You could forgive Pirates fans if, upon hearing their club signed Francisco Liriano over the winter, they had bad flashbacks to Oliver Perez. The comparison wasn't hard to make: A tantalizing lefty with low 90s gas, a wipeout slider...and the aim of a blind-folded dart-thrower. Liriano issued five free passes per nine innings during the 2011-12 seasons, racking up a five-plus ERA and even getting banished to the bullpen for a time last May. Add in a broken non-throwing arm that wiped out the first month of his season, and expectations were low that Liriano would show the form that earned him All-Star status in 2006 and AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2010.
But Liriano is doing just that. He has punched out 39 batters and walked just nine through 29 innings pitched, and he has yet to surrender a single home run. The 29-year-old is keeping the ball in the park by pounding hitters at the knees: He has thrown 62% of his pitches to the lower-third of the strike zone, the highest clip among starting pitchers throwing at least 400 pitches this season and well above his 52% mark from 2012. Here's more on Liriano's prowess low in the zone:
- Liriano is inducing whiffs 50% of the time that hitters swing at his low stuff, narrowly beating out baseball's strikeout king, Yu Darvish, for the best mark among starting pitchers.
Liriano's contact rate by pitch location, 2013
- Liriano is also getting plenty of swings on low pitches thrown off the plate, as his 36% chase rate attests. The only starters with a higher chase rate on low stuff are Shaun Marcum, Johnny Cueto, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ervin Santana and Felix Hernandez.
- With all of those whiffs and chases, Liriano is limiting batters to a .191 slugging percentage on low pitches. That's 12th-lowest among starters and over 120 points below the big league average (.314), though A.J. Burnett (.153 opponent slugging percentage on low pitches) still has bragging rights in the Pirates clubhouse.