Wednesday, September 21, 2005
CASE STUDY IN THE MEANINGLESS "WIN" STAT
Analysis of a Phenom
Lefty, Minnesota Twins
In the past, I have done analysis on starts of Brad Radke and Johan Santana. I even charted pitches for JD Durbin's first start last year. Those all went over well, but when I analyzed the start of the best pitching prospect in baseball, Seattle's Felix Hernandez, last month, this site received more than four times more hits than normal. I think it is interesting to learn more about a pitcher. How hard he throws? What his 'out' pitch is? When he uses his different pitches? And more.
Last night, the the Twins unveiled their left-handed version of Hernandez on the Oakland A's. It was Francisco Liriano's second big league start. There are many similarities (and a few differences) between the two young pitchers.
Name Felix Hernandez
Age 19 21 Height/Weight 6-3, 225 6-2, 185 From Venezuela Dominican Republic Fastball 96-98 mph 95-98 mph Slider 89-91 mph 87-89 mph Curveball 72-76 mph N/A Changeup 82-84 mph 76-83 mph Control 61 IP - 16 BB, 59 K 10.2 IP - 4 BB, 17 K WHIP, ERA 1.02, 2.95 1.22, 7.59
Francisco Liriano has been nothing short of dominant thus far in his brief big league career. Yes, the first batter he faced, Gary Matthews, hit a LONG home run against him. In his first start last week, Liriano got a no decision despite allowing just two runs in five innings. The two runs came on a Curtis Granderson wind-aided home run. An 11:1 strikeout to walk ratio in his first seven big league innings. He can be dominant despite lacking on control of his fastball so far. He is able to still be great with his changeup and sliders which are also both above league-average pitches.
Felix Hernandez gets all the glory, and for good reason. His future is absolutely incredible. He 19 years old and has four above average big league pitches. He is dominating without even throwing many of his sliders. There has not been a young pitching prospect like him for a couple of decades. But Francisco Liriano is almost as good, and just two years older. If anyone is compared favorably to Johan Santana, he is worthy of such high praise. Sure, he will have his rough starts, but so did Johan. The Twins are out of contention, but between Liriano and Scott Baker, they are giving the Twins and their fans a glimpse at the future. With a couple of bats, these guys give the team a hope of competing in 2006 again.
So, I thought it would be fun to learn a little more about the pitcher. I hope that you enjoy this analysis. I have to point out that Fox Sports North did not post the velocities on their screen until the last few pitches of the 3rd inning which was very disappointing to me!
I wrote this yesterday in regard to what might happen with Liriano tonight.
Francisco Liriano will be making his second start tonight... It will be in Oakland against the A's, and I think that it could be a major challenge for the lefty. Why? Well, it isn't that the A's are a strong hitting ball club. Really, a number of their better hitters are left handed (Eric Chavez, Dan Johnson, Nick Swisher), which could help Liriano. My concern is the A's approach to hitting. Everyone knows that they like taking a lot of pitches and making the pitcher really work hard. So far, Liriano has been excellent, but one concern has been the control of his fastball. So far, he has been much more consistent with his slider and even his changeup. The A's are going to make him throw strikes. I can see Liriano doing alright, but it will truly be completely dependent on his ability to control the strike zone. Can he do it? I think so. But he will have to adjust to the major league strike zone, and hitters that will not help him at all by going outside the zone. It will certainly be fun to watch.
I wrote this not to minimize his great expectations as much as an honest look at what could happen. He does need to throw strikes, especially with his fastball. If he can do that, he should be able to dominate the A's hitters. However, if he is unable to get ahead with the fastball and use it effectively, his other pitches will have to be that much better. His second and third pitches are great, but everything feeds off the fastball, and the A's offense will make him throw strikes. To me, that will be the key to a successful outing.
