Share This Page

Pirates' Liriano having season for the ages

| Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 10:34 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review file
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano has allowed an opponents’ OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .336 against left-handed hitters this season.

MILWAUKEE — How many left-handed pitchers have been better against left-handed hitters in a single season in the history of baseball than Francisco Liriano has in 2013?

One, according to research by Grantland.com's Rany Jazayerli and Jonah Keri, data that was published Tuesday on the website.

Using Baseball Reference's index, they found the .336 on-base plus slugging percentage mark left-handed hitters have posted against Liriano this season is the second-best all-time mark among left-handed pitchers who have faced a minimum of 100 left-handed batters.

The best? Randy Johnson, who lefties posted a .331 OPS against in 1999.

Liriano will start the series finale Wednesday against the Brewers, who had three left-handed hitters in their lineup Tuesday: leadoff man Norichika Aoki, second baseman Scooter Gennett and first baseman Juan Francisco on Tuesday.

Why has Liriano been so dominant against left-handed batters this season? Pirates manager Clint Hurdle offered his theory before Tuesday's game against the Brewers.

“When he gets strike one against a lefty, he's got (three) different weapons to go to,” Hurdle said. “Everything is coming out of the same arm slot: that dynamite slider, his parachute changeup, and a good two-seam fastball.”

Liriano's slider is a true wipeout pitch against left-handed batters.

Baseball Info Solutions ranks Liriano's slider as third best among starting pitchers in baseball, trailing only Texas' Yu Darvish and Indians starter Justin Masterson. The high 80s, sharp-breaking pitch is a big reason why he is averaging a strikeout per inning against left-handed batters.

While a changeup is typically used against right-handers by a left-handed pitcher, Liriano's has so much fade and depth he occasionally throws it to lefties.

Liriano's diving, low-to-mid 90s, two-seam fastball is a pitch he has thrown more of as a Pirate, and it's a pitch left-handed and right-handed hitters have beaten in the ground.

But one pitch is more important than all the rest for Hurdle — strike one.

Liriano made a slight mechanical adjustment this offseason, adopting a more over-the-top arm slot that has resulted in greater command of his pitches.

Liriano had used more of a three-quarters arm slot for the majority of his career, until he was demoted to the White Sox bullpen last September and noticed Brett Myers using an over-the-top motion to produce pinpoint command.

“For me, it goes back to him pitching ahead of counts more than he ever has since the beginning of his career,” Hurdle said. “The fastball command has improved dramatically.”

Getting strike one against lefties allows Liriano to use his full arsenal of pitches.

Liriano will not pitch against the Cardinals this weekend in a key divisional series. That is welcome news to the Cardinals, who are 0-3 with two runs in 24 innings against Liriano this season.

Why is Liriano so effective against the Cardinals? Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter and starting center fielder Jon Jay are left-handed, and Carlos Beltran is much better from the left side of the plate.

But should the Pirates meet the Cardinals in the postseason, there's a good chance Liriano will be on the mound.

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.