Kremlinology, DicknBert, Liriano and his Pitch F/X v. Arizona

This Liriano thing just gets more interesting and more weird. During a lull last night in the parade of punk rock and or roll records I generally have working while watching Twins games on the good ol' Roku, I heard something that recalled the questionably funny Arsenio Hall Show segment: "Things That Make You Say 'Hmmm'".

During the 1st inning, the organization's primary propaganda mouthpieces DicknBert engaged in what at first appeared to be some unmitigated walking back of the narrative they'd been spewing for most of April and early May: Liriano had succeeded against Seattle, they said, because he was now pitching "his way", not the "Twins way". They actually said "The Twins Way" while admitting it hadn't worked. I was stunned. The Twins organization FALLIBLE!?!? Unpossible!

As my post discussing his Pitch F/X numbers vs. Seattle on the 17th stated, it was abundantly clear to me that Liriano had thrown differently against Seattle than he'd been throwing since the first start of the season, when he had lively stuff with a ton of sink but wasn't given borderline calls, walked 5 and was scorned "in puhlic, if you wheeel" by every live body the Twins could set to the task. On the 17th Pitch F/X said his primary fastball was a two-seamer with fantastic sink, his slider had crazy left to right and downward movement, and his change was dropping off the table. The results were certainly sexy.

So now he was to be left to his own devices? Huzzah! Or Yay. Or something like that.

Then Bert (I think) proceeded to extrapolate, saying something like "Yeah, Liriano, he's gonna go with that four seamer, not worry about having to throw two different fastballs." Wha-wha-wha-WHAT!? Last year when he was, y'know, kinda good and stuff, he threw one fastball 42.7% of the time and the other 6.6% of the time. The problem is, Pitch F/X called 2010's (overwhelmingly) primary fastball a TWO seamer, just like it did in start 1 this year, just like it did against Seattle on the 17th.

As I alluded to in my previous fanpost, there are problems with going with the Pitch F/X software's identification of a pitch, especially historically pre-2010 between two and four seam fastballs. My analysis consequently just decided to say "What is the movement like on the fastball he's throwing most of the time, regardless of what Pitch F/X calls that pitch?" But the thing is, the reason the software calls his supposed two-seamer a "two-seamer" is because it moves like one: tons of run-back, good effective sink (i.e. less rise v. a backspin-less pitch). That's just not how a four-seam fastball usually behaves. So it's reasonable to suppose that it at least might be, in fact, a two-seam fastball, right?

Back to DicknBert. They had made a huge deal back in the "Twins Way Is The Right Way" chapter of Liriano's 2011 campaign about him dropping the two seam fastball.  Again: when he was playing the unsuccessful but Good Soldier, the organization's mouthpieces were (1) lauding him for not moving on the rubber (since scrapped, pitch f/x appears to show he was moving again vs. Arizona as he had when dominating the Mariners) and (2) they were pimping that he was throwing only the easier to control four seam fastball. Wait, what? So he was now pitching "his way", but part of "his way" suddenly included the Randerson/Gardenhire directive to scrap the two-seamer, despite the evidence that the two-seamer is what he had used when dominating Seattle and all last season?

Needless to say, I wondered if this was just face-saving talk for Bert and the Twins. Maybe the pitch f/x data would show that Liriano was still throwing the two-seam fastball he used last week. That must be it!

The data is in, and it's perplexing and intriguing. According to Pitch F/X, he indeed threw 49 four-seamers and only 9 two-seamers against the Diamondbacks. We know he didn't dominate, although he pitched pretty well and generated a good number of swings-and-misses. (BTW, he got zero B.S. strike calls and had 3-4 strikes called balls, per Pitch F/X.) Did he actually change what he was throwing, and what did whatever he throw look like according to Pitch F/X?

Velocity numbers were steady with the Seattle game with the exception of his change being exceptionally slow (which is obviously great if he maintains deception).

Taking a look at the movement numbers, there's a pretty short story to tell, pregnant with possible implications. His primary fastball vs. Arizona ("four-seamer" per both pitch f/x and DickNBert) had ordinary Vertical-Move (i.e. no effective rise or sink) for a four-seam fastball but a lot of horizontal movement. Indeed, it ran-back more than his (overwhelmingly primary) two-seam fastball did in some 2010 starts, and a lot more than MLB four-seamers generally do. Weird. Kind of a hybrid, but this isn't a good thing: think about a two-seam running fastball with zero effective sink. That's what last night's fastball looked like, and that's what his primary fastball looked like in April.

