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Is Liriano’s left arm going to fall off?


SOUTH HILLS – That was about as perfect of an Opening Day as the Pirates could have hoped for.

The skies cleared. The temperature rose. Francisco Liriano and bullpen were in 2013 form and the Local Boy Done Good ended it with his first career walk-off. Good luck following up that one, Charlie Morton. As we’ll have to do with everything this April, really through May, we’ll have to attach the small sample disclaimer to every observation or statement that is made here. But we still need to write, talk, and generally kill time so here goes …

One small-sample size thing that flew under the radar on Opening Day was Liriano’s pitch useage.

Look, Liriano was tremendous even with shaky fastball command. He threw only 10 of 24 first-pitch strikes but still tossed six shutout innings, striking out 10, thanks to his wipeout secondary offerings. His slider and changeup looked to be in bat-missing, 2013 form as nine of the time strikeouts came via his slider and changeup and eight were swinging strikeouts.

Anthony Rizzo, bless his heart, faced Liriano three times and struck out swinging three times, each occasion whiffing on a slider.

In the fourth inning, Mike Olt swung and missed and three straight diving changeups.

It is off-speed pitches that generate the most strikeouts, the most swings-and-misses, but it is off-speed pitches some believe (most notably the slider) place more stress on pitchers’ elbows and shoulders. Some refute the idea that one pitch is more dangerous than another but until we have real data on pitching injuries much is unknown.

This spring Liriano said a focus of his in 2014 was to throw more fastballs and more two-seam fastballs in an effort to work deeper into games. In essence, Liriano was talking about trying to miss fewer bats, throw fewer pitches per inning, and create more weak contact.

Even if sliders are not more dangerous than any other pitch, high strikeouts pitchers often throw more pitches per inning because they are missing more bats.

On Monday Liriano threw 104 pitches and only 45 were fastballs. It’s only one start but that’s 43 percent fastball useage which is line with were he was last season.

Liriano threw a career-low percentage of fastballs than in 2013 (41 percent), and he hadn’t thrown more sliders (36 percent) since his rookie year in 2006 – when he elbow blew up.

I wonder if Liriano has become addicted to his off-speed stuff. I can understand why he would be. His slider helped him to the best season all time against left-handed hitters (.321 OPS). Yes, even better than Randy Johnson‘s best work.

In tight spots Liriano seems to trust his slider even more. Liriano threw his slider 44 times  compared to 23 fastballs against the Reds in the wild card game. He gets tons of swings and misses his off-speed stuff. He had a bounce-back season by shelving his fastball more than every before.

But if sliders carry more risk than fastballs perhaps Liriano’s left shoulder or left elbow are in trouble. Now if a breakdown occurs in 2015 or beyond that likely won’t be a concern of the Pirates as Liriano will likely be pitching elsewhere if he continues to pitch as he did on Monday. He’s a free agent after the season and could be headed for a massive payday.

Still, regardless  of what happens down the road, the Pirates need Liriano’s left arm to remain in tact in 2014. I’m not sure if his pitch usage should be a major red flag but I do think it’s worth noting.



*Jason Grilli’s fastball touched 95 and sat at 93-94. That is welcomed news for the bullpen. It was sitting 91 mph on Friday in Philly.

*I told you Bryan Morris looked good this spring. He sat 95-96 mph with movement and pounded the strikezone.

*Travis Snider made some loud contact and drew a walk. I continue to like his process. He also hit in the No. 2 hole which speaks to some confidence from the manager’s office.

*On a warmer day, Starling Marte might have launched an opposite-field shot. The power is coming … if he can lift the ball more often.

*Pedro Alvarez continues to become a better defender. No reason to move him off third. He made 100 more plays at third in 2013 than he did in 2013. Showed good range and hands on Monday.




  1. Carlos Danger says:

    I couldn’t watch yesterday’s game (I was at work and listened to it as much as possible) but was curious about how ishikawa looked? His stats looked pretty good. And is the fact that he started an indication of a true platoon at first base based on righty/ lefty matchups (at least to start the season)? I was kind of hoping that gaby would get a chance to be an everyday player.

  2. Steelkings says:

    Still not over this sparkling defense from last Friday


  3. Steelkings says:

    How many ways can the above picture be bad? Can you spot all the problems? BTW this play was close enough to be reviewed. This Phillie last Friday was out, but just barely. This is what you get when you try and squeeze square pegs into round holes.

  4. Ishi looked very good – offensively AND defensively. The radio guys said that Ishiwaka got the start because of Cubs’ SP Zamarjia but that Gabby will get the majority of starts. I guess we will see.

  5. Jim S. says:

    6 shut out innings is always great, as you say, Travis. I have concerns about whether he will hold up, though, unless they find ways to get him out of some games with lower pitch counts and maybe shoot for a few less than 30 starts. He does not have a history of throwing big innings in any season. I felt like he was tiring down the stretch last year a bit, but when I mentioned it on DK’s blog today I was rightly reminded that he didn’t look very tired in 2 excellent post-season appearances. So, maybe there’s nothing to it but my imagination fearing the worst.