Obviously, I have written a lot about Francisco Liriano on this site in the last year or so. I want to find out what exactly Francisco Liriano does. What makes him so special? I have seen his minor league numbers, and I have seen him in his two one-inning relief appearances. His first big league start, last Wednesday, was not televised, so I couldn't see that. I want to know more about Francisco Liriano. I want to see more of what he is made of. It can sometimes be easy to look dominant in a single inning. I want to see how he adjusts throughout the game. I want to see if he pitches differently in the second or third time through the lineup. I want to see what pitches he throws in different situations. I want to see how he and Joe Mauer work together. Hopefully that battery will be together for years and years to come! So far, he seems to have great poise to go along with his great stuff, but again, I don't think he has really been in a tough situation in the big leagues yet. We can read a lot through statistics, but there is a lot that can be learned from observing. I am looking forward to observing!
So, let's get to the observations!
Well, that certainly didn't go as well as I or any Twins fans would have wanted. However, to call it surprising would not be right either. As I mentioned in my pregame thoughts, we knew that the A's would make Liriano work, and throw a lot of pitches. They are difficult to strike out. They take a lot of borderline pitches. It certainly didn't surprise me that Liriano threw a lot of pitches in his 3.2 innings. The big thing that hurt Liriano was the walks. All three walks came with nobody out, and all three came around to score. In the fourth, he walked the first two before Hiram Bocachica had an infield single to load the bases. Liriano showed a lot of guts, striking out the next two batters. He got ahead of Mark Ellis, one of the league's hottest hitters right now, 1-2, and he threw a very nice changeup on the outside corner. Unfortunately, Ellis just poked at the ball and singled over the head of Luis Rodriguez to drive in two runs. That ended Liriano's night. Matt Guerrier came in and let the other two runs score. Five of the six runs credited against Liriano came with two outs, and in each case, two strikes. It had to be a frustrating start for Liriano, but I do think that a lot of positives could be taken from his performance.
Anyway, what I did, as I have in the past, is tracked, pitch-by-pitch, Liriano's pitching performance. I noted which type of pitch he threw and, when available, jotted down the speed of the pitch given on Fox Sports Net. I realize that the radar gun speed given on the telecast is subject to debate and I think that this was on the slow gun, but it's all I had to work with. So, how did he do it?
Let's start with the high level look at Liriano's performance:
IP H R ER BB SO
Francisco Liriano 3.2 6 6 6 3 6
Of the 93 pitches that Liriano threw, 58 of them (62.3%) were strikes. 67% is generally considered very good so Liriano was good, but definitely not great. Again, this is probably a very good number against the patient Oakland A's lineup.
Here is a breakdown of the type of pitch that Liriano threw.
Fastball - 44 (47.3%)
Slider - 35 (37.6%)
Change Up - 14 (15.1%)
One important thing for me was his ability to throw strikes, particularly with his fastball. So here is a breakdown of his strikes and balls with each of his pitches:
Fastball - 25/44 strikes (56.8%)
Slider - 20/35 strikes (57.1%)
Changeup - 13/14 strikes (92.9%)
Here are the number of pitches he threw each inning and the type of pitch:
1st inning - 21 pitches (10 fastball, 7 sliders, 4 changeup)
2nd inning - 15 pitches (6 fastball, 4 sliders, 5 changeup)
3rd inning - 26 pitches (13 fastball, 10 sliders, 3 changeup)
4th inning - 31 pitches (15 fastball, 14 sliders, 2 changeup)
Total - 93 pitches (44 fastball, 35 sliders, 14 changeup)
I was incredibly frustrated right from the start last night. Fox Sports North did not post the radar gun readings to start the game. Actually, we didn't see the readings until Liriano's final three pitches of the 3rd inning! So, I really have no strong analysis on the speed of his pitches. All I can do is post the average speed of his pitches in the 4th inning. Obviously I would like to do much more with his velocities, but due to not having full data, even showing this much is probably not fair, especially in 20-30 pitch innings.
