Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Projecting Francisco Liriano in 2009

In 2006, the left-handed pitcher dubbed "The Franchise" featured a wipe-out slider that he threw 40% of the time to harmonize with his 95-mph fastball.  It was this lethal combination that incited batters to miss nearly 65% of the time on pitches thrown outside the zone and led to a 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.  And even if batters did manage to put the ball in play, Liriano induced a groundball on 55% of all contact.  The career detour known as Tommy John surgery would erase his entire 2007 campaign and forced Liriano to reinvent himself as a pitcher.
Things were slightly different for Liriano when he finally returned to the big league hill in April of 2008.  He no longer possessed the 95-mph fastball, instead it was replaced by a 90-mph version and his sharp slider that bit hard at right-handed batters ankles was not traveling 87-mph towards the plate as it had been in 2006.  It spun up to the plate at a lackluster 79.8-mph.  Unlike a torn rotator cuff injury, the recipient of Tommy John often re-obtain their velocity - what changes is their ability to control and throw the various breaking pitches.  The Twins jammed a ball deep into Liriano's left hand and told him to learn to throw a changeup more frequently.  Coaxing the pitch out of him came gradually.

Pitch Type

FB Vel / %

SLD Vel / %

CHG Vel / %

2006 Season

94.7 / 43.6% 

 87.7 / 37.6%

83.5 / 18.7% 

April 2008 

90.4 / 55.8%

79.8 / 27.2%

80.5 / 17.0%

August 2008

90.7 / 54.8%

83.9 / 26.1%

82.0 / 19.1%

September 2008 

91.2 / 51.1%

84.9 / 26.4%

83.0 / 22.4%

As a result of his increased velocity and his liberal use of the changeup coupled with his ability to locate pitches within the strike zone, Liriano saw opponents taking more swings at pitches outside of the zone.  Although opposing batters were making significant contact in April and August, Liriano made more bats miss in the final month of the season, an indication that he was finding the right mix of speed.  With this inflation in pitches chased and overall zone presence, Lirano's strikeout totals spiked back to near-2006 totals in the final month of the season.  

Plate Discipline

 Out-Of-Zone Swing%

Contact %

Zone %


2006 Season





April 2008





August 2008





September 2008





Liriano's batted ball stats also reflect how a different approach can wildly alter the end results.  In 2006, Liriano was an extreme groundball pitcher, a direct correlation of the downward action on his slider.  The 2008 version of Liriano used change of speed to fool his opponents, often receiving swings from batters well ahead of the offspeed pitch.  Instead of pounding a plummeting slider into the ground, batters were out on their front-foot elevating a changeup. 

 Batted Balls 




2006 Season




April 2008




August 2008




September 2008




What does this mean for Francisco Liriano in 2009?  Liriano won't be the pitcher he was in 2006 but he won't be the pitcher he was in 2008 either - the most likely scenario is a hybrid variation.  His numbers in his last month of 2008 probably provide the best window in which to project Liriano.  What will change going forward is his batted ball totals.  Because he is throwing the slider less frequently and throwing two pitches that have higher contact rates more often, Liriano will see a jump in total number of balls in play.  However, by regaining his velocity and still having two solid pitches in his slider (.350 WHIFF) and changeup (.313 WHIFF), Liriano will still be a strikeout-oriented pitcher with a K/9 encroaching on the 10.0 mark.    


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