As I write this, Francisco Liriano is in line for his third win of the year. But this shiny W isn't going to help anyone feel any better, because this game was every bit as maddening as any of his starts. Maybe more so.
The superfans will point out that Liriano only gave up three runs, and can correctly posit that "he made the pitches he needed to make." That's fair enough. But Shaq makes the free throws he needs to make, and that doesn't make him a great free throw shooter. And Liriano, right now, is not a great pitcher.
And, to be fair, it isn't clear that he has been since the surgery. That's the conclusion I can't help but draw after laboring to figure out what the difference is between Liriano this year and Liriano last year. The rest of this story will expand what I found, but I can save you about 400 words of reading effort by just cutting to the chase: I don't know.
Prior to yesterday's start, he had about the same number of innings he had last year. He also had about the same number of strikeouts and the same number of walks. It's spooky, really. He had given up 10% more hits, but what's really hurt him is he's given up so many more home runs.
So is he having trouble keeping the ball down in the zone? Having trouble inducing ground balls? Not any more than usual. Again, the ground ball/fly ball ratio from last year is almost identical.
Using MyInsideEdge.com, one can pull more granular data, but it doesn't provide a lot more insight. Bert spoke last night about how Liriano is having trouble locating his fastball, and that's undoubtedly true, but he had the same problem last year, and it's dropped something like 3% from last year to this year.
And in a number of metrics, he's better. He's quite a bit better at locating his off-speed pitches than he was last year. He's actually better at throwing strikes earlier in the count. He even gets higher grades for his efficiency, which is really hard to believe.
The only really big difference that I can latch onto is the quality of teams he's faced in the two years. Last year when Liriano returned to the majors I initially noted how many times he faced some bad teams, but looking back, that's almost all he faced.
Of his eleven August and September starts, ten of them were against teams that would end up finishing under .500. This year, he was the Opening Day starter, and thus lined up several times early this season against other Opening Day starters.
Subjectively, the only other thing I can offer, is that this year when things go bad, they seem to stay bad longer. Tonight's game was a good example. In the fourth inning he got two quick outs and then lost the strike zone. It was not gonna be found, or at least not with his fastball. I have almost no ability to really follow a pitchers mechanics, but you could see that his body on every throw was nothing like it had been the pitch before. Maybe when he loses it this year, it stays lost longer, and that leads to more runs.
Or maybe I just have no idea. Check that - obviously I have no idea. I'm open to your thoughts below.