Francisco Liriano‘s most recent outing for the Pittsburgh Pirates ended with eight consecutive balls and the bases loaded. The Pirates won that game, 12-1, over the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Liriano allowed just one earned runs on two hits, but the outing was nevertheless troubling for the 32-year-old lefty. Troubling because he walked five and struck out two, marking the third time already this season that Liriano walked more batters than he struck out, matching his total of starts which met that criteria over the previous two full seasons combined. Coming on the heels of three solid seasons in Pittsburgh, Liriano’s been below-replacement level by FIP-WAR, his walk and home-run rates at a career-high, his strikeout numbers the lowest in five years.
I’ve had something of a fixation on Liriano for a while now, due to the extreme nature of his pitching style. Coming into this season, he’d thrown the lowest rate of pitches inside the strike zone of any starter during a two-year stretch, while somehow also getting batters to chase those pitches at an extreme rate. Despite his approach — essentially inviting hitters to get themselves out over and over again — representing one that was theoretically easy to beat, hitters continuously failed to make the adjustment, which actually embodied a league-wide trend in MLB over the last eight years.
With Liriano struggling this season, this naturally becomes the first thing to check. Is Liriano still working outside the zone still often? Are batters still flailing away, even though they should know what’s coming?