PNC PARK – One of the worst things that could have happened (is happening?) for the Pirates in 2014 was for Francisco Liriano to revert to his 2011-12, 2007-09 self. You know, the guy that lost velocity, walked too many batters, and posted three seasons of 5.00+ ERAs. We expected regression. We didn’t expect Liriano to repeat The Best Season Ever Against Left-Handed Hitters. The Pirates could afford some give back just not a lot of regression. So far in 2014, there’s been too much fallback.
Take a look at Liriano’s peripheral numbers & FIP:
k/9 bb/9 GB rates HR/FB FIP
9.11 3.52 50.5 8.3 2.92
8.84 4.06 46.7 14.8 3.98
The Pirates can’t afford for Liriano to pitch like this Liriano from late in 2012 who was banished to the U.S. Cellular Field bullpen
The peripherals, taken individually, don’t represent dramatic steps backward but the problem is he’s regressed slightly in every area a pitcher has control over: He’s striking out fewer batters, he’s walking more. He’s allowing more flyballs and more of those flyballs have gone for home runs. It all adds up to a significantly worse FIP (and ERA).
And perhaps this started last season. BucsDugout writer David Manel noted that Liriano’s ERA since Sept. 1 is 4.83.
A common thread throughout Liriano’s successes and failures has been velocity.
In the three seasons he’s posted 3+ Wins Above Replacement and been a dominant pitcher – 2006, 2010, 2013 – he’s had a fastball tat averaged at least 93 mph. In all his subpar seasons, excluding 2012, he’s had a fastball that averaged a reading below 92.0.
This season, Liriano’s fastball is averaging 91.7 mph. Again on Saturday, it was between 91-94 mph. Good, but not the 92-96 mph stuff we saw consistently last season.
Thus far this season, Liriano appears to have a little less stuff, a little less margin for error, leading to a decline performance across the board.
Now, the weather has been cool and Liriano did not begin pitching until May of last season. So perhaps the Pirates can hope for a velocity increase. If not their No. 1 pitcher from a year ago might be more like a No. 3 or No. 4 starter and that’s the biggest regression concern of any the club had entering the season.