Oct
07

Yankee adjustments doom Liriano

By

For the first five innings of last night’s game, the Yankees were at the mercy of Francisco Liriano. They attempted to start a rally in the third inning when Brett Gardner walked and Derek Jeter singled with no outs, but all that appeared to do was anger the Twins’ lefty. He retired the next three batters with ease, emphatically ending the threat by getting Alex Rodriguez to swing-and-miss at three straight sliders. Those were the first three batters of a stretch in which Liriano would retire ten in a row, but after that things went downhill for him.

True to form, Liriano killed the Yankees with his slider and changeup early on. He threw those two pitches a combined 51.4% of the time this season, and stuck right with that plan for the first five innings and one batter. By my very unofficial count, Liriano threw 34 offspeed pitches out of the zone to the first 19 batters he faced, getting the Yanks to chase a whopping 15 of them. That’s broken down into eight swings-and-misses and seven with contact, whether it be a foul ball or a ground ball or whatever. Either way, Liriano was keeping the Yanks off balance by mixing his pitches and making them look like strikes before they darted away from the zone and turned into ball.

“[Liriano] really went to his offspeed pitches tonight,” said Nick Swisher, who started the sixth inning by chasing a changeup and a slider out of the zone for a leadoff strikeout. “We made a little adjustment.”

The hit that started it all. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Liriano, who averaged just 97.5 pitches per start this season, had thrown a very manageable 80 pitches through Swisher’s strikeout. Mark Teixeira, perpetually susceptible to changeups down in the zone, knew what to expect from Minnesota’s ace after he’d gotten him on (yep) a changeup in his first at-bat. Liriano threw a first pitch change and got Tex to swing-and-miss on a pitch that was both off the plate and below the zone. Tex made one of those little adjustments Swish talked about, and jumped all over the second straight changeup down in the zone, yanking it down the leftfield line for a double. With a man on second and his pitch count approaching 90, the Yanks forced Liriano to abandon his comfort zone.

A-Rod walked on six pitches as the next batter, four of which were fastballs. He took a slider for a strike and then a changeup down for a ball (as David Cone likes to say, he just spit on it) before Liriano went back to the heat. Robbie Cano got two fastballs in his two pitch at-bat and singled in the Yanks’ first run. Even though Marcus Thames followed that with a strike out for the second out of the inning, Liriano didn’t throw him a breaking ball until he got two strikes on him. The next batter, Jorge Posada, fouled off a first pitch slider in the zone, but he then took two straight fastballs for balls. Liriano tried to get him to chase a slider down for a strike, but again, Posada just spit on it. The next slider was a mistake pitch that was left about thigh high, and Posada lined it over Orlando Hudson’s head for a single and another run.

Joe covered Curtis Granderson‘s sixth inning at-bat this morning, but the pattern is important. Liriano got a called strike on a slider that hugged the outside corner of the plate, a borderline pitch. As he did with Posada, the lefty went to two straight fastballs after the first pitch breaking ball, and again both went for balls.

Liriano knew what was up at this point; the Yanks weren’t going to swing at his offspeed stuff unless it was a hittable pitch in the zone. After getting crushed with sliders and changeups early, the Yankee lineup simply took those pitches away. They swung at just one of six offspeed pitches out of the zone after Swisher’s strikeout, and that was the strike three to Thames (who had to be in protect mode with two strikes, swinging at anything close). Liriano’s fourth pitch to Granderson was another fastball, this one missing badly and eventually clanking off the wall in right-center for a two-run triple. For the sake of completeness, Liriano Jose Mijares retired Brett Gardner to end the inning one batter later, throwing him nothing but fastballs during the seven pitch at-bat.

As we’ve seen them do numerous times this season, the Yanks adjusted to the starting pitcher’s game plan the third time through the order. Liriano’s slider and changeup are both among the very best lefthanded offspeed pitches in baseball, but in that sixth inning the Yankees just took them away by simply not swinging. Swisher called it a little adjustment, but it was a little adjustment that reaped huge benefits.

Categories : Playoffs

39 Comments»

  1. Jon in CUO says:

    I was surprised that many of the Yankees hitters were swinging early in the count against Liriano in the first few innings. Patience wasn’t their strong suit early on, and with Liriano pitching backwards and throwing his breaking stuff out of the zone, they really couldn’t get to him until he started to tire.

    If they had been a little more patient, maybe they could have broken this one open earlier? Liriano didn’t exactly have his best control, and on several 2-1 and 3-1 counts he simply refused to throw the fastball for a strike. I’m not complaining, just found it interesting.

    • You know how pitchers sometimes throw pitches in one at bat to set up a hitter for a later at bat?

      I wonder if some of our big bats intentionally swing/not swing at certain pitches sometimes to set up the pitcher for a later at bat. There are anecdotes (possibly apocryphal) that Manny Ramirez does that to great success.

      • Sam says:

        Allegedly Willie Mays did that too. i.e he’d intentionally swing late on a high fastball to get one in the same spot later in the game.
        …But Manny is just stupid and lazy, right?

      • Not Tank the Frank says:

        I’ll never forget Ichiro doing that to CC on a slider and taking him yard on the next pitch.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          Edgar Renteria in the 1997 World Series trumps all. Corkscrewed himself into the ground on a Charles Nagy curveball, next pitch, same pitch, single back through the box, World Series walk-off win.

          • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

            I heard Reggie talking about similar theatrics to set up pitchers.

      • Jon in CUO says:

        Could be. A-Rod allegedly has off-the-charts baseball IQ and was a prime culprit last night, going down early on three straight sliders, so maybe that was the plan. Then again, part of his game is the home run sneak attack on a first pitch fastball, and Liriano’s slider definitely looked like a fastball last night, so who knows. Can’t they bring back Mic’d Up?

