Pirates' Liriano having season for the ages

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

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.

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