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Liriano is out of whack mechanically

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Following a spring in which he struck out 33 and walked just five opponents, for three straight starts Francisco Liriano has failed to demonstrate much command over the strike zone.

After posting a 49.2% first-pitch strike rate in 2011, the worst mark in baseball, the Twins left-handers has come out of the gate attempting to best that by throwing a first-pitch strike just 42.9% of the time. Meanwhile, as the rest of the league has peppered the strike zone with bullets 49% of the time overall, Liriano has been hitting the zone in just 41% of his pitches. This has resulted in nine walks in 11.1 innings pitch or, to look at it another way, he’s walked 14.2% of all the batters he has faced.

And it is not as if he is just missing by a hair either. Watching him work, Liriano frequently misses his catcher’s target by a country mile. Last night Twins catcher Ryan Doumit would ask for a pitch slightly off Broadway only to receive a fastball that was launched into Hoboken.

After the game, Liriano told reports that “Nothing is bothering me. I’m 100 percent healthy. I’m just missing my spots and pitching behind the count and you get hurt, especially with hitters like that.”

In his blog last night, Lavelle Neal suggested that part of the reason he is having problems is that Liriano “lacks confidence” right now. While lack of confidence may be a byproduct of pitching poorly, Liriano is clearly struggling mechanically.

Take a look at some images from Liriano’s very good 2010 season – one in which he worked ahead of hitters (62% first-pitch strike) and walked few (7.2% walk rate). Below we see Liriano in a July 16, 2010 start against the White Sox. Look at his front leg at the point of release. Notice that his weight is complete above his front leg which is driving towards the plate:
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Here is another example of that from a start on June 11 of that year. Once again, his lower half is well stabilized and he is driving towards the plate at his release point:
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This year, however, rather than maintaining good balance over his front leg, he has been driving his weight off of the driveline and towards the third base side of the field.

The image below is from his April 12, 2012 start against the Angels. Notice now that instead of being directly over that front leg, his weight – particularly his front hip – is pulling towards his glove side at his release point:

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Here is another example:
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In his first start of the year in Baltimore, we see the same thing: when he plants, his weight is already shirting towards his glove side:
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What this does is rather than generate his momentum towards home plate he is carrying off of the driveline and thus losing the ability to command his pitches. It is part of the reason why his fastball so often jumps up and away into the left-handed batter’s box.

Because the center field cameras at Yankee Stadium are so off-kilter, it is nearly impossible to grab a shot that you can see where his balance point is driving towards but I would surmise that his “flying open” likely played a significant role in last night’s start as well.

Also, it is hard to distinguish is Liriano exhibiting this fall off during the spring. The one game that was capture on camera was at the Yankees’ spring training complex which also has the same off-set camera angle from center field and provides little context and depth.
Either way, I would suspect (hope) that this is something the Twins and Rick Anderson are diligently trying to get him to correct and reminding him before, during and after each start. Part of this could just be that Liriano, in efforts to make perfect pitches in his free agent season, is getting too amped up and overthrowing. A pitching coach can only remind a pitcher so many times to make adjustments before the pitcher must simply relax and listen.
With three poor starts under his belt and the team running low on starting options, Liriano needs to return to his 2010 form quickly.


  1. SpinnesotaGirl's Avatar
    Nice article! As you mentioned, I sure hope the Twins' staff are taking a look at his mechanics. We need him firing on all cylinders!
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