Liriano pitched wonderfully again.In his dominant Seattle start the Pitch F/X data suggested he was throwing the ball with wicked movement (as against pedestrian movement during the dark days of April/Early May). His success yesterday appears to have relied at least as much on location: he simply avoided throwing meatballs. His Pitch F/X movement data suggests he had did have pretty good moving stuff, although he did not have "Mariners-start-type" movement (as a certain "analyst" would put it), but his velocity numbers were actually down across the board relative to earlier this year.
His change-up velocity was 82 MPH (versus 84.8 during April/early May) yesterday. While his fastball was also one MPH slower relative to his early season offering, the added velocity separation of almost 2 MPH is fantastic and mirrors exactly one aspect of his dominance in Seattle. This was surely a significant factor in yesterday's success.
Once again, Pitch F/X suggests Bert is just talking to hear himself when he says Liriano is only throwing the four seam fastball, although it says he did use the four seamer 32 times against 15 two-seam fastballs yesterday. Pitch F/X doesn't know what a guy is actually throwing - just how the pitch acts - but it saw one set of fastballs moving back hard to the pitching hand side and sinking (although not sinking as awesomely as versus Seattle), exactly like a two-seam fastball normally does, and another with a lot less sink, more like a four seam fastball. (Well, mostly: yesterday's "four seam" fastball" had more vertical run-back than the usual four-seam fastball, so some may have been flat two-seamers.)
As stated above, though, the main thing was location. Here are the average pitch paths of Liriano's pitches viewed from overhead from his second April start of the season through mid-May:
Note that everything has the plate and the primary fastball for that time period (FF, red squares, 223 pitches v. 60 for the yellow triangle two-seamer) is right down the heart. Everything has a good chunk of the plate.
As you can see, the slider is breaking off the plate to an unhittable location, the four seam fastball is no longer center-cut, the changeup is right on the corner (versus outer half) and the two-seamer was running back (sharply - look at that bend) off the edge to an unhittable place. Images of RH bats reaching and waving spring to mind.
Looking at his Pitch F/X movement graphs, note that the changeup, two-seamer and slider all had better downward movement yesterday than they did during the dark days:
Compare the rough "center" of each color's cluster from April-May (above) to yesterday (below). They are distinctly lower (i.e. more "sinky") and, in the case of the non-sliders, more to the right (i.e. more running back - these are umpire's perspective, remember):
So Liriano's slider, two-seam fastball and especially the change-up had distinctly more sinking action (i.e. the center of the color clusters were lower) against the Rangers than they did when he was getting poor results earlier in the season. Indeed, he had several change-ups yesterday with more overall dropping action than any one change-up he threw from April 7th through Mid-May.
Visually his average slider looks to have dropped an extra two inches or so. The aggregated Pitch F/X numbers say it "only" had an extra inch of drop (2.36 no-gravity "rise" yesterday vs. 3.37 April/May), but the "with gravity" impact was likely greater due to the fact that he actually threw the slider a couple MPH softer (85 vs. 86.7) yesterday.
So there you go: don't throw the ball down the middle, get decent sinking action and succeed. It of course helps tremendously that he didn't issue free passes, but that's the province of DIPs theory (and common sense), not Pitch F/X, and to take a simplistic "just throw strikes" approach belies the fact that his average pitch yesterday was actually much less of a strike than it was when he avowedly doing things The Twins Way and pitching poorly.
BTW, the side-by-side Pitch F/X visualizations do NOT suggest that Liriano was any better at "keeping the ball down" than he was earlier in the year. Not even a little. The average pitch per type crossed the plate at the same height. Sorry, Bert. He probably did a good job "staying on top of the ball" or... something... (It was fun when Bert was babbling on and on about how Baker had done such a great job keeping the ball down on Saturday and they immediately showed him getting a swinging strikeout on a high fastball, causing Bert to say "And of course you can climb the ladder once you've established the ball down." Nothing like being able to seamlessly incorporate new information into your well-informed and ever-so-insightful analysis.)