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August 9, 2013

Raising Aces

What Happened to Liriano and Masterson?

by Doug Thorburn


Last week's edition of Raising Aces examined the stuff and mechanics of CC Sabathia and Josh Johnson—a couple of typically great pitchers who have fallen on hard times—in an effort to explain their struggles. This week we flip the script, studying a pair of pitchers who have greatly exceeded expectations in 2013 to find out whether each pitcher's success is sustainable. Under the microscope today: Francisco Liriano and Justin Masterson, both of whom could conceivably headline playoff rotations this fall.

Francisco Liriano
Liriano has been an enigma throughout his career. As a 22-year-old, the left-hander garnered comps to Minnesota teammate Johan Santana, recording 177 strikeouts against just 39 walks over his first 145 innings in the big leagues. The balloon burst when he underwent Tommy John Surgery following the 2006 season, after which he wasn’t the same. But Liriano has rediscovered his mojo this year, and through 100 frames he is invoking memories of the '06 breakout that originally put him on the national radar.

IP

ERA

WHIP

K%

BB%

HR%

2005 - 2012

840.0

4.40

1.35

23.5%

9.9%

2.3%

2013

102.7

2.02

1.15

25.4%

10.1%

1.0%

The numbers are even more staggering when we remove Liriano’s successful seasons from before the surgery and focus just on the stats that he had compiled in the time between his elbow scar and the start of the 2013 season. From 2008 through 2012, Liriano posted a 4.75 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP, and his 22.1 percent strikeout rate was undermined by a 10.5 percent walk rate. His ERA topped 5.00 in each of the past two seasons (and three of the past four), and he surrendered five walks per nine frames over 291 innings pitched from 2011 to 2012.

Walks have always been the biggest thorn in Liriano's side, and though his 10 percent rate this season represents one of the better marks of his career, it’s still well worse than league average, and his near-2.00 ERA will not likely persist in the face of so many free baserunners. Liriano has thrived by keeping the ball in the yard at a career-best rate while allowing only 6.7 hits per nine innings, a mark that’s been helped by a Pirates unit that ranks first in the National League in Defensive Efficiency.

The left-hander generates a bundle of groundballs at his best, and this season's 55 percent grounder rate is a near match for his career-high frequency of 57 percent, achieved in his breakthrough performance of 2006. Liriano has cracked the 50 percent mark for groundballs in only one other year in the majors, posting a 56 percent rate in 2010, which until 2013 stood out as his most productive post-surgery campaign.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit Lis... (08/09)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Raising Aces: What Hap... (08/02)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Raising Aces: Elevator... (08/16)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Minor League Update: S... (08/09)

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