In 96 pitches over seven innings, Francisco Liriano limited the Red Sox to four hits and two walks, striking out eight. Those numbers dovetail perfectly with his observed stuff. Thanks to the glorious dead-center camera angle utilized by Fox Sports North, the movement on Liriano’s fastball was readily noticeable. Using MLB’s Gameday tool, let’s take a look at Liriano’s fourth-inning strikeout of Mike Lowell. Here’s the pitch sequence as seen from, we’ll say, Joe Mauer‘s left knee. Lowell took pitches 1 and 2, both 94 mile-per-hour fastballs, and swung through pitch 3, an 85 mile-per-hour slider.
So other than a silent protest over playing time, how did Lowell get down 0-2 on fastballs crossing the heart of the plate? Let’s flip the angle, looking at the sequence this time from approximately Liriano’s left hip:
The image isn’t perfect, but try to focus on the initial trajectory of the fastballs. Both came out of Liriano’s left hand (at 94 miles-per-hour) boring to the high, inside edge of the strikezone. Both then broke on two planes, down and away from the right-handed Lowell. The 0-2 slider was executed to perfection, starting on the same trajectory as the fastballs, but nearly 10 miles-per-hour slower and breaking harder down and this time toward Lowell. He had no chance.
I’ve included the Gameday PITCHf/x data because many of us get a whole lot out of it. Personally, I really enjoy the data playing nice with my own perception of the game, developed over countless hours of playing, watching, and thinking about baseball. Two hard fastballs that end up nowhere near where they started followed by a slower pitch breaking the ‘wrong’ way…that’s just a lethal sequence. And maybe my favorite to watch in the game.
In the context of one at-bat, of course, the data don’t mean much. And the data will mean more than this at-bat when it comes to determining, in a few months, just how far back Francisco Liriano has come. Still, for the better part of two hours and thirty-eight minutes this afternoon, Liriano was electric. If he’s anywhere close to this good for the entire season, the Twins are transformed. We all know they have patented the process for developing nondescript strike-throwers. Liriano can offer something completely different.