Share This Page

Hitters can't lay off Pirates left-hander Liriano's changeup

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 8:32 p.m.

When the Pirates signed Francisco Liriano, some baseball pundits snickered. After all, the one-time heir apparent to Johan Santana as the game's most dominant left-handed starter walked five batters per nine innings pitched and posted a five-plus ERA during the 2011-12 seasons.

The joke has been on hitters. Liriano has cut his ERA in half, from 5.34 in 2012 to 2.68 in 2013, thanks in part to fewer free passes. No longer a Nuke LaLoosh punch line, Liriano has trimmed his walk rate to a more palatable 3.55 per nine innings.

The winter's biggest bargain — his earnings can top out at just $4.75 million this year — hasn't lowered his walk rate by peppering the strike zone. Liriano has thrown fewer pitches over the plate this season (41.4 percent) than in 2012 (43.2 percent). Instead, he's expanding hitters' strike zones.

Liriano has fooled batters into chasing his stuff outside the strike zone 36 percent of the time this year, up from 30.7 percent in 2012. Only Cole Hamels and Hisashi Iwakuma have a higher chase rate among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings.

Too tempting to resist

Francisco Liriano gets batters to chase pitches outside strike zone nearly as well as anyone.

Pitcher Team Chase pct.

Cole Hamels Phillies 36.7

Hisashi Iwakuma Mariners 36.3

Francisco Liriano Pirates 36.0

Patrick Corbin D-backs 35.4

Adam Wainwright Cardinals 34.8

MLB Avg. 29.3

Source: Fangraphs.com

While Liriano got plenty of chases with his slider even when he was scuffling (around 45 percent in 2012-13), his changeup chase rate has spiked this season. He's also getting hitters to swing at a few more fastballs located off the plate.

Swing and miss

Hitters are chasing Liriano's changeup.

Pitch '12 pct. '13 pct. MLB Avg.

Changeup 32.3 45.9 35.0

Fastball 19.6 20.6 25.0

Liriano is relying upon his tumbling, upper-80s changeup more often this season (21.2 percent of his total pitches) compared to 2012 (16.6 percent). Hitters' lack of restraint against the pitch is costing them: they're slugging .272 against Liriano's changeup, down from .366 last year (the MLB average is about .380).

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.