Mains: A tried-and-true pitching strategy doesn’t work anymore

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on July 11, 2016:

Francisco Liriano has been a Pittsburgh Pirates success story. Signed as a free agent for $1 million after compiling a 5.34 ERA, 4.29 FIP, and 4.02 DRA in 156 2/3 innings split between the Twins and White Sox in 2012, he became a hero in Travis Sawchik’s book about the 2013 Pirates and their embrace of analytics, Big Data Baseball. In Liriano’s case, the approach was to junk his four-seam fastball, focus on his sinking two-seam fastball, and generate a lot of groundballs for shifted Pirates infielders to gobble up. The success of this strategy was evident through last year.


He parlayed his success into a three-year, $39 million contract signed before the 2015 season. It looked like a pretty good signing last year. This year, though, he’s hit a wall. He has a 5.34 ERA, 5.45 FIP, 117 cFIP, and 5.56 DRA entering play on July 8. Among National League pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched, he had the fourth-highest ERA, fourth-highest FIP, fifth-highest cFIP, and second-highest DRA. His groundball rate is down, to 51 percent, though that’s still the 17th highest in the league. So what’s going wrong?

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Originally published: July 11, 2016. Last Updated: July 11, 2016.