One of the most enigmatic pitchers in the game had a season he’d like to forget in 2011. Francisco Liriano posted an ugly 5.09 ERA, and his 4.54 FIP and 4.53 SIERA showed the ERA was fairly deserved. He had one shining moment, a no-hitter on May 3. However, his 6 BB, 2 K performance was good for a 6.12 xFIP, one of, if not, the worst no-hitters of all-time. Nearly every statistic declined for Liriano last year, so I hope you have some time on your hands.
The most obvious decline was his “stuff,” especially his velocity. After averaging 93.6 MPH on his fastball in ’10, he saw a 2 MPH drop this past year. His whiff rate (percentage of swings without contact) on his fastball dropped from 5.4% to 3.6%, significant but it is not the main source of his strikeouts. Each season he threw about 50% fastballs, though he threw less 2-seamers the past year despite having the same movement on it. He went from 43% to 18%, which explains part of the 5% drop in GB%. His slider remained the same speed, but lost 2.5 inches of depth. This resulted in less chasing and a higher rate of contact. His changeup decreased about 1 MPH in velocity and lost 1.5 inches of depth. It was chased less but resulted in a higher percentage of misses.
A less obvious, but just as important, reason for his poor performance last year was his lack of ability or willingness to throw the ball in the strikezone. His Zone% dropped from 48% to 43.5%, along with a 4.5% drop in Swing%. This led to a 5.5% BB-rate increase, an enormous number. His first-pitch strike percentage dropped 12% to just under 50%, by far the worst of any pitcher with at least 120 IP last year. However, some of that drop is explained by the lack of chasing pitches. While it is not a necessity, getting ahead of hitters makes the job a lot easier for the pitcher.
The biggest question mark with Liriano is his health. It took him essentially 3 years to fully recover from Tommy John surgery. He had two DL visits last year with shoulder problems. It seems like he’s throwing a bit more over-the-top, which does increase shoulder risk. If he cannot regain velocity, I would suggest throwing more 2-seamers again and trying to ease up a bit on the slider to create depth. That, along with attacking the zone a bit more, should see him become a good, but not great, pitcher again.
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