Francisco Liriano’s Great Start

Francisco Liriano continued his excellent start to the season last night, with an 8 shutout inning, 10 strikeout start in a 2-0 victory over the Tigers. Now Liriano has only allowed 3 runs in 29 innings, good for a 0.93 ERA. This start is certainly reminiscent of Liriano’s fantastic 2006 season, in which he posted a 2.55 FIP, mostly on the strength of a ridiculous 10.71 K/9 and a fantastic 55.2% ground ball rate. Even though his 2010 FIP is similar, he hasn’t quite returned to the ridiculous level he was at four years ago. Both a .249 BABIP and the unsustainable lack of any home runs allowed have deflated both his ERA and FIP.

Still, there are some excellent signs from Liriano’s first three starts, which continued in last night’s start. Chief among them is his 51.8% ground ball rate. The home run plagued the left hander last season, as he allowed 21 in only 136.2 innings. His 12.5% HR/FB rate doesn’t suggest any sort of terrible luck. Liriano allowed a 41.2% FB rate last season, which would rank in the top 25 among qualified starters. His trend of avoiding the fly continued last night – of the 24 outs Liriano recorded, only 3 were made in the air, and only 5 total fly balls were hit.

The reason that Liriano’s run-allowed numers will likely remain at or above his 2006 level is due to a drop in strikeouts. His 10 strikeout performance yesterday rose his K/9 to 8.67, but that’s still well below his 2006 level. More importantly, his swinging strike rate is nowhere near the ridiculous 2006 level of 16.4%. Prior to last night’s start, batters whiffed on 11% of his pitches, and they whiffed on 12 of his 112 offerings (10.7%) on Tuesday night. That’s a good mark – about 2% over the SP average – but it probably won’t allow him to return to the one strikeout per inning form that made 2006 so special.

Just because Liriano likely won’t return to this mythical 2006 form certainly doesn’t mean that he won’t be a productive pitcher over the rest of the season. His strikeout rate is above average and his ground ball rate has skyrocketed. Both are excellent signs that Liriano can be a sub-4.00 FIP pitcher and power a Twins rotation containing multiple above average pitchers.

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