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Liriano’s Return

Francisco Liriano is back. Well, literally, at least, if not yet figuratively. Yesterday, Liriano made his return to the Twins rotation after spending May, June, and July in Triple-A and waiting for Minnesota to tire of Livan Hernandez. After they realized that a team on the cusp of first place couldn’t really afford to keep a guy pitching as well as Liriano was off the roster, they finally made the obvious move and gave him his old job back.

Day one went well. 6 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts. His command wasn’t there, throwing 40 of his 96 pitches out of the strike zone, but the Indians didn’t capitalize and he spun his first winning decision of the year. If Liriano can channel his old self, adding him to the team would be the biggest upgrade any team has made all year. But is yesterday’s performance, coupled with his recent destruction of Triple-A, proof that he’s back to the Liriano we saw in 2006?

To answer those kinds of questions, we need to look at what Liriano was throwing, and so we turn to the Pitch F/x data from his start yesterday.

To begin the game, he came after Grady Sizemore with a 91 MPH fastball (called strike), a 92 MPH fastball (ball), an 84 MPH slider (foul), an MPH slider (ball), and an 86 MPH slider (swinging strike). In ’06, his average fastball was 94.7 MPH and his average slider was 87.7, so even though he struck out Sizemore to start off, it wasn’t the Liriano of old. It didn’t get much better, stuff wise.

The fastest pitch Liriano threw all day was 92.3 MPH and his average fastball was 90.9 MPH. He threw 57 fastballs (59%), 19 sliders (20%), and 20 change-ups (21%), showing a significant increase in fastballs thrown at the expense of the slider compared to his 2005 and 2006 seasons.

Liriano is certainly a lot better, and a lot healthier, than he was at the start of the season. And perhaps this incarnation of Liriano can be a big asset that helps carry the team down the stretch, but this is not the same pitcher who was taking the league by storm several years ago. The stuff isn’t back yet.