Tonight Francisco Liriano will make his 4th start of the season. His first three this year have been filled with concerns. Slightly decreased velocity, an atypical loss of control and a depressed strikeout rate – among other things – have Twins fans justifiably worried. Outside of Twins Territory, these factors have plenty of fans and writers racing to form a multitude of flimsy conclusions and use those conclusions to write the Minnesota Twins off this season.
Speculation is running rampant. Is he hurt? Was 2010 an aberration instead of a sign the he was getting closer to the dominant starter he was in 2006 before Tommy John surgery? Are his struggles a byproduct of the Twins desire that he “pitch to contact” more?
Obviously I’d rather have Liriano be 3-0 with a sub-one ERA and a mountain of strikeouts, but it seems to me that everyone is overreacting. Maybe his poor start is simply a result of starting the season a bit behind everyone else, just as he started spring training a bit behind all of his peers. We at least have to acknowledge that his time is Fort Myers in February and March was far from typical, don’t we?
There could be some underlying cause to his struggles, or it could be just be a bad stretch that 99.99% of all pitchers go through each and every season. Further, I’ve been wondering if people would be as concerned – and as quick to jump to conclusions – if this 3 start stretch happened in June instead of April? Three rough starts … is that all it is and perhaps more importantly, has he had stretches similar to or worse than this in his career?
I’ve already asked a lot of questions in just a few paragraphs. With all the questions surrounding Liriano, it seems prudent to at least answer one. Fortunately we can answer that my question by going through the game logs of all 89 starts from 2005-2010 to see where his 3 starts in 2011 compare to other 3 start rough patches in his past.
Chronologically, this is what I found:
September 14th, 20th and 25th
This stretch really isn’t all that bad for a lot of pitchers. Given the fact that it was his rookie season, I hesitate to even put these 14.2 innings worth of work on this list, but it was his worse 3-game stretch in this season so it’s here for posterity if nothing else.
In 2006 Liriano was truly special. He never had 2 poor starts back-to-back, let alone 3.
From May 19th, when he made his 1st start of the season, through July 28th, only 2 of 14 of his outings resulted in a game score (GSc) of less than 61. Those 2 starts were on June 6th (47 GSc) against the Mariners and July 13th (42 GSc) against the Indians. His June 6th start was sandwiched between a 6.0 inning, 1-hit shutout (GSc 70) and a 7.0 inning, 1-hit shutout (GSc 79). For the record, his June 6th outing still qualified as a quality start so it really wasn’t that bad, it just proved he was human.
Liriano’s second poor outing on July 13th followed on the heels of 2 starts that totaled 15.0 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 4 BB and 20 SO (GSc of 87 and 74). Then after his “clunker” he threw his 2nd best game of the season going 8.2 innings with 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB and 7 SO.
His worst start actually came on August 7th when he lasted just 4.0 IP and gave up 10 H and 4 ER (GSc 31) but by then he was dealing with elbow soreness. It was the last time he’d start until September 13th when he threw 2.0 innings of shutout baseball. Those 2 innings were his last until 2008. He went under the knife and had Tommy John surgery in early November.
The bottom line is that when it comes to 2006 I can’t even put together a table of his worst stretch. Forget 3 straight bad starts, in 2006 Liriano had just 3 total and he was less than 100% and already on the path to surgery for that third one. It’s so easy to forget how insanely dominant he was that summer.
His 2007 season was, of course, lost to recovery and rehab so we can move on.
April 13th, 18th and 24th
These three games you’d expect to be on this list as they were the first 3 regular season games he pitched in after missing an entire season. After this stretch, he was sent down to Triple-A and wouldn’t resurface until the beginning of August. When he returned he allowed only 5 runs in 36.2 innings spanning 6 starts.
September 16th, 21st and 26th
These were his last three starts of his first season back, and it’s safe to assume fatigue played some part in his performance. As you can see, his 2nd start in this grouping was very good, despite some spotty control.
April 11th, 16th and 22nd
May 20th, 25th and 30th
There’s not a lot to say about these. We’ll get back to this second group of 3 at the end.
May 8th, 15th and 20th
June 28th, July 3rd and 9th
While 2010 was a far cry from his 2006, the above shows how good Francisco Liriano was last season. Keep in mind, these two tables represent his worst stretches of starts and both contain a quality start in the middle.
From the above data, we know that prior to this season, Francisco Liriano’s 2nd worst 3-game stretch came back in 2008. Those were his first 3 starts back from Tommy John surgery so despite the combined 95 GSc, I think it is fair to give him a bit of a pass on those.
If you don’t feel like giving him a pass, that okay because they don’t represent his worst 3-game stretch anyway. That dubious distinction goes to the 3 starts he made back in May 2009 (20th, 25th and 30th) which resulted in a combined game score of 77.
Now that we have some background to compare things to, we are ready to check out the numbers behind Liriano’s first 3 starts this season.
April 2nd, 7th and 13th
A combined 108 GSc puts his 2011 stretch as the 3rd worst of his career, but it’s not far off from a couple of others. Including his 2nd, 3rd and 4th starts of 2009 (115 GSc) and the 111 GSc he compiled in three September starts back in 2008.
What we now know for certain is that he’s had stretches even worse than what we’ve seen so far in 2011. There have been times when his control has been less reliable. There have been times when he’s had more trouble striking opposing hitters out. There have been times when his velocity was a down a little bit, and contrary to what others would have you believe, that has point has been vastly overstated this year as it is.
Here’s the reality, nothing about his 3 game stretch this year stands out as unique from any of the others, except for the fact that the three starts we are talking about in 2011 are his first three. There is nothing to be especially alarmed at in all of those. Consider that there are 8 “groups” of starts in the above and of those 8, three of them took place in April and another two took place in May.
That’s a pretty clear indication, at least to me, that Francisco Liriano takes a while to get going some seasons. Given that there are concerns about his offseason conditioning habits, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise. All of this gives me even more reason to believe that Liriano’s beginning to the 2011 season is not indicative of how the rest of the season will go for himself or for the Minnesota Twins.