Fire Gardy

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Getting overly optimistic about Liriano

One of the major questions facing the Twins coming into Spring Training* is what exactly they can expect from Francisco Liriano. Everybody knows his story, and everybody also knows that part of that story is that every year, around this time, word comes out of the Twins’ offices that Liriano looks great, is throwing the living fire out of the ball, and we should be set at the top of the rotation, so nobody worry!

* It’s just two weeks away now, by the way.

Of course, those prognostications have been totally false in the past; notably, in 2008 Gardy said he had reports of Liriano easily hitting 97-98 MPH on the gun, with a wicked slider that was as good as it was in 2006 … and then he got to camp and was throwing in the high 80s with no command, and was a total mess. So are they changing their tune about Liriano this time around?

It’s funny you should ask, because the answer, of course, is … of course not!

The swell of positivity surrounding the lefty is the result of his successful offseason in the Dominican Republic, where he led his winter league team, the Leones del Escogido, to the Dominican League championship. After a flurry of dominance throughout the postseason — 3-1 with a 0.49 earned-run average in his seven playoff starts — Liriano reached his pinnacle moment in the championship game, striking out 10 and allowing just one hit in five shutout innings.

‘That’s me. That’s how I know to pitch,’ Liriano said of his winter ball results. ‘I feel like in ‘06. I have my focus back; my arm feels great. (I’m) physically and mentally ready to go.’

Liriano reported that his fastball consistently hit 95-96 miles per hour this winter and that he located that pitch as well, something that’s troubled him since his return from surgery. His slider, he said, regained its previously menacing form. Backing up the pitcher’s assertions are his results — over seven postseason starts, Liriano struck out 47 batters in 37 innings.

Alexi Casilla faced Liriano in the Dominican championship series this year while Liriano was dominating everyone; Casilla hit .344 in the series* but struck out 4 times in 8 PAs against Liriano. He confirmed that Liriano’s slider “looks like a different pitch” and is more menacing than ever. For what that’s worth; I imagine that Casilla thinks every major-league-caliber pitcher is about as good as Nolan Ryan. After all, how else would they all make him look so bad out there?

* Some say he would have won the MVP if his team had won; unfortunately they had to face Liriano in the deciding Game 9. Also … I love that they play a best-of-nine series down there. Those guys know how to play baseball.

So is Gardy going to tell us that all is finally right with the world, and we’ve got our ace?

‘All the reports are that he’s really, really throwing the ball well,’ Gardenhire said of his pitcher who was 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA for the Twins in 2009. “This guy is potentially a No. 1 guy, “Gardenhire said. “Everybody’s always looking for a No. 1 guy. I don’t want to put the pressure on and say he’s a No. 1 guy. He’s had No. 1 stuff, and he’s had No. 1 success before. He could be very entertaining.”

Well, I wouldn’t call that saying everything’s going to work out perfectly. I think Gardy did a good job here of not going overboard with a Liriano projection. Apparently, Gardy has learned his lesson from being burned by these reports from the Dominican Republic over the last few years.

But pardon me for not learning my lesson here, because I’m getting excited. I absolutely cannot wait for Spring Training to start so I can see Liriano unleash the ball again. And if he’s back to normal* the Twins will have basically locked up the AL Central before the season starts.

* And by “normal” I mean “superhuman, like in 2006″ … I felt that needed clearing up.

And since this is the internet, I feel I should make a prediction. I think Liriano’s ERA will be under 3, and I think he’ll strike out 200 people this year. Yes, you can call me wildly optimistic.

Anybody else have Liriano predictions they want to share?

13 comments

13 Comments so far

  1. Ragstoriches February 1st, 2010 3:28 pm

    Whoa there cowboy, let’s not get carried away. Liriano’s stuff may be better this winter, but Frankie’s biggest problem of late isn’t his stuff, it’s that he’s a friggin head case. He absolutely cannot deal with adversity – he can throw 6 innings of no-hit ball but a walk and a blooper later he’s in complete meltdown mode, and before you can blink he’s given up 5 or 6 runs. Sorry, the Dominican League – or any league in which Alexi Casilla could have been a playoff MVP for that matter – aint the bigs.

    Great stuff can overcome some of the mental aspects of the game, but I’ll reserve my judgement for when I see Frankie pitch his way out of an MLB jam, rather than try to throw his way out of it.

    It’s just as easy to throw 4 straight 95-mph heaters a foot outside as 4 straight at 91.

  2. rghrbek February 1st, 2010 5:00 pm

    agreed that it’s way to early. Gardy and Anderson have commented on all kinds of thing (remember Silva’s “hall of fame” bullpen sessions?).

