Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mixed messages might have messed up Liriano

In the aftermath of a disastrous outing from Francisco Liriano on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, there has been plenty written about the lanky left-hander for the Twins. The Twins watched Liriano struggle out of the gate in 2011 and now the same story is playing out at the beginning of 2012. In his first three starts of the year, he has allowed the most earned runs and walks in the American League. His ERA has ballooned to 11.91 and he has yet to make it into the sixth inning during any of his appearances. It has been a terrible start to what will be a contract year for Mr. Liriano.

How far things have fallen with their once promising star and now the Twins find themselves in a precarious position with their pitcher that has never been able to regain his dominant form. The Twins are in the sixth year of the Liriano experiment and the results are turning out to be far worse than the hypothesis suggested back in 2006. One of the top prospects in all of baseball at 22-years old and now at 28, he seems to have reached his sticking point with the Twins.

It is looking more and more like Liriano's career will be over with the Twins by the time the start of next season rolls around. There will be plenty of people who ask the question, "What went wrong with this young man?" His Tommy John surgery obviously played a role in diminishing some of his ability but he has shown flashes of brilliance since returning to the mound. But there has to be more to the downfall of Liriano.

The Twins have tried a variety of approaches with Liriano during his tenure with the team. They have let him pitch in winter ball some seasons to see if that better prepared him for the start of the year. Some of the coaching staff has attempted to find different ways for Liriano to approach his pitching style to see if that would consummate better results on the field. All of these changes in approach might have come off as mixed messages to Liriano and this could have messed up some of his ability on the field.

2006 message to Liriano: "Go out and dominate by throwing your nasty stuff to every player in the line-up." 
This message sounded good at the time but everyone knew his violent delivery seemed posed for some kind of arm issue. The first half of the 2006 season was magical with Liriano and Johan Santana destroying the American League with their pitching efforts. It seemed like these two players might be enough to carry the Twins all the way to their first World Series in over 15 years. Liriano had dominant stuff so there was not much thought that he needed to put into his pitching. All he had to do was step on the mound and his electric stuff would take care of any batter who dug into the box.

2008-09 message to Liriano: "We really liked what you did before you got hurt so let's try and get you back to that point."
Learning how to pitch after Tommy John surgery can be a challenge for some players. Liriano had been so dominant before the procedure and that filled him with confidence. Since he lost a little off of his dominant stuff, he was going to need to learn how to be a pitcher. This process wouldn't be pretty but the Twins still had hope that Liriano would be able to reach his ace potential once again.

2010 message to Liriano: "You have the stuff to be an ace and your injury is behind you. Now it's time to show that you are an ace."
Liriano seemed to put it all together and the team looked like they had finally found their ace for the coming years. His confidence grew and the results were positive on the field. There were still some moments of weakness where nerves would get the best of Liriano but he seemed to have turned a corner. He was one of the top ten pitchers in the American League and on his way to being an ace.

2011 message to Liriano: "Maybe switching to being a pitch to contact starter will help be even better."
In the offseason, Liriano took the winter off because of the high number of innings he pitched in 2010. He came to spring training out of shape and he had not been performing some of the elbow exercises the team had given him as part of his offseason workout regime. To overcome some of these problems, the Twins gave Liriano a new message. He wasn't suppose to try and strike everyone out because then he didn't last very long into the game. He should still get a strikeout when he could but a quick ground out was just as good as a K. The coaching staff had used this concept with other pitchers in the organization and it had served them well in the past. That wasn't the case with Mr. Liriano.

2012 message to Liriano: "Relax. Don't let the bad outcomes on the mound impact your results to the following batters. Become a pitcher and not a thrower."
The biggest part of the message to Liriano might be the fact that he needs to relax on the mound. When Liriano seems to start to unravel, the catcher is suppose to be able to bring him back to reality and calm his nerves. Parker Hageman also notes that there seems to be something wrong with Liriano's mechanics. This will only add to the list of things the Twins need to change with Liriano for him to find success this year.

Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson are probably the two men that have given plenty of messages to Liriano over the years. At this point in his career, the multitude of messages given to him has yet to change the course of his career in a more positive direction. It's looking more and more like Liriano might be better off with another team and new voices trying to get the message through to him. Now it seems the only question remaining is if the Twins can get anything for Liriano or if he will walk for free in the offseason.


JimCrikket said...

At this point, the only message I'd have for Liriano is "Grow up and grow a pair." Seriously, haven't enough people been making enough excuses for this guy for too long?

PK said...

If at least part of Liriano's problem is not handling pressure situations well, and there is some evidence over the years that this is true, then it makes perfect sense that this year would be his most difficult year to perform well because he has the added pressure of being in this pre-free-agent year.

I don't look for him to get it together for any extended period of time. It appears his only real hope is a change of scenery and a different pitching coach. The Twins' only real hope is they can get at least something out of him in a trade.