Here’s a sentence that would have sounded pretty crazy back in spring training: Francisco Liriano is lined up to start the Wild Card play-in game for the Pirates.
Even crazier is that the Pirates may not need him to do that if they win the NL Central, but if Pittsburgh plays in the Wild Card playoff game Liriano would likely get the call, manager Clint Hurdle told Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
It’s an option that we’ve talked about. I think the way it lines up right now, if there were no changes, Liriano would be able to pitch a play-in game or the first wild-card game which isn’t a bad option to have if that’s where you end up going.
Liriano is 16-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 148 innings and it’s also worth noting that he’s been historically dominant versus left-handed hitters this season, which would be a nice fit if the Pirates end up facing a Reds lineup that revolves around lefties Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jay Bruce.
Liriano has one career playoff start, back in 2010 against the Yankees in the ALDS. It was at Target Field in Minnesota and I was there and it was sad. But if the Pirates are going to put their season in the hands of one pitcher Liriano is a pretty easy pick.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.