Francisco Liriano’s Dominating Slider

One of the oldest cliches in baseball is that pitchers have to establish their fastball. The average Major League pitcher throws their fastball about 60% of the time, and any deviation from that can get you labeled a junkballer.

Francisco Liriano, with the Pirates season on the line, told that cliche to go pound sand.

Here are his final pitch tallies for the night, per PITCHF/x.

Fastball: 23
Change: 23
Slider: 44

Basically, Liriano swapped his fastball and slider usage, using the breaking ball as his primary pitch and using the fastball as his change-of-pace. Needless to say, it worked. Of the 44 sliders Liriano threw, 34 of them were strikes, and 13 of them were swinging strikes. That’s absurdly good; for context, he got four swinging strikes on his fastball and change-up combined.

And when they made contact, they generally pounded it into the ground. Opposing batters put Liriano’s slider in play nine times. One of those went for a single. Eight of those went for a groundout, including a double play.

Liriano’s slider is one of the best in baseball, and is clearly his best pitch. Rather than relying on his fastball as his primary pitch, Liriano threw his best pitch more often than the others. The result was not so bad. Maybe there’s something to going with your best weapon, rather than relying on a large number of straight pitches that hitters can actually put their bat on.

When you have a dominating out pitch, use it. Liriano does, and he did.

And now, slider GIF mania. You’ve been warned.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


29 Responses to “Francisco Liriano’s Dominating Slider”

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  1. N8 says:

    Isn’t there something about guys who rely on the slider being way more prone to injury? I mean it obviously worked tonight but are there long-term red flags for guys who throw a lot of sliders? I feel like I read or heard this somewhere but can’t remember where.

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    • Hank says:

      I’ve read this too, but I wonder what the velocity breakdown was for the pitcher groups. This is only a general belief (I haven’t checked the stats) that slider-heavy pitchers tend to throw harder whereas curveball-heavy or changeup-heavy pitchers tend to rely on change of speed because of less velocity. If so, it would be something to keep in mind (if high velocity throwers get injured more).

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    • JD3aD says:

      With improper mechanics, throwing a slider or any other specialty pitch can put unnecessary stress on the arm or elbow. This can lead to injury. But with proper mechanics, there is little risk.

      Liriano has had his share of injuries. But there are many pitchers who throw a high percentage of sliders that have been more or less durable. I’m pretty sure Ervin Santana throws a very high percentage, as do Edwin Jackson and Madison Bumgarner. Again, it depends on mechanics.

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      • Sparkles Peterson says:

        Liriano’s injury troubles were blamed on his slider, so there are at least some people around the sport who don’t think he’s one of those guys who’s not a risk going nuts with the slider.

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        • AK7007 says:

          Too many double negatives to know what you are saying – but ultimately, for winning individual games, your durability is not hugely relevant. (as long as you can survive the early innings, you are golden) Once you get to the playoffs, it’s about wins in individual games.

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        • Simon says:

          The fact that his troubles were blamed on his slider doesn’t mean that the slider was actually to blame. The level of knowledge and analysis of injuries and their causes in MLB is pretty woeful.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        The assertion that there is little risk with proper mechanics is completely unfounded. That’s just a popular hypothesis that has yet to be adequately tested. In large part because the concept of proper mechanics is misleading since each person has different “ideal” mechanics and many people simply aren’t designed correctly to handle the rigors of pitching.

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        • Brad Johnson says:

          A small follow up, as uniqueusername states below, there are some indicators we know that increase injury risk, but that is not the same as saying it is safe to throw a pitch if you avoid known, dangerous practices. There’s still the unknown, dangerous practices as well as the body’s poor design for all overhand throwing.

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      • Cus says:

        This is patently untrue. Throwing a baseball using any type of mechanics, regardless of pitch type is a completely unnatural motion and hard on the shoulder and elbow. Some pitches or mechanics may be worse, but none have ‘little risk’, and anyone making that claim has never thrown over a hundred pitches in a game.

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  2. uniqueusername says:

    A slider causes you to “supinate” your arm(rotate your wrist/forearm so that your palm is facing up). Over-supination is often what causes injury.

    If they throw the pitch correctly, and not over-supinate, how often they use it may not ever wind up mattering.

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  3. Rico says:

    Let’s also not forget that Liriano had Tommy John surgery, which tends to result in a much stronger joint with the sewn together of the joint with a tendon vs the original ligament.

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    • Sparkles Peterson says:

      Not true, at least as of about 10 years ago when I was reading orthopedics journals. After TJS reconstruction, studies showed equivalent to very slightly inferior strength to an uninjured UCL.

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      • maguro says:

        But how many pitchers really have “an uninjured ACL” in the years leading up to TJS?

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        • Sparkles Peterson says:

          None, but the idea that TJS inherently renders you less susceptible to injuries because it creates a stronger structure doesn’t really hold up. It creates a structure roughly as strong as the one a pitcher has already worn out.

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        • Andrew says:

          Peterson is correct, the idea of a stronger joint is false, any tendon graft, whether it is UCL or ACL reconstruction, undergoes a process termed ligamentization where realignment of collagen fibers take place. Thus it is strength will at most be equivalent to an undamaged ligament. Additionally it is better to think of ligaments as competent versus incompetent, yes imaging may show a pitcher UCL is frayed but if performance is not affected it is still competent.

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  4. chuckb says:

    His change, at times, was also ridiculously good last night as well. It’s interesting that his fastball is easily his worst pitch and it’s pretty obvious that he was smart to throw it just 25% of the time last night.

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  5. tz says:

    With all the talk about special single-game strategies for the wild-card game, Liriano’s pitch selection against the lefty-dominated Reds lineup might have been the best.

    I don’t think he’s leaving anything on the table this postseason. Not with the year he’s had. Not with the career he’s had.

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  6. Krog says:

    It’s unfortunate that the camera angle in Pittsburgh is so far to the right that it obscures the horizontal break of the slider. It would be interesting to see a Pitch fx graph of his start last night.

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  7. B N says:

    I don’t see why the Reds didn’t just give Liriano his due in their post-game comments. His stuff was really moving last night. Phillips comes out saying he choked, Dusty Baker was saying that the game would have been different if a long foul fell fair (for a 3-run HR?), etc. Is it really so hard to just say: “The other guys flat out beat us”? It’s like they thought they were dominant favorites, even thought they just lost an important season series against the Pirates this very weekend.

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    • channelclemente says:

      It’s one of Baker’s teams. It’s his way, that and that idiot toothpick.

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    • Wobatus says:

      From the MLB.Com Pitt recap:

      “It’s important to give credit to your competition,” said Joey Votto, the marquee Cincinnati first baseman who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. “Pittsburgh pitched fantastically.”

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      • Wobatus says:

        And from the Cincy recap:

        “They beat us on both sides of the ball. They just played better,” Bruce said. “They pitched better. They hit better. They were at home. There’s nothing really else to say. It was, in my opinion, pretty apparent the whole game.”

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  8. Nick says:

    Joey Votto’s swing on that last one: wow.

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