Watching Francisco Liriano pitch, when you're not quite sure what to expect, is kind of like watching a scary movie. You keep telling the person to not run up the stairs, or to not run into a room without a second exit, and if they don't then you breath a big sigh of relief. But if they do, exasperation puts your head in your hands. "No, Liriano, you DO NOT let the offense chase you up the stairs!"
It's early, and one start is nothing to read anything into. But we can still look at what he did to see if there is anything we should be looking for him to avoid this afternoon. We'll do that after the jump.
Command: Liriano's Friend and Foe
Against left-handed hitters, of which there were three (Nick Markakis, Nick Johnson and the switch-hitting Matt Wieters), his command was pretty good. He threw 17 pitches between these three over just six plate appearances, and 8 of his 10 fastballs were down in the zone. The two fastballs that were left up he got away with, both strikes: a take and a chase. Like most pitchers, Liriano avoided using his changeup against same-side batters.
Instead, his other 7 pitches were sliders. All of them were either on the outer third or off the plate away, which is exactly where he wanted them. The one slider that fell in for a hit was in a great location. It happens. It was the only hit he allowed to a left-handed batter.
Unfortunately he didn't fare quite so well against right-handed hitters. Adam Jones connected on a solo home run on a pretty good fastball at his knees, but in general Liriano left a lot of pitches in very hittable areas. He got lucky with his fastball actually, as in spite of 21 of them being in the horizontal middle of the zone and higher only one of those turned into a hit. It was his slider that got him into trouble.
To right-handed hitters Liriano threw 14 sliders, and 11 of them went for strikes. That's a pretty high percentage, even taking into account chase swings. The Orioles connected on four hits off sliders, and that spells trouble for a guy like Liriano who lives and dies on being able to use that offering as his out pitch. Even more telling: Liriano started righties off with a slider on three occasions, and two of them were taken for balls. In other words, only once in the middle of an at-bat did a Baltimore hitter take a slider for a ball. It must have been looking awfully tempting.
Inside Edge grades pitchers on their performances based on league average marks. Liriano, it turns out, did some things very well. He took home top grades (A+) in eight areas, including % of counts that go from 0-1 to 0-2 and 1-1 to 1-2. Well-hit average on off-speed pitches was .000; in fact all three "well-hit" grades were an A+. Liriano also did well in avoiding three-ball counts and in percentage of plate appearances that were over in four pitches or less.
Most of the time those are good signs. But then we see where he struggled. Working ahead at the start of the count was a big weakness. Liriano didn't get enough chase swings on off-speed pitches. He allowed the first base runner of the inning to reach which meant he was unable to get into many 1-2-3 inning situations. When hitters did get ahead, Liriano couldn't turn those situations into outs.
We've known for years that Francisco Liriano lives and dies on command and location. If he can't locate his fastball it means his slider isn't as effective, and if he can't locate the slider then both it and his changeup are sitting ducks. He did some things pretty well in his first start. If he can have better command this afternoon against the Angels' right-handed hitters, we could see him shine.