What Does Veteran Francisco Liriano Bring to the Blue Jays?

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Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano has been in the major leagues since 2005, when he was 21 years old, and briefly looked as if he was going to be among the greats; in 2006, he put up a 2.16 ERA (208 ERA+), made the All-Star team, and placed third in Rookie of the Year voting. However, he underwent Tommy John surgery after the season, lost 2007 to recovery, and has never recovered his pre-surgery form. Playing for four teams over his nine full seasons since returning in 2008, the lefthander has been almost exactly an average pitcher, with a 95 ERA+ in that period. In 2016, he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (21 appearances) before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in August and making a further eight starts and two relief appearances. Over the season, he put up a 4.69 ERA (90 ERA+) with 1.485 WHIP; he was much better for Toronto (2.92 ERA, 1.176 WHIP) than Pittsburgh (5.46ERA, 1.619 WHIP).

So far in 2017, he has made two starts — one terrible, one good. In his first start of 2017, against the Tampa Bay Rays, he gave up five runs in ⅓ of an inning, yielding three hits and five walks. In his second start, against Baltimore, he went 6 ⅓ innings, giving up 2 earned runs and striking out ten.

What he throws. Liriano throws a two-seam fastball (“FT”, also called a sinker), a changeup (“CH”) and a slider (“SL”). There are also a handful of pitches that cluster outside those three groups. One group looks like a four-seam fastball (“FF”), with more vertical movement and less horizontal movement than his two-seamer.  Another, probably a curve (“CU”), has the same movement as his slider but is significantly slower:

Pitch usage and trends. Overall, Liriano mainly uses his two-seam fastball (49.7% of pitches), slider (29.2%), and changeup (19.4%), with the four-seam fastball and curve making up a negligible amount (1.3% and 0.4% respectively). Left-handed batters see almost no changeups (1.5%), with sliders making up the difference; right-handers see about equal numbers of sliders and changeups (24.6% and 24.5% respectively). Liriano uses his slider as his strikeout pitch, going to it 54.1% and 57.5% of the time on 0-2 and 1-2 counts respectively.

It is too soon in the 2017 season to see much in the way of trends, but so far Liriano’s approach looks generally similar to his 2016 approach, although he does seem to be using the four-seam fastball slightly more often (6.4% of pitches so far):

Over the 2016 season, Liriano didn’t change his approach much from game to game. Liriano’s two relief appearances, September 2 and 5, also look about the same as his starts; he didn’t drop some pitch types as relievers often do. Interestingly, though, his pitch velocity increased in the second half by about one mph; his two-seamer went from 92.9 mph in the first half to 93.9 in the second, his changeup went from 85.4 to 86.4 mph, and his four-seam went from 92.9 to 93.6 mph. Although the velocity increase occurred three starts before his trade to the Blue Jays (shown on the charts below with a vertical blue line), this might be part of the reason for his improved results with Toronto:

Pitch value. Each of Liriano’s main pitches (there’s little point at looking at the value of his very rare curve or four-seamer) are just about average overall in terms of both total bases per 100 pitches and balls per 100 pitches. However, his slider and changeup get there in very different ways, since his slider is excellent against left-handed batters (who see far more sliders than righties), and slightly worse against right-handers, while his changeup is terrible against lefties (who see almost none of them), but quite good against right-handed batters.

Pitch location. Each of Liriano’s main pitches have distinct targets in and around the strike zone. To right-handed batters, Liriano throws his two-seamer either at the bottom outside corner, or (less often) the upper inside corner. Left-handed batters mostly see the pitch in the bottom third of the zone. His slider is typically at or just below the strike zone to right-handed batters, while lefties might see it as a strike in the center of the zone, or just catching the outside bottom corner. The changeup to right-handed batters also targets their outside bottom corner.  


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Featured image courtesy of Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports.

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