FanPost

Bad Teams or Good Liriano?

Liriano's on what sort of looks like a roll, people are calling for him to be traded while he looks good, extended on the cheap, etc.

I wanted to follow up on my post here, in which I compared and contrasted his first start back in the rotation with his earlier 2012 performance, as well as with his excellent 2010 and not-excellent 2011 stuff. To summarize, his first start back featured much improved downward movement of his two-seam fastball and change-up, albeit not to the point of vintage 2010. However, my conclusion stated: "it may not be easy to imagine Liriano dominating without regaining his velocity," precisely because his May 30 velocity didn't look much different, velocity-wise, than it had for the rest of his awful 2012 - nothing like 2010 - which was disappointing and left the door open for "it was the A's lineup, not his stuff" analysis.

Today, I used Pitch F/X to look at his performance since his return to the rotation May 30th, hoping to see that there was a continued real difference in his stuff since then, which would indicate the bottom-line improvement is representative of real-world improvement in his present true-talent/skill improvement.

I wasn't remotely disappointed. The difference is dramatic and easy to see.

("Before" = 2012 prior to 5.30, "After" = 2012 from 5.30 onward, inclusive)

PITCH SELECTION

Remember how one of Bert/The Org.'s big talking points in the early part of the season was that he needed to use his fastball more and stop relying on his slider? Remember how he needed to rely on only one fastball?

Before, 2-seam fastball: 51.8%.

After, 2-seam fastball: 38%.

Before, 4-seam fastball: 4.4%

After, 4 seamfaball: 12.4%

Before, Slider: 28.7%

After, Slider: 37.3%

Bottom line: Liriano has thrown the slider more and started using a 4 seam fastball since his successful return to the rotation.

VELOCITY

Pretty easy stuff to understand here.

Before, 2-seamer: 92.3

After, 2-seamer: 92.6

Before (when he threw it), 4-seamer: 92.0

After, 4-seamer): 93.7 (yow!)

Before, Slider: 84.1

After, Slider: 85.6 (double yow!)

But wait? Didn't I just say that his first start back (May 30) didn't involve anything sexy re: the velo?

Yes, yes I did. But the averages came up, and I bet you know what that means.

Correct! In his last FOUR starts (i.e. after May 30) his 2-seamer has averaged 92.7, his 4-seamer 93.8, and his Slider 86.0.

Hot stuff, indeed. His slider's actually being thrown harder over than last four starts than it was in 2010!

After the jump, PICTURES!

LOCATION

Now then, some fun pictures. First, location. You know what's good? Not throwing 2-seam fastballs down the middle. Let's look at the average location of his pitches vis-a-vis the horizontal strike zone, shall we?

(In order to pick up the differences, it may work best for you to open new tabs in your browser with right clicks and "view image" selected for each of these so you can quickly toggle back and forth while having the images on the exact same visual plane. Sorry, I didn't know how to line them up horizontally.)

4345382012032520120528aaaaavirtualization-top_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

OK, so his fastballs were, on average, center-cut.

And now, since the move back to the rotation?

4345382012053020120621aaaaavirtualization-top_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Slider's the same, but both the change-up and two-seam fastball are significantly further off the middle of the plate. He's now using his two-seamer's natural arm-side movement to his advantage, placing it away (and moving away) from right-handers and in (and moving in) on left handers.

Here's the part where Bert makes a mess on himself. Liriano has been burying his slider and change-up down.

Before:

4345382012032520120528aaaaavirtualization-side_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

If I knew how to side-by-side these I would, but here's the "after":

4345382012053020120621aaaaavirtualization-side_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Everything's lower, including, by a tick, the two-seamer.

It's kinda cheating to look at the red line, since he only threw 4 pitches charted as four-seam fastballs in the "before", but all the pitches have a lower finishing location (yes, taking into acount that the lines go a little further to the left on the "after" graph) than they did pre-May 30. Bert wins! Of course, we're talking about two-seam fastballs, sliders and change-ups, so "down" is obviously a good thing, since that's where their action takes them.

MOVEMENT

The "Before":

4345382012032520120528aaaaagravity_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

The "After":

4345382012053020120621aaaaagravity_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

A mixed bag. If you toggle back and forth and have the images lineup, you definitely notice that the fastball/changeup blob as a whole shifts down and back towards the middle. These pitches have more sink (good!) and a bit less run (but remember that their placement has been much, much better, moving away from center cut).

The slider is cutting across the plate a bit more and sinking a bit less. These visual notes are backed up by small changes in the average movement numbers (but I kind of prefer the visual as it's easier to filter out outliers).

Given that he's throwing HARDER (and the ball is thus in the air a shorter period of time before it reaches the plate), we should expect fractionally less downward spin-plus-gravity movement, all other things being equal. However, the visual shows otherwise for everything but the slider! He has significantly MORE effective downward movement with his two-seamer and changeup (thanks to 1.4 inches and .5 inches more of spin-not-gravity movement, respectively), and that's fantastic.

Again, the one thing that seemingly hasn't improved: his slider isn't biting down like it was (.6 inches less spin movement), but throwing it 86 instead of 84 and getting a shade more "slide" probably makes that a-ok. That less-but-still dense vertical "line" of green diamonds way to the left of the center line in the "after" graph is a good, good thing.

Moreover, there were 3 extreme outliers in the "before" portion dragging (literally) down the aggregate vertical spin number for his early-season slider (i.e. making the average "better" disproportionately to the impact of three measly pitches). Let's take a look at the "pure spin" movement of his (green) slider in the "before May 30" period and then in just the last four (not including May 30) elevated velocity games:

4345382012032520120528aaaaamovement_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Last FOUR games:

4345382012060120120621aaaaamovement_medium

via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

While the last four starts haven't had the (sexy) spill-over into the true downward spin-zone like the "before May 30" period, the vertical "center of gravity" for the green blob is at about the same point. Indeed, it's much more concentrated, without the secondary density in the upper-right of the green area (i.e. BAD SLIDERS that didn't spin down or across enough) found in the "before" section.

Basically: his slider has had more consistent movement, with fewer mistake pitches the didn't spin enough. And again: he's thrown it as hard as he ever has, post-surgery.

CONCLUSION

The Pitch F/X data makes it clear: he's a different pitcher than he was in April/May. He's throwing significantly harder, he's locating better, he's getting better sink on all his arm-side stuff (and slightly better left-to-right on his slider).

I dunno. Maybe I lock him up NOW (not in a month, when he'll have so much less incentive to sign on the back of a two month run of success) if I can get a bunch of years for a nice price. IOW, he gets a good chunk of money guaranteed, but my per year budget-crippling is minimized and if he's good for that whole time I get the bargain of the century. $36M/6 or something like that. The thing is, I'm not sure there's much point to signing him for a 2 or 3 year deal, since the team is unlikely to seriously compete until 2015.

The window for something like that is closing fast, however. But a month ago, he would've been very lucky to get, what - 1/4 - at the end of the disaster his season was shaping up to be, upside and all. Maybe he'd like to get set up very comfortably for life on the strength of what is, in the end, five non-world-shattering starts.

Really, though, I've been on board for a full rebuild since Baker went down, and if Liriano pitches well another 3 starts or so and I'm being offered a couple B (per Sickels) prospects (and, obviously, he hasn't been locked up cheaply by then), I'm not sure it'd be in any way prudent to say "no".

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