His change-up, too, had a bunch of run on it, but it went from falling off the table to sitting flat, sinking less than last year and a whole lot less than the great pitch he had working against Seattle. It wasn't as craptacularly flat as it was through most of April, but still: not good movement wise. The velocity change/improved separation could easily make up for this if he disguises the pitch, though.

Liriano's slider had pretty decent left-to-right break, although nothing like it had v. Seattle (especially once three "sliders" that were probably fastballs were removed from the Seattle samples, as discussed). It's downward movement was right back in line with the mediocrity it's had for most of 2011. The insanely nasty pitch he had in Seattle was gone, but the improved (vs. this dark days of this season) boring action on right-handers should generate weak contact and sawed off bats, if not as many swing-over whiffs.

So what to make of all this? The Pitch F/X data pretty much says "he pitched more like he was pitching earlier this year than like he did against Seattle or last year, albeit with a little more left-to-right action on his slider and a little more velocity separation on his change than he's had in 2011." So did he just "have great stuff" against Seattle and go back to his "average stuff" against Arizona? Maybe. (Seriously: maybe.) Three other possibilities occur.

First: Pitch F/X calibrations may vary from ballpark to ballpark. Perhaps in Seattle he was throwing the four-seamer and "the same" sort of change and slider and the cameras and software were just determining that everything had downward movement it didn't really have, and reading all the horizontal movement as shifted slightly to the right. That would explain why his primary "two-seam" fastball and change-up didn't have quite the run-back against the Mariners they often do (although the difference was not huge).

The problem is, I looked at Felix Hernandez's pitch f/x data. He's right-handed, so if the cameras and software in Safeco are biased to read more movement as more rightward/less leftward than it really is, his primary two-seamer should show awesome run and his breaking stuff should break right to left less than expected. And all his stuff should evidence the same vertical drop Liriano had.

Hernandez's slider indeed had less right-to-left movement than it's had in most (but not all) starts over the past year, but it was also very flat, having a lot less sink than it does when "normally nasty". Similarly, his curve had less sink than it's had, while breaking left only a shade less than average (and within a normal range). His two-seamer/sinker had pretty good sink, although within his normal range. Its run-back was ordinary for him and for a two-seam fastball in general.

In sum, maybe the Safeco Pitch F/X cameras "gave" Liriano's slider an extra inch of left-to-right break, but he had a ton of sink whereas Hernandez had his second flatest slider of the year, so I don't think Safeco's Pitch F/X cameras/software (systematically or "for one night only") are faulty. The only possible savior for this hypothesis is that the cameras/software were somehow working differently for right and left handed pitchers. Glen Perkins had insane sink on his two sliders and very good sink on his two-seamer (SSS!), so I suppose this is possible, but so did right-hander Brandon League, so I wouldn't bet on it.

(BTW, Hudson's Pitch F/X numbers are the picture of game-to-game steadiness, so Arizona's data would seem sound, as well.)

Second possibility: Liriano changed what he threw, deliberately as directed. This is the "Kreminology" hypothesis, and it would hold that DicknBert talking about how Liriano was going to be throwing exclusively the four-seamer meant something. They weren't speculating idly. Lip-service to Liriano pitching "his way" aside, the Twins had told him to scrap the two-seamer he threw so effectively against Seattle and they meant it. He did and his primary fastball lost five inches (i.e. tons) of effective sink. Throwing the four-seamer (or perhaps "backing off" to try to throw deeper into the ballgame) somehow "spilled over" mechanically and affected the slider and change-up, which flattened out.

Third: There is an armslot or other "big" delivery mechanics issue at play. Against Seattle, he did something differently mechanically (armslot, stride length, whatever) that put a lot less pure backspin on everything, and his pitches accordingly dropped off the table. DickNBert may be correct and he may have been throwing the four seam fastball v. Seattle, too (but with a result that looked exactly like a two-seam sinking fastball "should" look), but whatever he's "supposed" to be throwing he needs to figure out how to throw it with the action he had last week.

I'm very curious whether anybody noticed anything different in his delivery. I'm curious whether the fastball he was throwing that had 8+ inches of run-back was somehow a four seam fastball. I'd like to think DicknBert were just babbling - recall when Bert declared Liriano had just started to move around on the rubber months after he'd started to last season - and that the Twins wouldn't try to change what Liriano did in Seattle. Can he succeed with just the improved horizontal movement on his slider (which, by the way, was the only standout feature of his no-hitter) and change-up separation?

To conclude with a little visual aid, here's his break chart versus Seattle followed by versus Arizona, with gravity. Notice how much more sink his pitches had in Seattle.



And vs. Arizona



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