August 6, 2009

It all starts with the fastball

A year ago, almost to the date, Francisco Liriano was returning from an extended stay in Triple-A Rochester where he worked on getting his arm back to where it was prior to his Tommy John surgery. Liriano finished off the season with a 3.01 ERA between 11 August/September starts in which he went 6-1 in that span.

Liriano finished his first season back from surgery with great success and was primed to take the next step in 2009. But over the winter, Liriano lost everything he worked on in '08 and has been one of the worst starters in the Majors this season. He 'tries to do too much' which is what has hurt him this season. Problem is, that's what made him so successful in the first place. He added just a little something extra than what was needed and it worked for him. He's now having a hard time finding a way of getting guys out without just merely throwing it at the catcher.

On one hand, that may be a little misleading. Liriano threw very hard back in 2006, we all know that. But he also displayed outstanding control on all of his pitches. His slider was the best in baseball and while his fastball wasn't outstanding, it played a big part in his success. The saying has always been that the fastball sets up the ______. Almost every pitch in baseball requires a good fastball to make it effective.

Liriano still has an good slider. While it's not nearly as dominating as it was back in 2006, it's still considered a plus pitch. He has also made his changeup a good pitch as well, which is probably the pitch that relies most on the fastball. The problem is, Liriano's fastball has been one of the most ineffective pitches in all of baseball this season.

Parker Hageman, one of the best writers around, did a great analysis on trying to identify Liriano's problems this season. He concludes that although many people (especially Liriano and the coaching staff) believe that he's mentally doing something different against certain batters or in certain situations, it's more than likely something physical that he's doing wrong.

I know from observations that he stands on the first base side of the pitching rubber against left-handed batters opposed to the third base side against right-handed batters. Obviously, that's fairly standard among most left-handed pitchers, but a move to the first base side of the rubber might be helpful. How? I don't know, but it wouldn't hurt to try. It has helped Kyle Lohse and many other players and it could help Liriano. But I'm sure that the Twins have already thought of this and have tried this in Spring Training.

His fastball has been so bad this season that everything should be considered. The Twins are in a position to contend and having both Liriano and Perkins pitching ineffectively will definitely hurt their chances of making the playoffs. Now Liriano's in the position of losing his rotation spot while being pushed to the bullpen. While we can all say 'it's about time' the problem then would become 'who replaces him?'