Last night, Fransico Liriano worked through the Tigers lineup like a buzzsaw, using his slider to retire 10 of the 28 opponents he faced - six of which were on strikeouts. There were buckling knees and stupidly silly swings as the slider appeared to race up to the edge of the plate and diving off the table. The only mistake was a slider left up that Johnny Damon laced for a double but aside from that one transgression, Liriano was nearly flawless in Motown - as he has been for the past 23 innings.
Through four starts, Liriano possesses perhaps the game's best slider. Judging from the weighted run value at Fangraphs.com, his 6.55 wSL/C is the tops among starters. Likewise for his Opponent OPS on the pitch found at MyInsideEdge.com:
Pitch Value (wSL/C)
OPS against SL
*Data from Fangraphs.com and Inside-Edge.com
In general, his results on the slider have been much better than that of the previous season:
*Data from Inside-Edge.com
While there are several reasons for his overall turnabout, including an improved command of his fastball and working ahead of hitters, his rekindled slider has been his strongest offering thus far. Opponents are offering at more pitches out-of-zone and missing at a higher rate which has led to more strikeouts. His chase rate on the pitch is the highest in baseball (minimum of 100 pitches thrown) as is his miss percentage. To summarize, this is a bar whore of a slider: just all kinds of dirty.
Vel (MPH) Diff.
*Data from Fangraphs.com, TexasLeaguers.com and Inside-Edge.com
What makes this version so much different than a year ago? In 2009 Liriano was throwing his slider at a higher velocity. This translated to just a 5.5-mph difference with his fastball. With his increased fastball velocity in 2010, he's also toned down the MPH on his slider, decreasing the velocity on that pitch by 2-mph. This has led to a near 10-mph (9.1) separation in his fastball and slider.
What's more, Liriano has added more drop to his slider. As you can see in the column above (Vert.) and visually in the graphs below, the Twins lefty is getting more decline out of his breaking pitch:
*Data from TexasLeaguers.com - 2009
*Data from TexasLeaguers.com - 2010
With everything clicking on all cylinders, it is likely that Liriano and his dirty slider will increase his scoreless inning streak in Cleveland against one of the most offensively-challenged lineups in baseball (scoring just 3.55 runs per game).