    But, his career high is only 191 innings, and that was several years (and several injuries) ago. He threw 174 innings last year, counting the playoffs. I felt it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that he missed several early starts with the broken arm last year. I have not heard any reports that he was not feeling fine today, which is heartening since he came out of the gate with 104 pitches in 6 innings not too long after complaining of groin tightness in his last ST start. I trust they will monitor the pitch counts and overall workload closely, as a healthy Frankie is necessary for this team to make the playoffs IMO.

  6. Andrew says:

    Who is that a photo of? I think that is how I would look if someone told be to go play first.

  7. Damian Panek says:

    I thought Russell Martin called the pitches??

  8. Steelkings says:

    Travis Ishiwaka

  9. Steelkings says:

    They find ways to get guys a blow.
    AJ missed 2 or 3 starts last year to the none limp groin or hammy injury. Lirianos season was shortened up front. Morton missed a start because of a blister. You hope to avoid the Wandy or Locke type injures.

    Is Clayton Kershaw baseballs Tiger Woods?

  10. Steelkings says:

    Just because you dont make an error doesn’t mean you look good defensively.

  11. John Lease says:

    Not to be heartless, but Liriano just needs to get thru this year. I highly doubt the Pirates will extend him, just have his arm hang on long enough to get thru this season is all the Pirates really need to be concerned with.

  12. Andrew says:

    I am fairly certain that this Justin Howard.

  13. Steelkings says:

    No dude. That is from last Friday Night in Philly. Already down to the 25 man roster. Two guys played 1st. Gaby and Travis. And that aint Gaby.

    Watch the video titled “Single review overturned”

  14. Steelkings says:

    You are right! Major apologies to Travis Ishikowski. Its Howard. Even the broadcaster thought it was Travis.

  15. NMR says:

    Ish played pepper with a couple pitches in his first two at-bats. Would make a great 2B.

  16. NorthPirateFan says:

    I have a feeling that Ishikawa is going to have a lot of people here eating their words. He looked better at the plate than just his numbers. He was patient, worked to favorable counts, used the whole field … I’ll bet he ends up being a perfectly suitable platoon mate after Sanchez implodes in his time against RHP and will end up being amongst the team leaders in walks.

  17. Keith says:

    It seems Frank was trying to use the fastball more: 23 first-pitch fastballs, right? They just didn’t get the job done, so he had to revert. Hope he has more success with them so he can save his offspeed stuff.

  18. NMR says:

    Wouldn’t that be the story of the season? Absolutely awesome.

    I’ve said before that I have to believe Clint Hurdle has seen some sort of change.

  19. Andrew says:

    No worries I didn’t know till I looked till I looked it up and I now know that Ishikawa has played 743 minor league games at first base, so he has that going for him.

  20. Nate83 says:

    Agree completely. If he gets ahead in counts or doesn’t have runners on base he would have thrown more fastballs later in counts. He wasn’t getting it over so he went with what he thought was his best chance to get out of some jambs and not walk a bunch of hitters.

    Way to early to say that the mix of pitches he used in this start will be what he does the entire year. For what it’s worth I think we are all making too big of a deal out of it. Why do we want him to pitch different then last year? Last I checked he looked strong and healthy at the end of the year and had a tremendous year. Pitching to contact when you have the ability to strike out 9/per game is the worse plan I’ve ever heard. For what? To protect from an injury that may never come.

    I get it, Sliders are tougher on the arm. Liriano isn’t the same pitcher without the Slider so it has to play a big role in his pitch mix. Is reducing his Slider from 40 to 32 times a game really going to save his arm that much? If his fastball isn’t accurate couldn’t you argue he will have to go deeper in counts and walk more hitters and thus increase his pitch count which isn’t good for the arm either. He needs to do what makes him successful. I can’t thing of a sport where you purposely wouldn’t do what you thought gave you the best chance to win. In Liriano’s case it is throwing Sliders. Maybe I don’t know much about the body but if it can handle 600 sliders in a year why wouldn’t it be able to handle 800.

  21. NMR says:

    The only thing loud about Snider’s contact were the groans from the fans around me. Honestly, Trav, I know you’re pulling for the guy, but come on!

  22. Travis Sawchik says:

    Good question. He does … but Liriaino also shakes off quite a bit, more than most Pirates’ starters, accord to Searage. And the pitcher-catcher-pitching coach are all involved in the game plan prior to first pitch

  23. Travis Sawchik says:

    All the first pitches were not fastballs … sorry for the confusion.

    His lack of fastball command likely contributed to high changeup/slider useage on Monday

  24. NMR says:

    THANK YOU!!! Absolutely a voice of reason.

