Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 7/6/12
Mlb-rays-twins-jul

When Francisco Liriano shut down the Athletics in his return to the starting rotation, many dismissed it as just one start, and one against the Athletics at that. Instead, Liriano has taken that start and ran with it, and six starts later he looks reborn. There could hardly be a bigger difference between Liriano’s first five starts and his last seven:

First five starts:
26.2 IP, 37 H, 30 R, 28 ER, 21 K, 19 BB, 6 HR

Last seven starts:
42.2 IP, 25 H, 15 R, 14 ER, 46 K, 18 BB, 1 HR

I wrote following his return start against Oakland that the key for Liriano would be to keep his pitches down. His constant high misses resulted in both walks and home runs over his first five starts. Indeed, over the past seven starts his pitches have largely clustered inside the zone and below it, not above it:

To make the point a little more clear, let’s focus on those high pitches, three feet or higher above the ground:

Despite throwing far more pitches (680 to 504) in his last seven starts, we see fewer pitches (74 to 105) above three feet over the plate. Liriano let 13 go over four feet — six inches above the zone on most hitters — in his first five starts, whereas just four leaked over that mark in his last seven.

These are not pitchers swing and miss at. Even now, hitters are swinging and missing at less than five percent of Liriano’s high pitches out of the zone. Now he’s avoiding this area and either hitting the strike zone or missing low, an excellent trade-off: hitters are whiffing on 16.75% of his pitches below the strike zone.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have enough data to say Liriano has cured his wildness. Liriano has faced just 172 batters over his last seven starts. That’s enough to say his strikeout rate has stabilized, but not nearly enough to say he’ll stop walking batters. Walks per plate appearance for pitchers doesn’t stabilize until 550 batters faced.

Still, both the macro and micro signs are very encouraging on Liriano. He has another start Friday night against the Rangers, one that many buying teams will have eyes on. If he can continue to stay low with his pitches, the Twins will have themselves an extremely attractive asset on their hands come the trade deadline.


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