Fastball Slider Changeup
4th inning - 93.6 86.9 84.0
Did Liriano alter the pitches he threw each time through the batting order? The A's had just one hit the first time through the order (Jason Kendall's RBI double) and a walk. They had 4 hits and two walks the second time through. Mark Ellis was the only batter who got to see Liriano a third time, and he had the big two run single that knocked Liriano out of the game.
Time Through Order FB FB% SL SL% CU CU% Total Pitches
1st 18 47.4% 11 28.9% 9 23.7% 38
2nd 24 47.1% 23 45.1% 4 7.8% 51
3rd 2 50.0% 1 25.0% 1 25.0% 4
So what does this show? In my opinion, it shows, well, not too much really. It shows that Liriano had to throw a lot of pitches to a lot of batters. In his three plate appearances, Mark Ellis saw 18 pitches. In two plate appearances, Nick Swisher and Hiram Bocachica each saw 11 pitches, Jason Kendall saw 10, and Eric Chavez, Marco Scutaro, Scott Hatteberg and Mark Kotsay each saw nine. That means that eight out of nine A's hitters saw at least 4.5 pitches per plate appearance.
Here is a quick look at the pitches he threw on each count:
FB SL CU
0-0 12 4 3
0-1 6 5 0
0-2 1 3 0
1-0 5 2 1
1-1 6 3 3
1-2 7 8 2
2-0 0 2 0
2-1 1 3 0
2-2 3 5 4
3-0 1 0 0
3-1 1 0 0
3-2 1 0 1
Do first pitch strikes matter? Normally, I would say that it really doesn't, particularly if you're able to get the count to 1-1 on the next pitch. However, with a young guy like Liriano, and a patient offense such as the A's, getting behind, even 1-0, is not a good idea. Last night, he threw first pitch strikes to just 11 of 19 batters. Of those 19 batters, he started 12 of them off with a fastball (3 with a changeup and 2 with a slider).
I think that it is fair to say that this was not a very good outing for Francisco Liriano. I knew that it would be quite a challenge for him simply based on his prior inability to control his fastball. We had to know that the A's would be especially selective. There were some negatives. Liriano walked an uncharacteristic three batters, and was hurt because all three scored. As for positives, there are many. For instance, I thought that even in pressure situations, he showed great poise. With the bases loaded and no one out in the 4th inning, Liriano did not choke. He got two huge strikeouts, and really threw Mark Ellis some great pitches to almost get out of the inning still down by just one. I thought that he controlled his fastball a lot better than he has in his previous outings. I think that simply throwing more pitches, over more innings, will make that be the case. Clearly, however, 56% strikes with the fastball is something that will have to improve, and I suspect that it will.
To me, this was the kind of start that, although not strong at all, is something that Liriano and the Twins can build on. They can look at the walks and drive in the importance of throwing strikes because walks come back to haunt you! I think there were a couple of times when they got very predictable in their pitch calling. Mechanically and mentally, Liriano looked very strong. Now the key is to combine that with a little better location. Also, it is important to remember that most teams that he will face will be more apt to swing a little more freely, which will help him.
So, what do you think? Is Francisco Liriano all that we hope that he will be? What does he have to work on? Should be be given a spot in the Twins 2006 starting rotation? What are your thoughts on Liriano. Send me an e-mail.
Just a couple of additional thoughts on the Twins:
I have to give props where props are due! Stick and Ball Guy wrote one of the best articles I have read online. It is regarding Torii Hunter and a potential trade. Please read it!
Brad Radke made it official. He will not be pitching any more the rest of this season, shutting it down because of his shoulder. This is a smart decision on his part. Hopefully his plan for the offseason will have him strong heading into the 2006 season, a season he says will be his last.
On a slightly more surprising note, Shannon Stewart also decided that he is done for the season with his shoulder injury. That effectively ends what has been an incredibly disappointing season for him. It wasn't only that he was the worst leadoff hitter in the American League this year. He is known as being a professional hitter, and too many times this season, we saw him swing at bad pitches, well out of the strike zone. If he comes back next season, Twins fans can only hope that he plays for another contract!
