F-Bomb 2.0: How close is Francisco Liriano to the 2006 version?

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Francisco Liriano has reemerged as an elite pitcher this year
and his
latest masterpiece
came Friday night against the Braves, with 11
strikeouts and zero walks in eight innings of one-run ball. His gem
versus Atlanta marked the second straight start in which Liriano has
allowed just one run while racking up double-digit strikeouts, and
overall this season he’s 6-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 87/21 K/BB ratio in 80.2 innings spread over 12 starts.

Now around four years removed from Tommy John elbow surgery Liriano has clearly
re-established himself as an ace, but because he was the ace
prior to going under the knife the temptation will always be there to
compare what he’s doing now to the 2006 version that eviscerated the
league as a 22-year-old rookie.

Thanks to abundance of information available
at Fan Graphs
, we can get a pretty good idea of how Liriano in 2010
stacks up to Liriano in 2006 …

Let’s start from the top, with
his fastball
:

FASTBALL          2006     2010
Velocity 94.7 93.5
Percentage 43.6 50.7
Runs per 100 +0.13 +0.50

Liriano in 2006 threw his fastball an average of 94.7 miles per hour,
but his velocity has dipped to 93.5 miles per hour this season. While
that still ranks seventh in the league, a decline of 1.2 miles per hour
is a significant drop in velocity. However, despite Liriano’s fastball
being slower he’s thrown it 16.2 percent more often and the pitch has
also been more effective, rating 0.50 runs above average per 100
offerings compared to 0.13 runs above average per 100 in 2006.

In other words, Liriano’s fastball has gotten worse but he’s gotten
better at throwing it, which is natural for a pitcher as he gains more
experience and also a credit to the work he’s done on the long road back
from surgery. Obviously it would be great if Liriano threw 95 mph
again, but having better command of the pitch at 93.5 mph can actually
be even better. Now let’s take a similar look at
his slider
:

SLIDER            2006     2010
Velocity 87.7 85.0
Percentage 37.6 32.6
Runs per 100 +3.47 +2.71

Surgery cost Liriano even more velocity on his slider than his
fastball, with the pitch going from an average of 87.7 mph in 2006 to
85.0 mph this year. Not only did his 87.7 mph slider lead the league in
2006, no one else even cracked 87.0. This year his slider velocity is
13th in the league and unlike with the fastball he hasn’t been able to
compensate by throwing it better. He’s relied on the slider 13.2 percent
less and the pitch has been 21.9 percent less effective.

Of course, less effective is a relative term. His slider has gone
from +3.47 runs per 100 pitches in 2006 to +2.71 runs per 100 pitches
this year, which is a big drop. Yet even at 21.9 percent less effective
than it was before surgery Liriano’s slider has been the second-best in
the AL. That shows just how devastating his slider was in 2006, but also
that, as Chipper Jones put
it after facing him Friday
, he still throws “some disappearing” and
“Randy Johnson-type” sliders.

CHANGEUP          2006     2010
Velocity 83.5 84.8
Percentage 18.7 16.7
Runs per 100 +2.82 -0.99

Liriano’s changeup was underrated in 2006 as everyone focused on his
mid-90s fastball and ridiculous slider, but it ranked as one of the best
in the league at +2.82 runs per 100 pitches. Since coming back from
surgery Liriano’s changeup velocity has actually risen by 1.3 mph, but
that’s not a good thing and when combined with a 1.2 mph decline in
fastball velocity equals a much less effective weapon. In fact, his
changeup has gone from great in 2006 to bad in 2010.

In terms of individual pitches, Liriano’s fastball is slower but
ultimately more effective, his slider is slower and less effective but
still an incredibly dominant offering, and his changeup is faster but
significantly less effective. Now let’s move on to Liriano’s actual
results
with a year-to-year comparison of his ERA, Expected
Fielding Independent Pitching
, strikeout rate, walk rate, and
ground-ball percentage:

YEAR      ERA     xFIP     SO/9     BB/9      GB%
2006 2.16 2.35 10.7 2.4 55.3
2010 2.90 2.95 9.7 2.4 49.1

Those stats are all more or less what you’d expected based on the
individual pitch changes. He’s lost one strikeout per nine innings and
has induced 11 percent fewer ground balls, which makes sense given the
drops in velocity and slider ridiculousness. However, his walk rate has
remained constant at 2.4 batters per nine innings, which can seemingly
be linked to Liriano’s improved fastball command canceling out the
decline in raw, blow-it-past-everyone stuff.

What made Liriano so amazing in 2006 is that he combined an
incredible number of strikeouts with tons of ground balls, which is the
perfect recipe for a pitcher. Surgery has cost him about 10 percent of
both his strikeouts and ground balls, but Liriano still ranks third in
the league in strikeout rate and 12th in ground-ball rate. In terms of
overall effectiveness, he’s gone from a 2.16 ERA and 2.35 xFIP
in 2006 to a 2.90 ERA and 2.95 xFIP this season.

Here’s an
even further breakdown of his results
, based on strikes, swings,
and contact:

YEAR     ZONE     SWNG     CONT     Z-SW     Z-CN     O-SW     O-CN
2006 54.8 47.8 65.4 64.5 76.0 27.5 35.3
2010 47.5 46.9 75.5 63.3 87.1 32.2 54.8

Liriano has actually thrown 13.3 percent fewer pitches in the strike
zone (ZONE) this season, which perhaps could be chalked up to his no
longer being able to simply overpower everyone with strikes. Opponents
are swinging (SWNG) at basically the same number of pitches, hacking at
48 percent in 2006 and 47 percent this season, but they’re making
contact (CONT) on those swings 15.4 percent more often this year.

On pitches inside the zone opponents are swinging (Z-SW) at the same
rate as 2006, but are making 15 percent more contact (Z-CN). On pitches
outside the zone opponents are swinging (O-SW) 17 percent more often and
also making 55 percent more contact (O-CN). I’m not smart enough to
know for sure, but it seems like the slider going from ridiculous to
merely excellent and the changeup going from excellent to bad could
explain the swing and contact changes.

Add it all up and Liriano clearly isn’t the same pitcher he was
before elbow surgery. His velocity is down, his slider and changeup
aren’t as good, he’s getting 10 percent fewer strikeouts and ground
balls, and hitters are having a much easier time making contact against
him on pitches in and out of the strike zone. He’s also relying less on
his slider and more on his fastball, likely due in part to the injury
risk of the slider and in part to his improved command of the fastball.

It seems clear that the phenom who toyed with the league in 2006 is
simply gone forever, but the good news is that Liriano was so
spectacularly awesome then that even this post-surgery version with
obvious declines in numerous areas is one of the elite pitchers in all
of baseball. His combination of strikeouts and ground balls still ranks
among the best in the league and his raw stuff is still capable of
overpowering hitters, as the Braves saw first hand Friday.

Oh, and the other good news? F-Bomb 2.0 is still five months from his
27th birthday.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]