Francisco Liriano was very high on my starting pitcher rankings this pre-season, but his first three starts have been anything but highly rated. While I will concede that Liriano’s first start was not good on almost all accounts, his next two (including today) could have been much better if outside forces had played in his favor rather than against him.
April 4th, start number two. Liriano was working down in the zone, but didn’t get a number of strike calls that he should have, forcing him to elevate his pitches and raising his pitch count (images from BrooksBaseball.net
Today, April 13th, Liriano was charged for seven earned runs over five innings. However, Liriano generated 15 ground balls to only two fly balls and there was a group of pitches low and outside of the strike-zone (good pitches) that went for base hits. The Twins started Matt Tolbert at short and, gulp, Michael Cuddyer, who posted a -6.1 UZR at FIRST BASE last season, at second base. Liriano got plenty of ground balls, walked only one batter and struck out four in five innings.
Liriano’s fastball has increased in velocity in each start and opposing hitters have whiffed in over 30 percent of their swings. Small sample size noted, but that rate is not far off from Liriano’s entire season whiff rates for the past three seasons.
Small sample size is exactly why you might be able to steal Liriano away from opposing GM’s right now, especially after they see his line from today. In two of his first three starts he has had some factor beyond his control affect his numbers in a negative way. Liriano himself continues to miss bats and keep the ball on the ground. As the season goes along, his results should improve and improve in a big way.