    What in the heck are we actually worried about? That maybe, possibly, a certain pitch puts more strain on the elbow? Without any data to back that up? Or any idea of the limit one can throw that given pitch?

    Fact is that Francisco Liriano has poor fastball command. He also happens to have some of the best secondary pitches on the planet.

  25. Nate83 says:

    Just to be clear I enjoy Travis’s coverage immensely and have no problem with him bringing up the topic. I don’t even read it as him taking a side but instead just asking thought provoking questions. He even mentioned as much in the first paragraph saying we still need to write, talk and generally kill time so here goes……

  26. NMR says:

    Oh goodness, absolutely agreed. One thing I love about Travis is that he alwasy qualifies discussions like this by saying things like:

    “As we’ll have to do with everything this April, really through May, we’ll have to attach the small sample disclaimer to every observation or statement that is made here. But we still need to write, talk, and generally kill time so here goes …”

    Travis provides constant content that always provokes valuable discussion, as is evident by your post!

  27. Naterosboro says:

    He did hit that 1 on the nose to CF that ended in the DP. Other than that AB tho, I didn’t see loud contact.

    I think most Pirate fans are rooting for Trav Snider, but I haven’t seen the ability to consistently put it together. That’s the thing that will keep Travis from ever being an everyday starter in the MLB (as it does most guys). Think about that…you need to have a consistency of about 30% to be a good hitter. Ahhhhhh, baseball…. unlike any other sport.

    It’s only Game 1 though. Maybe he goes out tonight and goes 2-4, a 2B & HR and 3 RsBI.

    Come On LunchBox Hero!

  28. Naterosboro says:

    While the slider is definitely stressful for the elbow, the circle change-up is a pitch that should take stress off the elbow and shoulder, as you pronate as you release the pitch.

    When you let go of an object that you throw overhand, your hand will pronate. With a slider or curveball, this means your releasing the pitch opposite what your hand will do after release.

    With the circle change-up, you pronate with release, so you are releasing with your body’s natural motion.

    Frank’s change-up is filthy. It flutters. Same with Trevor Rosenthal (closer for St.Louis). Absolutely filthy (and the split is even crazier; Fastball at 97-99, Change at 87. Virtually unhittable.)

  29. Pig Legs Robinson says:

    Two months will go by fast. They had zero production in right field last year until Marlon Byrd was obtained in August. This year they only need two lousy months (which is exactly what they’ll probably get).

    Then it’s Polanco Time!

  30. Travis Sawchik says:

    Just call it Travis confirmation bias

  31. Arriba Wilver says:

    My experience, too, NMR.

  32. I’m not concerned by the pitch selection. The pitch count is worrisome. I was very surprised Hurdle let him go over 100 pitches on March 31st.

  33. NMR says:

    ;) Thanks as always for being a great sport, Travis.

  34. NMR says:

    I will say that Travis has come a long way with his swing, noticeably sharter this season than last and light years from when he turned pro.

  35. NorthPirateFan says:

    I think those groans you’re referring were for the stupidity displayed by Starling Marte who waited all of one game to get doubled off because of his ridiculously aggressive base running, not for the sharply hit ball of Snider’s hit on that play. Snider hit another long fly out to the opposite field walked and got caught looking on a tough call … so yeah two loud outs for sure.

    Weren’t you one of those talking the results versus the process? If Snider approaches every plate appearance like he did yesterday he’ll be fine.

  36. NorthPirateFan says:

    Which reminds me …

    If we’re going to get serious about analyzing player performance, shouldn’t offensive measure reflect the damage runners like Marte do to the offense when they find ways to take themselves off the bases on those rare occasions they manage to reach?

    Seems a somewhat inaccurate reflection of actual value/production to give a hitter credit for reaching base via walk, HBP or hit then not penalize him for erasing himself with a pick off, caught stealing or getting doubled off and Marte has shown such an amazing propensity to do so far.

  37. NMR says:

    Especially since he let Frankie hit with one out and a runner in scoring position, if I remember correctly.

  38. NMR says:

    If only somebody could come up with some stat that determined the value a player provides in all three phases of the game…

  39. Nate83 says:

    Hey, you stole my line. I want royalties.

  40. 21sthebest says:

    What are you suggesting that Marte should have done North?

  41. Travis Sawchik says:

    And so it begins, the belief in Ishikawa!

  42. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks guys, much appreciated. Thanks for keeping the commenting interesting …. and PG-13

  43. Steelkings says:

    Its always about the money. If he throws Sliders and is the beast he has always been, but roasts his arm in July, Well, at least he had a nice end to his career. BUT, If he throws more fastballs and is mediocre, some team will think they can fix him and he is gonna get PAID!

  44. Steelkings says:

    Marte was running on the pitch. Nice of snider to not let the fastest pirate steal a base

  45. Steelkings says:

    you do!

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