Breaking Down Francisco Liriano’s Hex on the Cardinals

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Francisco Liriano has made the St. Louis Cardinals look foolish at the plate in 2013. When 100% healthy, Liriano is a fantastic pitcher, no one can deny that. Yet, the Cardinals are making it easy on him. There are things that must be done by the Cardinals if they want to have success against him. First, let’s take a look at his statistics against St. Louis in 2013.

July 29th in Pittsburgh: Pirates 9, Cardinals 2
7.0 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts, 102 pitches

August 14th in St. Louis: Pirates 5, Cardinals 1
9.0 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, 94 pitches

August 30th in Pittsburgh: Pirates 5, Cardinals 0
8.0 innings pitched, 2 hits, 0 earned runs, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 95 pitches

2013 Total:
24.0 innings pitched, 10 hits, 2 earned runs, 5 walks, 20 strikeouts, 291 pitches

Thus, Liriano is averaging 8 innings and 97 pitches per game against St. Louis. Liriano is a left-handed pitcher, and we all know that the Cardinals have a woeful time hitting lefties–.236 batting average, .293 on-base percentage, and .374 slugging percentage.

Liriano also has devastating stuff. His whiff percentages are unbelievable for a starting pitcher. Batters are swinging and missing over 20% of the time on both his slider and changeup this season. His sinker averages 8.93 inches of horizontal movement, and his changeup averages 9.15 inches of horizontal movement. Thus, his pitches have incredible tailing action that lead to a lot of swings and misses.

Well, unfortunately for the Cardinals, his pitches aren’t going to magically become straighter or any easier to hit. However, Cardinals’ hitters need to start laying off stuff out of the zone. By laying off pitches out of the zone, it will lead to longer at-bats, more walks, and better pitches to hit. Liriano has faced 84 St. Louis batters this season, and 42 of them (50%) have had at-bats of three pitches or less. This is a starting pitcher’s dream–an over-anxious lineup leading to efficient pitch counts.

In Liriano’s 3 games against the Cardinals this season, St. Louis hitters have had 23 at-bats end with pitches out of the zone. They are 0 for 23 in those at-bats with 13 strikeouts. Thus, it is obvious that Liriano is getting Cardinals’ hitters to chase. 13 of his 20 strikeouts (65%) have come on pitches out of the strikezone. That is absolutely unacceptable for an offense like the Cardinals.

Conclusion:

The Cardinals offense is better than this. I realize he is a lefty, but they need to at least make it a little harder for him. Almost one-third (23/72) of Liriano’s outs are coming on pitches out of the zone. That just cannot happen if the team wants to succeed.

Liriano is good, and the team very well may not ever be able to hit him this season or post-season. If this is the case, then the next best thing they can do is work the count and get to the bullpen quicker. A 94 pitch complete game just cannot happen to a lineup that consists of Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina.

I realize that the Pirates have a good bullpen with Mark Melancon as their closer, but their chances are much better against him than Liriano. Also, if they get deeper into counts and stay within the strikezone, it will force Liriano to change the way he likes to pitch.

On August 9th against Colorado, Liriano allowed 10 earned runs and was unable to get out of the third inning. Why? The Rockies were not chasing his pitches out of the zone like the Cardinals have this season. Liriano faced 21 hitters and only two had at-bats that ended on a pitch out of the zone. Though both of those ended in singles, it still shows that their approach at the plate forced Liriano to pitch inside the strikezone where his pitches become a lot more “hittable.”

If the Cardinals ever want success against Liriano, they need to emulate the Rockies’ approach against Liriano. He wants hitters to chase his pitches. Frankly, some of his stuff moves so much that it has to be hard for him to even throw it into the zone. Thus, lay of those pitches and take some walks. By doing this, Liriano will have to adjust by giving the batter a pitch to hit.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

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