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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29 Responses to “Francisco Liriano’s Great Start”

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  1. Andres says:

    “Just because Liriano likely return to this mythical 2006 form certainly doesn’t mean that he won’t be a productive pitcher over the rest of the season”

    I think you meant that he is unlikely to return to his 2006 form. Other than that another excellent article. Thank you very much.

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  2. tpain says:

    Whats also encouraging is that his fastball is up a couple ticks. Not quite 2006 level, but if velocities are truly slower at the start of the season, maybe he can get it up to the 94 MPH range.

    That slider was devastating last night. He’s throwing that slightly more as well, though not as often as 2006. Which may be a good thing, if that is really what lead to the UCL tear.

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    • KG says:

      I don’t know if the stadium guns were fast last night, but he hit 95/96 mph regularly according to them. The at bat with Sizemore that showcased the slider – ridiculous!

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  3. Bryz says:

    Move over, Rice-A-Roni. Strikeouts are becoming the new San Francisco treat.

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  4. JD says:

    Twinkies will be happy with 180+ IPs, 4.00ish FIP, 170 K’s, 15 HRs. Promising start though, good read.

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    • JD says:

      The intrigue is we do not know what his true talent level is yet and where he will settle in going forward.

      2006 is unrealistic, but 08 and 09 were marred by injury, lower velocity and lower ground ball rates. His fastball has (seemingly) returned and sets up his entire arsenal if he can maintain it, as well as keeping the ball on the ground more.

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      • Mr. Sanchez says:

        So I think that does show his true talent level. When healthy, he’s Sandy Koufax. When he’s not 100%, he’s much, much worse.

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    • SBG says:

      Considering that Liriano was considered by the Twins to be their fifth starter heading into the season, I’d say that they’d be happy with that.

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  5. Wilsonian Democracy says:

    The most encouraging sign for Francisco so far has been his ability to get ahead with early fastballs to set up a slider that last night looked like it was from outer space. Nine of his 10 whiffs last night were by way of the slider by my count, including at least 4 looking. But what’s made that possible is Rick Anderson getting him to pound the zone early with heaters. He’s been able to get strike one on almost 63% of batters faced through his first four starts. If he can pitch ahead in the count that consistently with that nasty a slider he’s not gonna be far off from his ’06 vintage.

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    • James M. says:

      Good observation. But the scary thing is, he’s actually getting better. In his first start he got the first strike only 52% of the time. Result: 5 BB’s and only 3 K’s in 6 IP. Since then: first strike 66%, result: 5 BB’s and 24 K’s in 23 IP’s. Yesterday he had 20 initial strikes against 28 batters, 71.4%. If he can keep that up he may be even better than he was in 2006. Back then he got the first pitch strike “only” 60.5% of the time.

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  6. Patrick says:

    You know, I know Sizemore is just up from Triple A, but he looked just AWFUL against the slider last night. Three just awful swings and misses. Just.. wow. I think on the third one he was sort of close-ish, but still looked bad. The first two it looked like he was swinging at a completely different pitch.

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    • Dave says:

      I wouldn’t worry about it. Nobody in the minors has a slider like that. Heyward looked equally feeble against Marmol earlier in the year. Three straight swings and misses at sliders.

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  7. zimm says:

    While last night’s outing produced great results for Liriano, one thing to keep in mind is that the Tiger team he was facing was playing their 12th consecutive day and had arrived back in Detroit from Texas at 5am Tuesday AM.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      The Angels did the same ridiculous get-away-night-game thing to the Twins earlier in the year, and the Twins offense was pretty feeble the next day too. It’s not like just anyone could have gotten Liriano’s results, but it’s a fair point that Liriano wasn’t facing Detroit at 100%.

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      • Ben says:

        The Twins still won though in extra innings as a matter of fact. Also the homeplate ump had a huge strikezone.

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  8. Tim says:

    I’m wondering if anyone has information on league swinging strike rates or even swing percentage as a whole. It seems like the increased emphasis on OBP and getting into deeper counts might result in players swinging less league wide.

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  9. Matt C says:

    I watched him last night and he was straight up filthy. That was easily the best I’ve seen him look since 2006.(admittedly I haven’t seen many of his starts in that time) According to the TV gun he was throwing 94-96 regularly, he was mixing in some nasty sliders too. He was throwing some backdoor ones to righties for called strikes and throwing the big one that dives towards the back foot of the righty for swinging strikes. Just an overpowering performance. If he performs even remotely close to the 2006 Liriano the Twins will be scary good.

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  10. Ben says:

    I personally am counting down to Orel Hershiser’s scoreless inning streak. 36 more innings!

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  11. Steven Ellingson says:

    Liriano is now 1st in xFIP among qualified AL pitchers. So yeah, he’s gotten a little lucky, but he’s still pitched as well as anyone in the league so far. His last 3 starts are as good of starts I’ve seen in a long time.

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  12. JD says:

    At least we are rationalizing why he won’t be quite ‘this’ good as opposed he won’t be quite ‘this’ bad going forward ya know? a good start is a good start

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  13. Reuben says:

    Groundball rates and BABIP are included in FIP? I thought it was just HRs, Ks, and BBs?

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    • Steven Ellingson says:

      You are right.

      This sentence was kind of confusing:

      ” Both a .249 BABIP and the unsustainable lack of any home runs allowed have deflated both his ERA and FIP.”

      The BABIP is just affecting his ERA. The home runs are affecting both.

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  14. Mike from Jersey says:

    This is a stupid article. babip and fip and all that crap doesnt always tell the story. have you watched this guy? 94-95, touching 96 sometimes. and the slider is only around 85, he has a 9mph difference on the pitches. he’s honestly just balling right now. i normally love fangraphs articles. for once i must respectfully disagree with this one. watch him actually pitch. statistics sometimes are misleading.

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  15. Steve says:

    Liriano is dominating right now, but I fear that he has reverted back to that elbow-shredding motion that required extensive surgery years ago. Watching highlights form last night, his hand seems to be starting right by his ear again and then is snapping out very wide. This creates a nasty slider, but also puts a tremendous amount of strain on his arm, especially when the pitch is the same arm speed as a 95 mph fastball. Last year, he was more over-the-top, which limited his slider, but also was not cringe-inducing. He was filthy the other night, but I worry about his health.

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  16. And just because he’s doing well now doesn’t mean that he’ll be pitching the whole season. Look at his injury history, there is no guarantee he’s going to last the season.

    Sure, ride him out, now that he’s doing well, but have Plan Post-Liriano ready to go when the time comes for some part of his body to decide to break down.

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