Francisco Liriano Teases Again

Francisco Liriano has been a tantalizing player over his career. Occasionally, he can look like one of the best pitchers in baseball. But most of the time, his performance fails to live up to his elite stuff. There’s been far more of the former version this year. Through 36 innings, Liriano has a 1.62 FIP. Liriano hasn’t thrown enough innings to be considered a “qualified” pitcher, but his strong FIP would rank first among starters. By now, we’ve seen enough about Liriano to know that, based on his career, this breakout is not guaranteed to continue. But Liriano has adopted an altered approach this season that may keep him from his usual roller coaster performance.

Liriano has stopped relying on his four-seam fastball this season. After using the pitch 26.23% of the time prior to this season, Liriano is throwing the pitch just 6.28% of the time in 2013, according to BrooksBaseball.net. He’s made up the difference by utilizing all of his other pitches more this season, and has adopted his sinker as his primary fastball offering. The trade-off has worked in his favor this year. Neither pitch is great, as both have been hit well entering the year. Batters owned a career .307 average and .491 slugging percentage off Liriano’s four-seamer prior to 2013. His .338 average and .501 slugging percentage with the two-seam fastball was equally as bad. That’s continued somewhat with the two-seamer this season, with batters hitting .347. But there are some advantages to the switch. The two-seamer has increased Liriano’s ground ball percentage by nearly six percent. It was also a slightly better pitch for garnering whiffs heading into the season.

It’s also helped cut his walks. Liriano’s four-seam fastball was called a ball 45.15% of the time entering the season. His sinker sat at just 38.21%. While Liriano’s walk rate isn’t at an all-time low, it’s dropped from 12.6% in 2012 to 9.2% this year. That’s still not ideal, but it is acceptable.

Throughout his career, Liriano’s off-speed pitches have been more efficient, particularly his slider. It’s somewhat of a double-edged sword for Liriano to throw his slider more often. While it’s clearly his best offering, there is a correlation between high slider usage and arm injuries. Liriano has always been a heavy-slider guy, but he’s using the pitch at a career-high 36.30% this season. That rate would put him in the top-5 among qualified starters. The change-up is being used primarily against right-handers, and it’s always limited them to a low slash line. Liriano does not use the change against lefties, using just the sinker and slider against them.

As usual, the bigger issue is whether this performance will continue. What’s promising is that luck hasn’t played a major role in Liriano’s success thus far. Though he has yet to give up a home run, something that won’t continue, he still has a strong 2.49 xFIP. He’s been lucky stranding runners, but that’s really the only area where regression seems imminent. The bigger concern is injuries. Liriano has been on the disabled list six times in his career. Each visit to the DL has been because of an arm issue. While many fantasy owners might be skeptical given Liriano’s past, it might be in your best interest to hold him until injuries take their toll again. With his new approach, there’s some reason to believe he’ll continue to be effective this year.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

6 Responses to “Francisco Liriano Teases Again”

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  1. Lorenzo says:

    Love your reports..keep up the great work

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  2. tonysoprano says:

    Ditto. Great article.

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  3. Giovani says:

    I haven’t been on the Liriano bandwagon since those first couple years with the Twins, but I’m cautiously buying in now. He looks like that guy again for the first time in five years – the K%, BB%, FB%, the pitch mix (especially SL%), Contact%, SwStk%. His results so far are supported by the peripherals and do not look fluky to me. If he can keep it up, and stay healthy, is another matter. The guy is an injury-prone head case, but he’s pitching like an elite arm right now.

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  4. Gordon Shumway says:

    The injury he suffered in the off season helped me immensely by allowing me to speculate on him with a DL slot rather than committing to him on my active roster. It’s been a fun ride so far but I’m tempering my expectations, it’s important to remember that half his starts this season have been against the Mets or the Cubs, which aren’t exactly the best test of one’s pitching ability.

    The thing that worries me the most is that his Zone% seems quite low around 35% which is noticeably lower than his career numbers. Is that just the small sample size or does this mean that we can expect the walk rate to climb? I have read that Ray Searage has worked with Liriano on a higher release point and having a more direct path to the plate in an effort to throw more strikes, but that doesn’t seem to be the case so far this season.

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  5. Chauncey says:

    As a Pirates fan, watching Liriano so far is the most satisfying tease you could imagine, considering our expectations coming in.

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  6. dacure says:

    I’ve been a huge Liriano fan since he bounced back last season following the bullpen stint. Just seems like the guys had it figured out pretty well since then (barring a few classic liriano blow ups). The move to the NL has been great for him, and while I expect some regression I think he’s going to be much more useful than anyone is willing to pay for him at this point (unless you have someone like me in your league who is willing to buy high, luckily I drafted him)

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