Apr 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) sits in the dugout after being removed from the game against the Cincinnati Reds during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 6-5. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Francisco Liriano and his pitches

So you go to do some quick stat searching as a means to (hopefully) discover what’s been ailing Francisco Liriano. He’s hardly been the same guy we saw in 2013 when Liriano finished with a record of 16-8, 3.02 ERA, 2.92 FIP, and 1.224 WHIP. As he takes the mound this evening, his record after six starts is 0-3. This comes with a 3.97 ERA, 3.97 FIP, and 1.294 WHIP. There has to be a logical explanation, right?

Well, it could be a slight loss of velocity. According to Fangraphs, Liriano has lost a bit of velo off all his pitches as compared to those velocities from 2013 (2013 is listed first).

FA: 93.0 to 92.1
FT: 92.9 to 91.7
SL: 86.8 to 84.4
CH: 86.5 to 85.0

While a drop is velocity could be deemed as a sign there is a physical ailment, that might not be the case here. Sure, the slider has loss a couple of notches, but that pitch does remain an effective one for Liriano.

But when you look at the plate discipline (also from Fangraphs), you notice something a little odd. Opposing batters are swinging at more pitches (45.1% to 46.6%) and making less contact (70.7% to 67.9%). And Liriano is finding less pitches in the zone (42.2% to 40.2%). And I like that the difference in his fastball and changeup has largely remained the same.

So it could be that batters are doing more with his pitches. And they certainly are when it comes to what Brooks Baseball deems as a sinker.

Fourseam 25 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sinker 181 37 4 8 1 7 2 0 3 .324 .622 .297 .300
Change 139 32 6 2 0 6 2 0 0 .250 .313 .063 .308
Slider 170 52 21 3 0 8 1 0 1 .192 .269 .077 .300

Statistics taken from Brooks Baseball

As compared to all of 2013, Liriano’s HR/9 has doubled from 0.50 to 1.06. Yes, his flyball rate is higher (25.3% to 29.3%) and his groundball rate is lower (50.5% to 46.7%). But we know it shouldn’t be all that simple, should we? Has it become a matter of predictability with pitch usage? So far this year, it’s quite possible.

Handiness Situation Fourseam Sinker Slider Change
v LHH All Counts 7% 36% 54% 3%
  First Pitch 15% 41% 44% 0%
  Batter Ahead 7% 59% 33% 0%
  Even 9% 30% 54% 7%
  Pitcher Ahead 3% 24% 72% 0%
  Two Strikes 0% 21% 79% 0%
v RHH All Counts 4% 35% 28% 33%
  First Pitch 5% 47% 21% 27%
  Batter Ahead 6% 37% 25% 33%
  Even 5% 39% 26% 30%
  Pitcher Ahead 1% 25% 36% 38%
  Two Strikes 2% 14% 54% 30%

Statistics taken from Brooks Baseball

When facing LHH last season, Liriano exhibited more of a willingness to throw that sinker (55%) than the slider (43%). LHH were more apt to look for the slider when behind in the count (57%) and with two strikes (73%).

You’re a left-handed hitter approaching the plate. You know that you are somewhat likely to see a slider, regardless of the count. You know that your chances of doing something with that pitch aren’t stellar as lefty batters are only hitting .111 against that particular pitch. You must hope you see that “sinker”!

***Small sample alert!***

In the 6 AB in which Liriano has faced a lefty bat, they are batting .500 (3-for-6 with 2 BB). The only time you might not see a slider is if the batter is ahead in the count.

Works for RHHs as well. The only time you’re likely to see that vaunted slider is if Liriano has two strikes on you. But you, as a RHH, want that sinker!

The one pitch you don’t want to see is the changeup. RHH are .226 when seeing it.

This is not to say that Liriano has become so extremely predictable that you can tell exactly from the count what you will see. But it is a trend that was darn close to what his pitch tendencies were last year.

Got to be movement then. Maybe not as much bite on the slider and the sinker isn’t sinking?

H-move Fourseam Sinker Change Slider V-move Fourseam Sinker Change Slider
2013   8.71 8.99 0.07 2013 7.05 5.53 3.76
2014 7.48 9.69 10.01 0.34 2014 9.39 6.58 5.33 2.22

Information taken from Brooks Baseball

More horizontal movement on all pitches here (which could explain why the slider is still an effective pitch), but the vertical movement on the sinker is less. With a few games being played in less than desirable weather conditions, that movement could be predicated on the lack of grip. Discuss that if you see the need.

Even with this information, this matter could be far simpler than I’m making this out to be. It might be that since Liriano has made a complete round through the league, opposing batters are simply catching up to his pitch velocity, movement, and usage. There’s more video for clubs to view. Even with this information, teams have access to more than what’s presented here.

And we cannot dismiss the issues of health and/or confidence. No stat can properly maintain those.

Bottom line to me is that Liriano is “just missing” with his pitches. At this point, I’m not overly concerned worried about his pitch execution. This could lead to having only 2 of his 5 starts being of the quality start variety.

Another cure would be to get a little more run support from the bats of his teammates. He’s only getting 2.68 per game.

Tags: Francisco Liriano Pittsburgh Pirates

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