How Francisco Liriano gets his whiffs

francisco liriano

You’ve probably seen this stat before (considering the number of times we’ve posted it), but it’s worth repeating…

Highest Percentage of Swinging Strikes 2013-2014 (min. 200 innings):

Francisco Liriano 13.4%
Clayton Kershaw 12.6%
Tyson Ross 12.5%
Cole Hamels 12.0%
Yu Darvish 11.9%
Chris Sale 11.8%
Max Scherzer 11.7%
Corey Kluber 11.3%
Felix Hernandez 11.3%
Anibal Sanchez 11.1%
Madison Bumgarner 11.1%
Jose Fernandez 11.0%
Zack Greinke 11.0%
Stephen Strasburg 10.9%

Liriano heads an impressive list of baseball’s best pitchers, this in terms of missing bats. It’s no secret he has filthy stuff. But it’s interesting — no pitcher the last two seasons has thrown a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone (Jeff Locke was a close third). How does he get so many batters to chase?

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Painting the Black: On Pirates’ Pitchers, Framing Catchers & An Expanding Strike Zone

russell martin pitch framing

When writing today’s Opening Day countdown preview for Vance Worley, I was reminded of his effectiveness in 2014: sharp control, low walk rate, and a propensity for backwards K’s.

Painting the black and collecting called strikes seemed to be a big part of Worley’s game. Upon further review, the entire Pirates’ rotation was above-average in that area:

pirates called strikes 2014

My next thought was that this success could be attributed to 1) the expanding strike zone in Major League Baseball, and/or 2) the acclaimed pitch-framing skills of then-Pirate Russell Martin and Chris Stewart.

“But my goal is not to steal strikes, it’s to keep strikes strikes. I don’t want to lose strikes. The key is trying to fight against what the ball is naturally wanting you to do.” – Russell Martin

Continue reading “Painting the Black: On Pirates’ Pitchers, Framing Catchers & An Expanding Strike Zone”

Pirates’ Winter Meetings News & Rumors: Day 2

Rumblings from Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, where the Pirates are getting things rolling…

– The big news of the day: the Pirates have re-signed lefty Francisco Liriano.


Terrific job by the front office to lock him up before Jon Lester signed. Had Liriano’s camp waited it out, they may have seen a better deal from one of the Lester losers. This way, the Pirates have their guy before the dominoes even begin to fall.

The club made him a priority entering the meetings, and it was easy to see why: they needed another strong arm to complement Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett in the rotation, they know what he can do and are familiar with him, he’s been filthy the last two years, etc.

The reported terms: three years, $39 million. The largest free agent contract in Pirate history. If he can stay healthy and perform at the level we’ve seen the last two years, that can be a great price.

He fits well at PNC Park, but can get it done on the road as well — since 2013:

2.99 ERA/3.30 FIP/3.46 xFIP at home
3.40 ERA/3.22 FIP/3.07 xFIP on the road

His strikeout and ground ball rates have been dominant with the Bucs. The team has locked up two of the better K/GB combo pitchers — Liriano and Burnett — to go along with Cole:


(click to enlarge)

The squad is starting to come together here. The rotation looks formidable: Cole – Liriano – Burnett – Morton (when healthy) – Vance WorleyJeff LockeJameson Taillon/Nick Kingham when they’re ready. They might still add another arm…

– …which leads us into our next rumor:

I’d be surprised to see him in a Pirate uniform next year, but stranger things have happened. Obviously they invested a lot of time in him last year, and perhaps they think there’s still something to work with. Volquez does have a pretty good arsenal to work with, but the peripherals didn’t match up with the results in 2014. It’s gonna take more good luck and more good defense behind him to repeat his 3.04 ERA, but…

– While the rotation is coming together, the bullpen could use another piece or two (as we outlined here)…

Jon Morosi reports that the Bucs are checking the trade market for lefty relief option to replace the traded Justin Wilson. Makes sense. Haven’t heard any names yet.

Rob Biertempfel tweeted that they are “seeking relief help and have some $ to spend.” He notes that they like Pat Neshek, who was an All-Star with the Cardinals in 2014. The 34-year-old right-hander enjoyed his best season by far in St. Louis…

Season Team G IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP
2006 Twins 32 37.0 12.9 1.5 31.6% 2.19 2.88
2007 Twins 74 70.1 9.5 3.5 32.0% 2.94 3.67
2008 Twins 15 13.1 10.1 2.7 30.6% 4.73 3.73
2010 Twins 11 9.0 9.0 8.0 32.0% 5.00 5.52
2011 Padres 25 24.2 7.3 8.0 29.9% 4.01 6.31
2012 Athletics 24 19.2 7.3 2.8 35.2% 1.37 4.52
2013 Athletics 45 40.1 6.5 3.4 33.3% 3.35 4.66
2014 Cardinals 71 67.1 9.1 1.2 34.7% 1.87 2.37

via FanGraphs

Not sure if Neshek will be the guy, but I would like to see them spend a little bit on a good reliever. Huntington’s proven you can build a bullpen on the cheap, but it’s also a big risk to roll with projects all the time. It burned them at the beginning of last year, and all of those blown games hurt even more when you look back at the standings and remember the Pirates finished only two games out of first.

