Can Liriano Stay Down in the Zone Again?

Francisco Liriano turned some heads with his May 30th start against Oakland, in which he tossed six shutout innings with nine strikeouts. It was Oakland, though, and that leaves an obvious question heading into Tuesday night’s start against Kansas City: was it the lineup, or did Liriano actually turn a corner?

It wasn’t just the strikeouts which stood out for Liriano last time out. He only allowed three hits and, most encouragingly, just two walks. Even with that performance, his BB/9 on the season sits at a sky-high 6.30. Obviously, then, much of Liriano’s success — both Tuesday night and going forward — will depend on his control. A look at his pitches from his May 30th performance suggests, in particular, it will depend on his ability to keep the ball down.

Take a look at Liriano’s PITCHf/x location data this season, with his last start highlighted:

The one place out of the strikezone where Liriano consistently missed was down, which is exactly what pitching coaches drill into players from little league on. He rarely missed in or out. He only threw six pitches over three feet above home plate the whole game.

This consistency has been absent from essentially every other Liriano start this year. Notice, in the graphic, the gray from his other starts is sprayed everywhere with reckless abandon. For the most part, Liriano’s pitches out of the strike zone against Oakland were calculated — pitches just off the outside corner against lefties; low and on the outer third against righties. Not up and catching too much of the plate; not sailing over the strike zone. For at least one start, Francisco Liriano was a Pitcher With Control.

The last time we saw Liriano with control, it was 2010, and he was excellent. Liriano was one of the forces leading the Twins into the playoffs, posting an 89 ERA- and fantastic 64 FIP- in 191.2 innings. Unfortunately, it takes about 300 batters faced for walk rates to stabilize, so if Liriano does what he did last week about 15 more times, then we can start to be statistically confident in his ability to throw the ball where he wants it.

Francisco Liriano has proven throughout his career that control can be fickle. If he maintains his control from last week tonight against Kansas City and beyond, he’ll be a productive pitcher again for the Twins, but we’ll need to see a lot more of this from him before we can even begin to have confidence in his ability to maintain that success.

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9 Responses to “Can Liriano Stay Down in the Zone Again?”

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  1. AL Eastbound says:

    Would (potentially) make an interesting deadline acquisition.

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  2. Mike Busch says:

    “Walks will haunt” was the warning flashed on the antiquated Metrodome scoreboard in Minneapolis whenever an opposing pitcher’s control went awry. It should also accompany every start of Francisco’s when HIS control falls off the cliff, accompanied by British warning sirens. Crossing our fingers he can duplicate last outing, as the Twins have run out of options for starters!

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  3. Peter says:

    I wonder what the range of contract dollars Liriano could receive in free agency this year looks like.

    If he can’t lower his current walk rate or gets injured again, I’d imagine he’ll get a one year deal worth a couple million dollars.

    If he pitches like its 2010 again from now until the end of the season, which he *should* be capable of, how big of a contract could he get? 3/40? More?

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    • monkey business says:

      I’d bet some (probably not most) pitching coaches are thinking, “If I could get him in a good place, he will be a very good 2/3 pitcher.” While the sane ones are thinking, “I’m don’t want to get near a pitcher with those long standing control issues.”

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  4. Paul says:

    He just tied the MLB record by striking out four Royals in an inning, all on sliders two feet in front of home plate. Beware confounders, we’re talking about the Royals here.

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    • monkey business says:

      It was the 4-7 batters, and I’d rather not have the highlights feature me swinging on a ball that bounced a few times between the mound and the plate even if I was a backup catcher.

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  5. alex says:

    Not to mention that Royals hitters have the fewest strikeouts in the majors by a fairly wide margin.

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  6. payroll says:

    Liriano pitched to Butera in his last 2 starts. Much smaller, lower catcher.

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  7. slash12 says:

    It looks like Liriano threw almost no 2 seamers in his last 2 starts, did he ditch that pitch? Perhaps that’s what’s helping his control

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