In 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 semi-frequent commenter Ragstoriches, that stuck out from the flow of the conversation and raise an issue that I don’t think I can do justice to in a comment. So I’m promoting it to a full-blown post, is what I’m doing.
He opened with this:
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.
And after the rest of the conversation had taken place, he closed with this:
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?
I’m sure games like that happened, but that happens to a lot of pitchers; also, I’ve found that memory is a funny thing, and that it sometimes plays tricks on you. So, without further ado, it’s time to peel back some layers of Liriano’s statistical onion and see just how quickly it can make us cry.
Ready? I sure am.
First, a baseline “this is not a jam” situation (leading off an inning). The first batter of the game had an .863 OPS with a .389 BABIP; the first batter of the inning overall had an .897 OPS with a .337 BABIP. So … not good, but also very unlucky.
His performance was worse than that in every base/out situation except “men on first and second” (when he had a .773 OPS with a .308 BABIP), and “a man on third and 2 outs” (when he had an .830 OPS and a .429 BABIP).
Some notable “in a jam” situations:
- RISP: .922 OPS, .347 BABIP
- Men on: .945 OPS, .369 BABIP
- Man on third: 1.117 OPS, .455 BABIP
- First & third: .908 OPS, .286 BABIP
- 2nd & 3rd: 1.198 OPS, .500 BABIP
- 3rd, under 2 outs: 1.221 OPS, .370 BABIP
- 3rd, 2 outs: .830 OPS, .429 BABIP
Look at those BABIP numbers, please. For the most part, those are ludicrously high, unsustainable for any pitcher. Furthermore, in only three cases are his BABIP numbers in a “reasonable” or “predictive” range; .288 with the bases empty, .286 with men on first and third, and .308 with men on first and second. Meanwhile, in all other cases, his BABIP ranged from .321 up to an absurd .500.
Okay, so base/out situations give us one window into Liriano’s failure when he got into a jam, but there’s more to this story.
Let’s take a look at his “clutch stats,” to see if those shed any more light on what’s going on here.
- 2 outs, RISP: .892 OPS, .359 BABIP
- Late & Close: 1.277 OPS, .545 BABIP
- Tie game: .800 OPS, .303 BABIP
- Within 1 R: .879 OPS, .324 BABIP
- Within 2 R: .866 OPS, .329 BABIP
- Within 3 R: .875 OPS, .333 BABIP
- Within 4 R: .856 OPS, .328 BABIP
- > 4 R: .474 OPS, .259 BABIP
Or we could just break it down by the leverage index, and see how he did in situations of various “game-on-the-line”-itude.
- High leverage: .893 OPS, .371 BABIP
- Medium leverage: 1.009 OPS, .367 BABIP
- Low leverage: .567 OPS, .243 BABIP
Alright. Enough. I think we’re painting a pretty clear picture here.
Liriano had bad basic numbers overall in 2009, but these numbers show that for the most part what happened was that when he was “in a jam” or the game was “on the line,” he got ridiculously unlucky; when it didn’t matter, his luck reversed and he “mowed down the opposition” (ie, the ball found the defenders’ gloves).
Much has been made of Liriano’s strikeouts and walks, of his command of his fastball, of his confidence and his emotional state, of how he seemed to get tired after just a few innings, or that he couldn’t adjust to the adjustments the hitters made the second and third time through the order. A lot of these things are true; especially the ones about his command, and his K/BB ratio.
Check out his peripheral stats:
- 2006: 10.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 6.6 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 4.5 K/BB
- 2008: 7.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 8.8 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 2.09 K/BB
- 2009: 8.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 9.7 H/9, 1.4 HR/9, 1.88 K/BB
Obviously, every single one of those stats is trending in the wrong direction (and that’s why his ERA+ has gone from 207 to 107 to 75).
It stands to reason that eventually, his luck will change and his BABIP will drop back to normal levels; his H/9 should drop back down, perhaps not all the way to 6.6, but perhaps to the 7-8 range. A 1.4 HR/9 is totally unsustainable, and that’ll go back down to 1.0 or so (especially given Liriano’s propensity to generate ground balls).
So even if Liriano’s stuff hasn’t improved, and his K/9 and BB/9 rates stay the same, and the only thing that changes is that he’s not one of the unluckiest pitchers in the game, well, his numbers are going to improve quite a bit. If he doesn’t get better, just less-unlucky, Liriano is an above-average pitcher.
And if the reports about his improved command, velocity, and movement prove true? Well, if you combine that with improved luck, he’s still not back to 2006 but he’s getting close.* And close, really, is good enough.
* I closed yesterday’s post by saying that perhaps I was being wildly optimistic. After seeing just how bad his luck was in 2009, I think that was an overstatement. I’m optimistic, but there’s nothing “wild” about predicting that his BABIP will decrease from its cosmic heights and bring his numbers back into line with his talent.
So no, I don’t think the numbers show that Liriano had an especially tough time getting out of jams last year. I think the numbers show that he was unlucky, that any time someone made contact, the ball found a hole. I think that bad luck may, over time, have gotten into his head; have you ever gotten into a rut where you think that everything’s going to go wrong for you? I have, and when it happens your confidence is destroyed; you alternate between not trying enough and trying too hard, and neither is any good. Recovering from this is hard, and a lot of it is just taking some time off and rebuilding your confidence before you get back to it. It must be nice to have an offseason.
That’s why I put so much stock into quotes like this:
“[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.”
“I’ve got my confidence back,” Liriano said. “This winter is the best I’ve felt.”
I don’t see Liriano as being any sort of spin-master, with the ability to concoct an elaborate web of lies for our benefit. I see him more as a simple man, perhaps not fully mature, who hadn’t had to face much hardship until after he’d been thrust into the public eye; and now he’s stuck having to grow up in front of our eyes.
Perhaps it’s naivete, but I trust that he can do it.20 comments