Mark Melancon/Tony Watson is obviously a great combination at the top of the ‘pen, but there’s a gap between them and the rest (Jared Hughes, John Holdzkom, Stolmy Pimentel, and a couple of question marks). Look at what the Royals were able to do this summer and into the postseason with 3-4 shutdown relievers, essentially turning each game into a six-inning matchup.

The starting rotation is looking good; if they can piece together a solid bullpen, they’re in good shape. But they might have to spend a little more to get there.

– It’s still early in San Diego, so there should be more news and rumors on the way. We’ll update this later…

Update 9:00 pm

– A few updates via Rob Biertempfel tonight…

Volquez out of the equation? Spending on a reliever…

Biertempfel added in a blog post, “Look for Melancon to be traded — maybe this winter, perhaps in July. Watson and potentially Neshek (or another free agent similar to him) and Radhames Liz (if the questions about his health are resolved) could form the back end of the bullpen.” Hmm…

Neal Huntington also said, “right field is probably Gregory Polanco’s job to keep,” and he’s comfortable with the Stewart/Cervelli tandem behind the plate. Nothing new there.

Depth Chart & Winter Meetings Primer
Winter Meetings Day 1

Go Bucs

Pirates’ Winter Meetings News & Rumors: Day 1

A collection of rumblings on the first day of baseball’s Winter Meetings in San Diego… Pretty quiet so far, but we’ll keep updating this post if anything happens Monday night.

– Buster Olney tweeted yesterday afternoon that Francisco Liriano is “set up well as a Plan B after Jon Lester agrees to terms. Some execs think tipping point will be question of 4 years or 3.” Up to this point, it’s been written in a few different spots that Liriano is a priority for the Bucs. I’m guessing they were/are trying to lock him up before Lester signs, but Liriano & his camp are probably wise enough to hold off. Would the Pirates go four years on him? Doubtful.

– As of Monday afternoon, it’s looking like Cubs or Giants for Lester’s services — a decision could come on Tuesday. Don’t want to see him in Chicago, obviously. Once he signs, though, the secondary pitching market could explode.

– A couple notes from LaVelle Neal of the Minnesota Star Tribune last night:

Liriano, of course, was a Twin earlier in his career. It’ll be interesting to see how the QO-associated draft pick affects Liriano’s market, and you’d think it will keep rebuilding teams like the Twins off a bit. (Minnesota’s 6th overall pick is protected though, so they’d be forfeiting their second round pick.)

All has been quiet so far on the Volquez front, although the Pirates apparently made him an offer between the end of the World Series and start of free agency. It seems like he’s a fall-back plan if Liriano signs elsewhere, but I’d like to see the Bucs shoot for a better starter.

– A (very minor) move the Pirates did make today: they claimed RHP Josh Lindblom off waivers from Oakland. They’ve seemingly been claiming everyone with a pulse recently. Lindblom, 27, has thrown 136.2 Major League innings in his career between the Dodgers, Rangers, and A’s. He posted some uninspiring numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last year (5.79 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 6.4 K/9, 35.5 GB%) but figures to be in the mix as bullpen depth.

– To make room for Lindblom, they outrighted RHP Angel Sanchez to Indianapolis. There’s currently one spot open on the 40-man roster…

– The Bucs are still working to sign the guy no one has heard of, Radhames Liz… Neal Huntington said, “We’ve still got some I’s to dot and some T’s to cross. We’re still very optimistic.”

radhames liz pirates0001

– As expected, the Sean Rodriguez trade will probably be “finalized” on Thursday — the player to be named later going to Tampa will be a guy not picked in the Rule 5 draft.

– Off the field, the Pirates made two additions to their front office: 1) Kevin Young — the club’s first baseman throughout the 90’s — is now a special assistant to baseball operations, and 2) Grady Little — former Red Sox & Dodgers manager — is now a senior adviser.

According to John Perrotto, lefty John Danks is a starter the team could pursue via trade. He’s owed $28.5 million over the next two years, so there’s your signal that it’s unlikely to happen. Danks is still only 29 but hasn’t done much for the White Sox lately (4.71 ERA, 4.57 FIP since 2011). Rob Biertempfel mentioned Danks’ name as well — along with Jeff Samardzija — although neither is a good fit in terms of what the Pirates would have to pay/give up.

– Arizona’s Mark Trumbo is “definitely in play,” according to Jeff Passan. He’s been a subject of trade rumors since his LA days, and you can do a quick Twitter search to see that some Pirate fans might want him. The Bucs should probably be looking for a right-handed hitting first baseman to complement the Pedro Alvarez experiment, but I don’t think Trumbo is the guy (D-backs would have to be “overwhelmed“). And he’s basically a right-handed Alvarez.

Pedro Alvarez - Mark Trumbo
1645 PA 1626
84 HR 80
9.1% BB% 7.3%
29.1% K% 26.2%
.216 ISO .212
.288 BABIP .289
.236 AVG .247
.308 OBP .302
.452 SLG .458
.328 wOBA .327
109 wRC+ 109

^ offensive stats since 2012

– Around the majors today: former Pirate Brandon Moss was traded from Oakland to Cleveland … Jason Hammel, who was sent from Chicago to Oakland in July with Samardzija, is back with the Cubs (2 years, $18 million) … The Cubs are also working on a trade that would bring them Diamondbacks’ catcher Miguel Montero … And the D-backs finalized their six-year deal with Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas.

More to come.

Go Bucs