Of course, Mike Redmond announced yesterday that he was done for the year. And Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva both have been done for a little while.
I'm tired of Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer constantly talking about how the Twins do things right. It isn't like it is just in the last month or so that they stopped doing things right. Really, it has been a gradual thing over the course of the last four or five years. Fact is, with Tom Kelly, the players simply did not make mistakes like not advancing a runner. The team rarely got caught looking at a called third strike. All of these things have faltered since he left. When it comes to advancing runners the "old-fashioned way", it doesn't bother me that much. I still subscribe to the 'don't get caught looking' philosophy. Put the ball in play. Anything can happen!
In the first three innings last night, both Jacque Jones and Lew Ford badly missed double-cuts. Later, Jones missed a cut to 3B. Later yet, Jason Tyner overshot the cutoff toward home, allowing a runner to advance an extra base. Also in the game, a fly ball to left center fell between Ford and Tyner.
If you stayed up through the entire game, you may have seen the incredible diving play that Michael Cuddyer made on an Eric Chavez liner down the 3B line. He got up quickly and threw a rocket to 1B to end the inning, saving at least one more run.
By the way, Travis Bowyer threw two more shutout innings, and struck out three. I was impressed with the changeup that he was throwing at about 81 mph!
My friend Tyler pointed out something interesting to me. Luis Rivas was terrible, as usual, in 2004, right? He hit .256/.283/.413 for a .715 OPS. Check out these 2005 Twins OPS: Lew Ford .715, Shannon Stewart .711, Juan Castro .693, Luis Rodriguez .693, Jason Bartlett .675, Brent Abernathy .650, Nick Punto .636, Michael Ryan .623. Of course, Rivas' OPS is .638, and his career OPS is just .691.
Today, Scott Baker will get a shot at the A's. It will be interesting to see how he handles the A's patience. My guess is that he is going to do well. Clearly, he has better control of his pitches, particularly the fastball, then does Liriano.
CASE STUDY IN THE MEANINGLESS "WIN" STAT
Here are the statistics of five pitchers on one staff in baseball. Can you name which team's starting rotation this is? Can you then identify each pitcher? Which pitcher is the best?
Starts Innings ERA Opp. BA K/9 WHIP
Pitcher A 28 179.0 2.97 .249 6.74 1.23
Pitcher B 30 187.1 3.75 .247 6.53 1.21
Pitcher C 29 183.2 4.07 .248 7.20 1.25
Pitcher D 31 189.1 4.56 .265 4.99 1.30
Pitcher E 28 167.1 4.57 .263 5.27 1.28
Pitcher A has one of the best ERA's in the League and the rest of his numbers are very solid. Can you guess which team's starting staff is represented here? If so, who is each pitcher? Well, as you probably figured out, this is the starting rotation of the Cleveland Indians. Now look at which pitcher's go with each set of numbers, and I will also include their W-L record just to make my point about the win-loss record being so misrepresentative.
Pitcher A - Kevin Millwood (8-11)
Pitcher B - Cliff Lee (17-4)
Pitcher C - CC Sabathia (14-10)
Pitcher D - Jake Westbrook (15-14)
Pitcher E - Scott Elarton (10-7)
Twins fans will be out in full force complaining when Johan Santana is robbed of the AL Cy Young Award this year because of his lack of wins. He clearly is the best pitcher in the league but with just 14 wins, he will likely be overlooked. But what Kevin Millwood has done is great too. An ERA of just 2.97 (Santana's is 3.05). That is remarkable! Yet somehow, he has a record of just 8-11! How does that happen? Cliff Lee is 17-4, but despite having a very good season, it isn't as good as what Millwood's has been. But when it comes to Cy Young consideration, whose name do you figure will show up first?
Do you have any thoughts on the Twins, the Indians or anything baseball. Feel free to e-mail me.
On that note, I am going to call it a day! I hope everyone has a great day! As always, please feel free to e-mail me your thoughts on the Twins, the minor leagues, or anything you would like to discuss.
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