    My prediction is he starts out in the rotation based on promise, then is demoted to the bullpen, then after continuing to walk people gets sent down.

    At this point, I don’t trust the Twins assessments are Liriano. Sorry to rain on your 200 K parade.

  3. sirsean February 2nd, 2010 8:47 am

    That’s about as pessimistic a projection as mine was optimistic. Except he’s out of options, so we can’t send him to the minors without putting him on waivers, and I’m sure there are plenty of teams willing to take a shot on him.

    Remember, teams were willing to take a shot on Boof Bonser, and Liriano’s upside is much higher.

    This year is probably Liriano’s last shot with the Twins. I hope he makes good, and I’m fairly confident that he will.

  4. rghrbek February 2nd, 2010 10:01 am

    Sirsean,

    Glad you are confident. Not too many pitchers come back from Tommy John surgurey well without reinventing themselves. I just find it hard to believe, he suddenly gets it, is throwing strikes and high heat.

    It would change the outlook on the whole twins season if he were to become a legit #2 or #1 pitcher.

  5. sirsean February 2nd, 2010 10:08 am

    Why do you think few pitchers successfully come back from Tommy John surgery “without reinventing themselves?”

    Most pitchers do fully recover from Tommy John surgery, and a good number of them come back stronger than ever, with better velocity and durability. (I haven’t seen it proved, though, whether that improvement comes from the surgery itself, or from the rigorous workout program involved in the recovery process.)

    It’s taken Liriano an unusually long time to get his velocity and command back, and that may well be because he wasn’t good enough about working out during his recovery process. That may make it crucial that people are talking about his mental/emotional state being back where it used to be, and his confidence is high. Liriano needs that — indeed, every athlete needs that.

    It seems to me that a return to somewhere near the neighborhood of his former glory is more likely than a repeat of his disastrous 2009. And if you think it’s impossible for someone to struggle and then find himself and turn a corner, and that once anyone shows any sign of weakness at all then they’re just doomed and should be cast aside, well, that’s kind of sad.

  6. Ragstoriches February 2nd, 2010 12:21 pm

    “It seems to me that a return to somewhere near the neighborhood of his former glory is more likely than a repeat of his disastrous 2009.”

    Well I hope you’re right, but isn’t it more likely that he falls somewhere in the middle? Before the injury he was a kid who’d only known success – he fully believed if he got in trouble he could rear back and fire and that was it. Fast forward to now – he’s had a major surgery to which he hasn’t completely adjusted, and he’s coming off an awful year which showed a lack of mental toughness. I don’t see Frankie as a guy with a short memory, either. I say if his stuff really is better he improves on ‘09, but I don’t see him returning to phenom status. Maybe he’s our #3 or #4 by the end of the year.

  7. rghrbek February 2nd, 2010 12:25 pm

    I might not have been clear, that I am only speaking of Francisco. Many pitchers come back from TJ surgery now, and have good careers, although the Twins haven’t had great luck as an organization.

    To my knowledge, there is just not a long list of power pitchers, who have a wicked slider (outside of a screw ball is there anything that puts more stress on the arm?)that have come back successfully, and remained throwing with that kind of velocity. We know, in the past, once Cisco gets in trouble he relies heavily on the slider, simply because it’s a great pitch and he trusts it more than his fastball.

    If his change-up develops, and he can locate his fast ball, then I might let more optimism creep in.

    The light bulb can always turn on for anyone, but I’m not going to proclaim something like an era under 3 and over 200 k’s for the kid, based on 5 or 6 games from the Dominican winter league.

  8. sirsean February 2nd, 2010 12:43 pm

    “Not too many pitchers come back from Tommy John surgurey well without reinventing themselves.” That doesn’t sound like you meant that Liriano is unique in struggling to return from TJ surgery. Or did you mean that Liriano is unique in his inability to recover/improve?

    I know that the split-finger fastball puts more stress on the arm than any pitch, and that many power pitchers use the splitter, and that many of those have successfully return from TJ surgery with no ill effects.

    A slider is not necessarily hard on the arm at all. Liriano’s happens to be, because his mechanics on the slider are bad. Maybe Rick Anderson doesn’t know enough about pitching to teach him a viable slider that won’t destroy his arm (none of our other pitchers have a good slider either). Maybe Anderson doesn’t know what to do with a guy who can’t be called a sinker baller (whether they throw sinkers or generate grounders is less important than what category Anderson can stick the pitcher into).

