Strikeouts and grounders: Francisco Liriano is dealing again

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I’ve often suggested that the Francisco Liriano who was the best, most overpowering pitcher in all of baseball as a rookie in 2006 was lost for good when he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery.
I still believe that to be true, but a) the version we’ve seen so far this year is pretty damn close, and b) if there wasn’t an extraordinarily dominant 2006 version to compare him to the reaction to what Liriano is doing right now would be, more or less, “holy %@&!.”
What made Liriano so incredibly special in 2006 is that he both led the league in strikeout rate and ranked fifth in ground-ball percentage, which is essentially the perfect combination. After returning from surgery in 2008/2009 he lost about one-fifth of his strikeouts, saw his fastball and slider velocity decline 3-4 miles per hour, and actually turned into a fly-ball pitcher, with his ground-ball rate going from 55 percent to 40 percent.
In other words, not only did his raw stuff and on-field results change for the worse with a drop in velocity and 5.12 post-surgery ERA, he was actually a different type of pitcher. Thankfully, it looks like he’s back to missing bats and killing worms. After a mediocre season debut Liriano has won three straight starts and thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings while allowing just 14 hits and five walks, racking up 24 strikeouts and 32 ground-ball outs in those 23 frames.
His start-by-start lines:

DATE     OPP      IP     R     H     SO     BB     GB     PIT
4/15     BOS     7.0     0     4      8      2     10      96
4/21     CLE     8.0     0     6      6      2     13     102
4/26     DET     8.0     0     4     10      1      9     112




Now, even 24 strikeouts and 32 ground-ball outs in 23 innings can’t compare to what he did in 2006 and Liriano’s velocity also isn’t quite back to his pre-surgery levels, but that just shows how insanely great he was back then. For the past three starts he’s averaged 93-94 miles per hour on his fastball with a strikeout per inning and nearly twice as many grounders as fly balls, which is absolutely, without question the recipe for top-of-the-rotation dominance.
Time will obviously tell if he can keep it up, but right now the Twins have a 26-year-old ace.

Bryce Harper activated from the disabled list

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The Nationals have activated Bryce Harper from the disabled list.

They were expected to activate Harper yesterday but they didn’t because Harper was suffering from an illness. He’s better today so he should be in the lineup against the Phillies.

Harper has been out since August when he slipped on a wet first base bag and was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his left knee. That interrupted an MVP-caliber season in which he was hitting .326/.419/.614 with 29 home runs, 87 RBI, and 92 runs scored in 472 plate appearances. While the postseason awards are out of his reach, the Nats will be content to get him back up to speed in time for what looks to be a first round playoff matchup against the Chicago Cubs.

Someone stole Trevor Bauer’s drone

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Last year Trevor Bauer‘s playoff availability — and performance — was impacted in a major way by a drone injury. Specifically, Bauer lacerated his pinky on the outside of his right hand while repairing one of the drones he designs, builds and flies.

Now, a little over a week before the Indians begin the defense of their American League pennant, Bauer is embroiled in further drone drama. He tweeted this afternoon that his drone “IronMan” has been stolen. He has implored the public for Iron Man’s safe return so that he need not risk his pinky finger with yet another October drone injury:

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the Indians themselves stole the drone so that Bauer does not mess with it anymore until the season is over. They need him too badly.