No, he’s not quite as good as he was in 2006, but Francisco Liriano has at least shown he’s better than he was in 2008 and 2009. Now three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Liriano has increased his fastball velocity by about three mph since he first returned from surgery in 2008 and by about two mph over his velocity in 2009.
While you can attribute some of that to Liriano’s returning arm strength, he’s also adjusted his mechanics to maximize his output.
So what’s changed since last year? I’ll give you two angles of Liriano, comparing the 2009 and 2010 versions. The first angle is from the center field camera. On the left is the 2009 Liriano throwing a 90 mph fastball, while on the right is Liriano in 2010 throwing a 94 mph fastball:
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media
The main thing I want you to focus on here is what the torso does as the hands break: It bends at the waist. It’s called bend as you break and it’s something I’ve spoken about before. Many high velocity throwers, at the time they break their hands (or just after), bend over at the waist. Just before their front foot lands, the torso springs back up and a whole bunch of torque/separation is created between the torso and the hips.
The next angle of Liriano comes from just right of center. You can’t pick up as much difference in how deep the torso bends as you can from the center field angle. However, there are some other differences to note. On the left, Liriano is clocked at 88 mph in a game from the 2009 season, while on the right is Liriano in 2010, throwing a 95 mph fastball:
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media
First, note how at the start of the clip, the 2010 Liriano is not as far along in his delivery. Since the release points are synchronized, we can conclude that Liriano’s body in 2010 is moving at a faster pace throughout his windup. Second, it appears that at the top of his knee lift, the 2010 version has less of a pause. This means there is more momentum being created as he works his way through his windup. Any pause in one’s delivery can bleed energy one needs to produce a high velocity pitch.
What’s interesting is that the 2009 version appears to break his hands just a tad later than the 2010 version. A later hand break is most often associated with better velocity. But in this case, since Liriano’s body is further ahead in 2010, the hands have to break sooner to keep up.
The last thing to notice is the finish of each pitch. Check out the intent of the 2010 version of Liriano; check out the violence. I intentionally chose fastballs with a big difference in velocity to illustrate the importance of intent on velocity. On the 95 mph pitch, the head gets jerked a little more to the side, the torso is thrust forward a little more violently, the back leg wildly swings around, and the front foot has to replant itself.
While the extra velocity is certainly nice, perhaps more important for the Twins is the fact Liriano has now been healthy for three straight seasons and his future looks as bright as ever.