Blue Jays Mystery: Would the Real Francisco Liriano Please Stand Up?

 

Jays From the Couch compares the last two starts by Francisco Liriano who has been up and down thus far for the Blue Jays.

 

 

Obtaining the services of Francisco Liriano at this year’s MLB Trade Deadline, took us all by surprise. Not only was he a guy who was not in the rumor mill, but he wasn’t necessarily a guy who fans dreamed of. In fact, after the trade broke, we sat down with Jason Rollison of Pirates Breakdown to hear what we could expect from Liriano. During Episode 85 of the Jays Nest Podcast, Jason didn’t really have a lot of positive things to get us excited about the 32 yr old Dominican lefty.

 

Basically, the scoop was that Liriano will be hot and cold. One night, he’ll show flashes of brilliance, the next he’ll have seemingly forgotten where the strike zone is. I bring this up because his tenure in Toronto has been exactly as advertised. Most recently, he was great against the Cleveland Indians, which came as a surprise after he was not so great in his start before that against the Houston Astros. I wanted to look into the difference(s) between the two starts to see if there was a rhyme or reason.

 

Liriano vs Astros- August 12, 2016

If you’ll recall, you probably weren’t very impressed with Liriano’s first start at Rogers Centre. That game, he went 5.2 innings, facing 27 batters. That’s almost 5 batters per inning. He gave up 8 hits and walked 2. He took the loss in what was a disappointing first outing in front of the home crowd. Let’s take a look at how he got to this result.

 

Brooks Baseball provides us with great information on pitch usage, etc. Looking at Liriano’s start on Aug 12, we can see how well he was throwing the ball. In total, he threw his sinker and slider over 31% of the time each, his change 29.45% and his 4-seamer just 7.37%. That is 7 total 4-seamers for the whole game. And, when he threw them, he was grooving them to the tune of 14% and they were just low (-0.37) of the heart of the plate. 10% of his sinkers were also being grooved to an Astros team that can hit. And, they did.

 

What was scary was the nearly 43 flyballs per ball in play off his slider. The Astros hit that slider pretty hard with an ISO of 0.556. Check out the movement from that night:

 

LirianoVMLirianoHM

 

He averaged -0.78″ of horizontal movement and 2.19″ of vertical on the pitch. Liriano did not groove the slider in (just 3.33% of them), so the fact that the Astros hit it hard might indicate that they were sitting on it. Or, it could be that there was not much horizontal movement on the pitch. Astros hitters could also eliminate the change up as it was down and out of the zone. What is also interesting is that his sinker was basically up in the middle of the zone.

 

Another point to take note of is the high .368 BABIP mark the Astros managed. They were seeing more balls finding their way for hits than one would like to see. It is easy to dismiss this as bad luck for Liriano (and good for the Astros), but it would also seem to come from the fact that his stuff was more hittable.

 

Liriano vs Indians- August 19, 2016

In his most recent start, Liriano held the Indians off the scoreboard for 6 innings. He’d given up 4 hits, a run (0 earned), walked 2 and struck out 7 in 24 total batters faced, or 4 per inning. He did not give up a single home run.  The Indians also were not as fortunate as the Astros in that they saw a .286 BABIP that night.

 

The first thing you’ll notice about his start in Cleveland is that he used his sinker WAY more. This time around, he threw it 49% of the time. He used his slider 26.6%and change 22.34%. So, fewer sliders and changes. It is also interesting to note that he also decreased the number of 4-seamers he threw to just 2.13%. When looking at how many pitches were grooved, half of his 4-seamers were, but the sinkers he grooved dropped to 4.35% as they didn’t catch so much of the heart of the zone.

 

His slider was grooved at 12%, which is way up from the previous start, which makes you think that he would be in trouble on the night. But, it was less hittable as the Indians managed just a .125 average against it with an ISO of .000. So, how did that happen?

 

LirianoVM2

LirianoHM2

 

In looking at the movement of his slider, Liriano managed to get -0.93 of horizontal movement and 2.06 of vertical. He decreased the movement on the pitch, which seems odd. If you want improvement, you want more horizontal movement on the slider. The difference is that his slider ended up way low (-1.38) out of the zone against the Indians. Against the Astros, it was catching the strike zone. It was down (-0.77), but not as effectively as his most recent start.

 

To help with that, he was catching the strike zone more with his other pitches. His change up was in the zone more often, where before the Astros could just eliminate it since it wasn’t being thrown for strikes. As well, he could keep the 4-seamer in the Tribe’s collective minds because he was using it up. It was out of the zone, but it was being used to expand the sights. Against the Astros, his 4-seamer was actually in the zone, but just slightly down of the heart of the plate.

 

Essentially, it is exactly what we thought it would be. Francisco Liriano was more effective because he used the strike zone better. His pitches got the right combination of location. And, that is what we were told. When he can find the strike zone, he’ll be effective. Some will point out that in both starts, he walked the same number (2) of batters. But, issuing walks is not the only sign of command. As you can see from the info above, in Cleveland, Liriano was in the zone much better than he was against the Astros.

 

And, that is what the Blue Jays will need from him. If the 6-man rotation experiment is going to work in the middle of a playoff race, Liriano will need to be on his game so the club does not miss a beat. We can try and look into the minute details of his mechanics, pitch movement, etc, but essentially, Liriano is going to be successful by commanding his offerings to get the most out of the strike zone. His ability to do so has been questioned in the past. From start to start, we’ve not been sure which version of the starter would take the mound. Over the next handful of weeks, the Blue Jays need the good Francisco Liriano to stand up.

 

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: kdemerly UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

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Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.