|Liriano No-No is No Improvement||| Print |||Send|
Written by Lewie Pollis (Contact & Archive) on May 06, 2011
It's been a rough year for Francisco Liriano. After breaking out with a 3.62 ERA and 6.0 WAR last year, the 27-year-old left-hander has been a disappointment to Twins fans and fantasy owners nationwide in 2011.
After his first five outings, Liriano stood at 1-4 with a 9.31 ERA. After he struck out more than a batter per inning (9.44 K/9) and tamed his walk rate (2.72 BB/9) in 2010 for the first time since his Tommy John surgery in 2006, he has seemingly lost his skill in both respects: his K/9 and BB/9 both stood at 6.85 for an ugly K:BB ratio of 1:1.
As a result, Liriano simply isn't fooling opposing hitters. They are swinging at 69.5% of his pitches in the strike zone, seeing strikes on the first pitch in just 43.8% of their plate appearances and swinging and missing for just 10.3% of their strikes -- all career lows. Meanwhile, Liriano's seeing career highs in the proportions of good pitches batters are swinging at (69.5%) and how often they're making contact both on the whole (75.5%) and on pitches out of the zone (64.3%).
Then, on Tuesday, Liriano accomplished something amazing: he threw a no-hitter.
No-hitters are inherently amazing. Fewer than 300 pitchers have ever accomplished the feat. Even more incredible was that Liriano had never before thrown a complete game, let alone a shutout. And it was heartwarming to see a player who had struggled so much enjoying such success.
The problem is, Liriano did not actually pitch very well, and the no-no should not be taken as even the slightest indication that Minnesota's former ace has turned things around.
Take a look at the box score from the game. The "IP," "ER" and "H" columns look nice but the others don't. His strikeout and control problems didn't just persist -- they were worse than ever. In nine innings, he struck out just two batters (a season low) and allowed a season-high six walks. Just 65 of his 122 pitches were strikes.
No-hitters like Liriano's aren't unprecedented. Just last season, Ubaldo Jimenez threw a six-walk no-no, while Edwin Jackson allowed eight free passes while no-hitting the Rays in June. Such comparisons may prevent Liriano from earning the bittersweet honor of having thrown the worst no-hitter in baseball history, but invoking them also cheapens the accomplishment of pitching a no-no to begin with.
In addition, the Jimenez and Jackson comparisons aren't necessarily favorable to Liriano, because the other two managed to strike other hitters out (seven and six, respectively). One-game xFIP isn't a particularly reliable measure of talent, but it's worth noting that Liriano's 5.96 mark for his no-hitter was worse than Jimenez' 4.88 and Jackson's 5.83. Bill James' crude (but telling) Game Score had Jimenez at 88 and Jackson at 85; Liriano's 83 GS is tied for the worst for a no-hitter in baseball history.
Every no-no requires a healthy dose of good luck, but it took an exceptional amount of good fortune to make up for peripherals this bad. Think back to the last play of the game, out No. 27. If Adam Dunn hadn't hit his line drive right at Matt Tolbert, the no-no is over.
In a vacuum, one game wouldn't matter much. But for Liriano, this isn't a vacuum. He's a pitcher with a history of control problems (4.28 BB/9 in 2009), and the walk and strikeout problems that mar the statline from his no-hitter have been plaguing him all season.
After throwing a no-hitter, Liriano's ERA sits at 6.61. His walk rate still stands at 6.61 BB/9 (interesting coincidence, no?). And somehow a complete game shutout actually lowered his already-bad strikeout rate (5.51 K/9) and K/BB ratio (0.83).
No-hitters are great. This was an historic occasion, and I'm as happy for Liriano as an Indians fan could possibly be. But this really wasn't a very good pitching performance, and Liriano's performance to date is just as worrisome now as it was on Tuesday morning.