How Blue Jays SP Francisco Liriano Can Rebound In New Setting

JAYS FROM THE COUCH LOOKS AT NEWLY ACQUIRED FRANCISCO LIRIANO AND WHAT HIS NEW ROLE MIGHT BE ON THE BLUE JAYS.

Throughout the entire trade deadline, the Blue Jays searched for starting pitching depth to help propel them into the race for October. With an innings limit looming over All-Star pitcher Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays went searching for answers. Being linked to Twins pitcher Ervin Santana, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, and all these rumors, just became rumors as it got later into the day. It looked, at one point, like the Blue Jays hadn’t found an option to replace Sanchez in the starting lineup. As the clock struck four pm eastern, on Tuesday August 1st, late rumors started to arise that the Blue Jays had traded struggling starting pitcher Drew Hutchison, to the Pirates for starting pitcher Francisco Liriano, along with two prospects, outfielder Harold Ramirez, and catcher Reese McGuire.

Hutchison was serving as the Blue Jays sixth starter this year, but has struggled to stay up in the Majors. A lot of people saw Hutchison as the up and coming piece to potentially replace Dickey in the rotation next season, but others saw him as a struggling pitcher who was about to turn 26-years-old, and was still unable to figure things out.

Coming off three consecutive years of 160IP+, an ERA below 3.50, and only allowing opposing hitters a .219 average. Liriano has been in a rut, finding himself stuck in the worst year of his career. Pitching 113.2 innings so far, to an ERA of 5.46, and a 4.51xFIP. For someone viewed as a solid second and third option in the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation behind Gerrit Cole, Liriano has been rather…. meh.

In five starts this season, Liriano hasn’t been able to make it out of the fourth inning, and all short outings coincide with allowing a lot of home runs. There were a combined eight in those four short outings. In 113.2IP so far this season, Liriano has allowed nineteen home runs. He had allowed thirty-seven over the previous three seasons. Of the nineteen home runs given up this season, 73.7% of them have been off those sinkers that aren’t dropping out of the zone.

 

 

Liriano Heatmap

 

The heatmap above shows where the Liriano has placed pitches that have been hit for extra base hits.

Liriano relies heavily on his sinker/slider combo, which contributes to 80.1% of all the pitches he’s thrown this season. This deadly two pitch combo, have somehow escaped him this year. Last season, Liriano had a combined pitch value on his sinker/slider of exactly 20. This year that combo is at -12.1 with almost no change in velocity.

With his lightning windup, batters have a tough time telling what kind of pitch Liriano has just thrown at them. It could either be that sinking fastball in the low nineties. Or a slider moving down and in on right-handers in the mid eighties. Either way, it’s almost a guarantee that a majority of Liriano’s pitches will be outside the zone. From 2013-2015, Liriano had a K% of 25.4%, and a BB% of 10.1%. This year, his K% is 22.2% down 3.4%, and his BB% is 13.2% up 3.1%. With so many pitches outside of the zone for so long, a lot of batters have figured out Liriano’s approach.

After digging through Pitch F/X, and looking at Liriano’s mechanics throughout the year. It was hard to find anything that was glaringly different from his highs and lows. This is when you starts to question pitching approach. During the 2013-2015 seasons, only 40.26% of Liriano’s pitches found the zone. Batters continued to swing at those sinkers/sliders at a rate of 34.1%, which is basically league average. Though with so many of those pitches being out of the strike zone the margins are much bigger. Batters this year are only swinging at 27.8% of pitches outside of the zone, and simply aren’t falling for Liriano’s tricky approach. This forces him to more throw strikes. And, judging by the heat map above a lot of those pitches are being teed up for big hits.

This move was purely a salary dump for the Pirates. A club that is struggling, and don’t look playoff bound. Liriano is under contract until 2018 and is owed $13mil next season, with some potential incentives attached to his contract. With the Blue Jays making this kind of move, you have sense some trust that Liriano is expected to perform and potentially replace R.A. Dickey in the starting role next season. This trade might be exactly what Liriano needs. A change in scenery, a change in leagues, and a reunion with his former catcher Russell Martin, all of this might just be what Liriano needs to find himself bounce back into his former self.

 

*Featured Image Credit: Dave Nelson UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

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Spencer Redmond

Spencer Redmond is a Graduate of the University of Wisconsin. His loves in life are the NBA, MLB, Stats, and his dog Parker.