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Liriano and "high-leverage" situations

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Well, about three weeks after I called for it, Francisco Liriano is moving to the bullpen. Plenty of people like this move and yet they and others would seem to prefer Liriano be used only in a mop-up role or anything staying away from "high-leverage" situations.

First, there must be some way for the 2012 Presidential candidates to work "high-leverage" into the political overused meme/slogan world like "change" and "family values" and "job creators." We know what these terms mean, but not who is actually suited to bring about, reinvigorate, or create, and with regard to high-leverage situations, the picture isn't really clear either.

Sure, we can understand what constitutes such a situation--generally in the final three innings in very close games, especially with men on base. But do we really know who is best-suited to pitch in such situations?

Well there seems to be widespread agreement that Liriano is not cut out for them because of certain beliefs people have about his mental make-up. He "can't handle the pressure" is perhaps the most commonly-shared belief.

But, as is good practice with all commonly-shared beliefs, the important question to ask--"Is it true?"--hasn't really been asked.

We've seen the breakdown happen, often in the second inning. Liriano gives up a walk and a hit, and then a big hit and things just spiral out of control as we see his body language change and his pitches start movin' on up.

But is this a matter of not being able to handle the pressure? I think no. The alternative possibility is that when things start to crumble, Liriano looks around and says to himself "look, I messed (the expletive would actually be warranted here) this up again" and instead of anxiety taking over him, what he does is turn to "pout mode."

Again, as is common in the political world, I will offer up anecdotal evidence that perhaps means nothing and is absolutely useless:

I played with two pitchers as a kid and high schooler who Liriano makes me think of . . . not just because they were left-handed (maybe the real anecdotal truth is that pouting is more common in lefties?), but that they both: A. threw hard and B. were pouters when they started losing control or giving up hits. As soon as the pouting started, the best course of action was immediate removal. Now in the one case, the guy apparently figured it out because he went on to pitch for some years for the Fargo-Moorhead Red Hawks after a very brief stint in Rookie ball in the Padres organization. And the vast majority of his appearances were starts. The other guy was a mess as a starter, but then in summer league baseball, our coach ended up using him in relief-only situations and he performed a lot better.

Often times this pitcher came in with guys on base and proceeded to strike batters out. These were guys on base produced by another pitcher . . . there was no "I screwed this up" moment that caused the body language change and the total inability to be effective.

Maybe Liriano just really is incapable of handling pressure, but maybe this alternative explanation for his breakdown has some merit. I think people will be surprised in how well he will perform if given the chance to do so in those high-leverage situations.

Unfortunately, what is most likely to happen is that Liriano will pitch a few innings here and there in meaningless games in mop-up situations cleaning up someone else's mess after a poor start. Something totally beneath his talent level, but he will probably do pretty well and maybe in 3-4 weeks he will be re-inserted into the rotation where he will struggle again and the Twins and Liriano will be right back where they started.
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  1. J-Dog Dungan's Avatar
    I am not usually down on the Twins, but putting Liriano into the bullpen looks to be a) an attempt to get his self-confidence back up and b) hopefully increase his trade value as a lefty bullpen guy or a fringe starter if he can ever get his mental problems worked out.
  2. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    Well neither one of those things are going to happen if he does well in meaningless innings and then goes back to sucking as a starter. Left-handed setup-type relief pitching is very valuable.
  3. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    Not that this blog post was great, but really? Does no one even want to say "you're wrong, he can't handle the pressure"?

    I do think I am right, by the way. And hell, with a THIRTEEN-man bullpen, a Duensing-Burton/SLAMA-Liriano 8th (if the batters are L,R,L) seems possible.
  4. Nick Nelson's Avatar
    I don't know about the mental aspects, but I'll be keeping an eye on whether the move to the bullpen pumps some life into Liriano's fastball and especially his slider. His pitches just haven't had their normal bite even when in the zone.
  5. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    And compare that to 2006 in the bullpen! He was dominant. One would think that the goal would be to maximize the dominance from him as opposed to just being terrified every time he started a game.

    But I have to ask . . . has anyone analyzed his pitches in the first inning vs. the subsequent innings of trouble?
  6. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    Seemed like he went away from the fastball and threw more out of the zone sliders. But I also submit this outing on May 14th as further evidence for my case.
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