    And it wasn’t 5-6 games in the Dominican Winter League. It was 7 games just in the playoffs (I don’t know how many more during the regular season), and you can’t post numbers like 0.49 ERA, 47 K, 5 BB in 37 IP if you’re not putting the ball over the plate. I don’t know what it says about his stuff (though the fact that nobody could get a hit off him kind of indicates it was “good”), but it definitely says his command was there. And 7 playoff games isn’t a ludicrously small sample size; we’re talking about 20-25% of a regular season (not enough to make a real decision about a talent level, but too much time to just dismiss).

    If you really want to ignore quotes like

    “He killed me,” Casilla said with a laugh when asked about Liriano’s winter performance in the Dominican. “He kill everyone.”

    and

    “I’ve got my confidence back,” Liriano said. “This winter is the best I’ve felt.”

    and

    “[It was like], this is me,” Liriano said of the way he was throwing. “That’s the way I know how to pitch. Not worry about anything or any hitter. Just go out there and try to throw first pitch strikes and locate my fastball. I feel like I did in ‘06, I have my confidence back. My arm feels great. Physically and mentally I’m ready to go.”

    in addition to ignoring his most recent performance statistics, then that, obviously, is your prerogative. But then you’re just basing your opinion on a scout-like hunch about someone’s mental characteristics, having never actually spoken to the person whose brain you’re condemning.* Personally, I try to stay away from that kind of thing.

    * Maybe it’s unfair of me, but I’m assuming you don’t personally know Liriano, and that he hasn’t actually told you that he mentally breaks down whenever anything goes wrong … let me know if I’m wrong about that.

  9. rghrbek February 2nd, 2010 1:44 pm

    You are fired up on this one!

    ““Not too many pitchers come back from Tommy John surgurey well without reinventing themselves.”, is a comment meant for people of Francisco style of pitching. Granted if you throw in the high 80’s low 90’s and are a command pitcher things are different. I don’t think that’s an outlandish statement.

    The Twins have always said that he is going to have to become more of a pitcher, not a thrower after the procedure.

    I’m also suppose to pay attention to quotes from Alexi Casilla? Your serious? That’s why I think you are overly fired up on this issue. Of course Frankie is going to say he feels like his old self, what else is he going to say?

    The splitter is a fore arm issue, where as I thought the slider was an elbow issue? I think a lot of it, depends on the pitcher at hand, and how they throw the various pitches. Frankie’s is violent, when he snaps that baby off.

    I am not backing any of this stuff up with researched facts, except from what I’ve seen from the Franchise the past year and a half.

    You can pick apart my differing opinions if you choose, just as you can also rely on those 7 games (gardy’s, casilla’s, and liriano’s comments) as your basis for making your prediction. Cool, that’s what this space is for.

    But, I’m holding out for the last 2 weeks of Spring training and the regular season to ease my skepticism.

  10. sirsean February 2nd, 2010 1:56 pm

    I think we’ve both said everything we need to say in this “argument,” but I’ll just point out as I sign off that you didn’t hold off until the last few weeks of Spring Training and the regular season … you predicted that Liriano would fail miserably to the point of being kicked off the team.

    We’re not going to know who’s right about this for several months, and by then it won’t even be important. But I’d definitely rather he goes down to the Dominican and strikes everybody out than walks everybody — neither is definitive proof that he’s good or bad, but they do indicate something. I mean, we’re talking about a 9.4 K/BB ratio; it’s not a bad sign.

  11. rghrbek February 2nd, 2010 2:36 pm

    Agreed,

    It’s not a bad sign, it’s encouraging, what happened down there. His talent was so great in 2006, that it’s worth finding out, no doubt.

    We just both view that info differently, that’s all.

    However, to your point, my prediction (which hopefully is proven very wrong and makes me look like an ass) and easing my skepticism are two different things all together.

    Thanks for your thoughts, keep the great posts up!

  12. Ragstoriches February 2nd, 2010 4:17 pm

    “But then you’re just basing your opinion on a scout-like hunch about someone’s mental characteristics, having never actually spoken to the person whose brain you’re condemning.”

    So you don’t think Frankie had a tough time getting out of jams last year? Even your stats would prove that. Why did ‘09 Frankie fail to resemble even the 2nd half of ‘08 Frankie – he had another year to recover from surgery, right?

    “In addition to ignoring his most recent performance statistics, then that, obviously, is your prerogative.”

    His most recent performance statistics are 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA. We’re talking MLB here, right? Or are the Twins now in the Dominican League?

    Love the optimism, but you pretty much attacked rghrbek even though he’s the one using logic and common sense here.

  13. Fire Gardy » The Luck of the Liriano February 2nd, 2010 6:50 pm

    [...] the comments on yesterday’s post about Liriano, we had a pretty good discussion that’s worth reading through. There were a couple posts, by [...]

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