Injuries took him out of the 2011 season but it was clear that the southpaw was not the same pitcher as he was the season before. Between a decrease in velocity, an inability to locate his fastball and regularly falling behind his opponents, Liriano posted a career high in walks (75) and his second-worst ERA of his career (5.09). Perhaps a bit predictably based upon his delivery and past history, he succumbed to injuries midway through last season and missed a significant amount of time. Suddenly, not signing Liriano to a long-term deal became one of Bill Smith’s finest moves as a GM.
For his part, Liriano, who was admonished for not following through with offseason workouts before last season, opted to participate in winter ball – the same platform that helped him regain his form two seasons ago. Unfortunately, the results were not quite as enticing this year as they were in the past. He threw 24.2 innings and posted a 25/16 K/BB ratio in winter ball. This outcome was a distant cry from his 2009 winter league performance in which he reintroduced himself to baseball as one of the more filthy pitchers in baseball. That year in 20 innings Liriano posted a 30/5 K/BB ratio on his way to becoming one of the Twins more dominating starters in the 2010 regular season.
Admittedly, each pitch thrown between November and April means very little in the grand scheme yet the signs are not wholly positive at this juncture. What can Liriano do to become the pitcher the Twins so desperately need in 2012?
There’s no question that he still has the nasty slider that can catapult him towards being a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, however, as I detailed following Liriano’s first outing this offseason in the Dominican, the main question is whether he can command his fastball.
According to BrooksBaseball.net’s pitch f/x data, Liriano’s fastball was vastly different from the 2010 predecessor:
Liriano’s Fastballs (2010 vs 2011)
In addition to the decrease in velocity, notice the sharp decline in the amount of called strikes with his two-seamed fastball. This is the pitch he uses most often against right-handed opponents. This may explain why his walk rate when facing righties jumped from 8.5% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2011. Having scouted a couple of Liriano’s outings in the Dominican, you can see that he was still struggling to place the pitch in the Caribbean – specifically his two-seamed fastball against right-handers.
Outside of Scott Baker, the Twins have little in their rotation of being an elite pitcher. In order to reach that echelon which the team so desperately needs, Liriano, besides being healthy, needs to see an improved fastball in 2012.