he's throwing a gem through 5+ so far.
    1. greengoblinrulz's Avatar
      greengoblinrulz -
      Liriano on the comeback....5 starts 1W 3L
      30.1IP 16h 8er (2.37ERA) 35K 12bb
      is still mentally soft
      Someone please make us an offer before he regresses
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      The Twins need to sign Liriano. Simply put, what we have for next year is no good and has no potential (Blackburn, Walters, Diamond, Hendriks,?). That group is not even watchable. In addition to being awful, there's not enough players under contract. Someone has to be that question mark. There is no way I'd give a contract to Greinke or Sanchez. Not Sanchez because he could be risky as a pitcher who has played in the NL his entire career and not Greinke because he is terrible at Target Field. We have a lot of money coming off the books and no free agents to sign. I don't see any harm in offering 6 million to Liriano through arbitration.
    1. chopper0080's Avatar
      chopper0080 -
      Seriously? You guys are now advocating Liriano after a few good starts? This is who he is, a totally inconsistent pitcher with talent. Hoping he stays hot and trading him for a middle grade prospect is our best case scenario. Liriano is never going to be a pitcher a club can rely on and we will be lucky to get something for him.
    1. Andrew Bryz-Gornia's Avatar
      Andrew Bryz-Gornia -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post
      ...not Greinke because he is terrible at Target Field.
      A 5.63 ERA in only 5 starts at Target Field is a terrible reason to not sign him. No, the Twins won't sign him because he'll be too expensive.
    1. Cody Christie's Avatar
      Cody Christie -
      Liriano's slider looked nasty against some hitters tonight. It gave me flashbacks to when he first came into the league. Even with a decent start, the 7th inning was frustrating. It is hard to imagine him ever being able to put it all back together for a full season. That's probably why he will be on a different team by the start of next year.
    1. greengoblinrulz's Avatar
      greengoblinrulz -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post
      The Twins need to sign Liriano. Simply put, what we have for next year is no good and has no potential (Blackburn, Walters, Diamond, Hendriks,?). That group is not even watchable. In addition to being awful, there's not enough players under contract. Someone has to be that question mark. There is no way I'd give a contract to Greinke or Sanchez. Not Sanchez because he could be risky as a pitcher who has played in the NL his entire career and not Greinke because he is terrible at Target Field. We have a lot of money coming off the books and no free agents to sign. I don't see any harm in offering 6 million to Liriano through arbitration.
      cannot offer $6m to him in arbitration......has to be $12m under new rules.
      Does this change your attitude on this bum?
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      More like $12.5 million.


      Consider your nits picked.
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