29 January 2010
If you haven't already heard, Francisco Liriano appears to be back to his old self.
After putting up a 0.80 ERA in just under 50 innings of work in the Domincan Winter League, Liriano has impressed scouts to no end. He struck out over eleven batters per nine innings, while walking a total of five. You would be hard-pressed to find a scout that doesn't believe Liriano is a prime candidate for a breakout season in 2010.
Although I don't claim to be anything close to an expert, I compiled three pitches from Liriano from throughout his short career. The first one is from July 4 of 2009, against the Detroit Tigers. The second one is a bullpen pitch from Spring Training in 2008, and the third one is from last night, in the final game of the Dominican Winter League.
(Video courtesy of espn360.com, twinsbaseball.com, and an amateur clip picked up off YouTube)
(As you can tell by the video, this is an amateur attempt in every sense of the word. I simply captured these three clips, slowed them down a little, and uploaded them via the ever-helpful Photobucket. The frame counts I reference later were counted by slowing the videos down much more, but those versions weren't uploaded. Also, this is a .wmv format. The "real" scouts combine dozens of stills into a .gif. The "analysis" that follows is very much from an untrained eye, and should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. If you have some expertise to add, please leave it in the comments or shoot me an email!)
By slowing down the most recent video further, I counted a total of 26 frames from the balance point -- right before the knee begins to fall -- to the release of the ball. This was the same in the July 4, 2009 game. According to the Baseball Think Factory, Liriano boasted an incredibly quick 22-frame delivery in 2006, when he was obviously at his best. From what I've learned, a faster delivery is better because of the increased momentum a pitcher can utilize as he releases the ball.
Other than this tempo discrepancy, most of Liriano's delivery remains the same (again, according to my very untrained eye). The number of frames from when Liriano lifts his left arm to the release of the ball has remained consistent (11 or 12 frames), his elbow leads his arm and is seen at a horizontal angle, his knees bend and his rump moves to the right ("sitting down," as some scouts call it), and his right arm has remained firm throughout the years.
Liriano lives and dies by his slider. In 2006, he was pitching quick and was throwing his slider as fast as he could, which gave him a slider 23 runs above average. After his injury that year, though, the Twins tried to slow him down and extend his delivery to better protect against injury risk. As a result of this, Liriano's slider was not as dominant as before (single-digit value), and his confidence took a free-fall.
This is baseball ethics at their finest. Should a pitching coach allow his pitcher to throw an extremely effective pitch that puts him at an injury risk (which could be relatively insignificant for Liriano after his surgery), or should he protect his pitcher, no matter the cost? In Liriano's case, not being allowed to throw the way he did in 2006 could spell an end to his career -- in Minnesota, at least.
Liriano has one of the highest potentials of any pitcher currently on the 40-man roster. Having his future decided by whether or not pitching coach Rick Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire allow him to throw hard is disconcerting, to say the least.
But watching him throw his slider without holding back during the Dominican Winter League was extremely enjoyable. If he doesn't succeed with the Twins, I wish him the best of luck with another organization.
What do you think? Will the Twins allow Liriano to throw the way he did in 2006, or will they slow him down again in 2010? What is your statistical projection for Liriano in 2010? Be sure to let us know in the comment section!
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