      • pete says:

        /reallybadidea’d

    • larryf says:

      This would not happen with Gardy leading off. He worked a 3-2 walk in the 3rd and saw a ton of pitches.

      Jeter had some nice contact but on this issue, Gardy trumps DJ.

      • dalelama says:

        Except right now if Gardy doesn’t get a walk he is basically an automatic out. Granted I haven’t seen his every at bat but I can’t even remember the last time he got a hit that wasn’t a bunt, a chop, or a weak ground ball that either trickled through the infield or he beat out. My theory is that pitchers have come to the realization that if you throw him a strike he can’t really hurt you. I project that the further we go into the playoffs and the better the pitching whatever offensive production he has contributed will diminish just like last post season. For his defense, the occasional walk, and speed he should play but when the big boys are pitching he should definitely bat ninth.

  2. vin says:

    “Liriano knew what was up at this point; the Yanks weren’t going to swing at his offspeed stuff unless it was a hittable pitch in the zone. After getting crushed with sliders and changeups early, the Yankee lineup simply took those pitches away. They swung at just one of six offspeed pitches out of the zone after Swisher’s strikeout, and that was the strike three to Thames (who had to be in protect mode with two strikes, swinging at anything close). ”

    That sort of thing always makes me wonder if the hitters pick up on something (ie pitches being tipped) or are stealing signs. It’s not like they came into the game trying to hit the slider or the changeup. They’re good pitches for Liriano, as mentioned above.

    I suppose part of it is he did a great job of keeping everything down in the zone early in the game, and he started getting the ball up as he tired. A slider or change that breaks into the strikezone is much more hittable than one that drops out of it.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      It could have been the scouting report, knowing what he likes to throw in certain counts. That combined with the fatigue (and bad fastball command) could have been it.

  3. Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

    I wasn’t thrill with Swisher’s ABs last night , same goes with Thames flailing ways later. But the Yankees obviously made adjustments, the biggest AB was PoPo being patient and take him to right field IMO. Yankees hitters learned to lay of the sliders and pitches on the fringe of strike zone against him in that inning.

    Anywho, to maintain similar success against Pavano , I feel we will need to string a few hits together again tonight. Pavano has stingy hr rate at home and he doesn’t normally walk too many. I can see a few hit and run scenario arises tonight ! Here is to Babip gods tonight!

    Also, I suggest Joe post a large pic of Alyssa Milano in Poison Ivy II to quicken Pavano’s delivery!

  4. Not Tank the Frank says:

    I just want to say how much I appreciate the analysis on this site. I always know where to come for the best info. If only the “analysts” at TBS and FOX who get paid millions to do their jobs could even understand shit like this they might have a better broadcast.

    • vin says:

      Side note:

      To TBS’ credit, I do love that they keep the PitchTrax and Path up as much as they do. Also like that they show a reliever’s strand rate. There was another stat they showed that was a nice addition to the standard, but it escapes me.

      Following the game with a pitch tracker on the side is a nice way to see trends and patterns. Even my father in law, who knows next to nothing about baseball was getting a kick out of it. After every swing he would feel it necessary to announce “wow, that pitch wasn’t even a strike.” That annoyance aside, the pitch tracker is solid.

      • dalelama says:

        Actually after being exposed to McCarver and Buck’s rabid anti-Yankeeism and Kay’s continual attempts to embarass whomever is his broadcast partner I enjoyed TBS’s coverage. While not cutting edge at least it didn’t grate on my nerve. I don’t know who here is old enough to remember him but the best Yankee annoucer ever in my mind was Bill White followed in my opinion by Kenny Singleton. It is amazing how the classiest organization in baseball can’t put together a first class broadcasting crew. Heck I would rather listen to Jim Palmer than any of the Yankee regulars as I think he provides more rational insight into a game than anybody else going.

    • They’re just still too geeked about that Curtis Granderson game-tying double that gave us a 4-3 lead to start analyzing things yet.

      • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

        Am I the only who thought that ball had a chance to caught? I thought it barely graze the wall.

        • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

          *be* caught

        • vin says:

          Yeah, I did too, until I saw Span turn to face the wall.

          Even Gardenhire said he, and everyone on the Twins bench, thought it was a routing flyball. Curtis has sneaky power, and the ball was carrying pretty well last night.

    • pat says:

      Unfortunately, broadcasters are supposed to be appealing to the masses, not the die hards or the statheads. I’m sure most broadcasters understand it, but they can’t be too complicated in the broadcast or it will confuse and turn off your average viewer. Fox knows we’re gonna watch every game no matter who they have broadcasting, they want to drag in people who are on the fence about baseball. And unfortunatley all that gritty gutty dirty uniform stuff is what works.

  5. Januz says:

    Liriano is a good pitcher, but the problem with Minnesota, is they do not have a shutdown Number #1 Pitcher, or a lineup that scares you (Without Morneau). Every other team in the playoffs has one of those pitchers (Except Cincinnati and perhaps Atlanta (Hudson is debatable)).

    • vin says:

      I do think Liriano qualifies, with the exception of him not having the endurance of a CC or Halladay. He reminds me a bit of Price – can start throwing too many pitches and is finished by the 5th or 6th inning. Once he gets near 100, his tank is near empty. As opposed to CC or Doc. Those guys are just getting warm at 100.

      Stuff-wise, though, Liriano is every bit as nasty. He just needs to keep himself in the game longer.

      BTW, game 4, if necessary, is CC vs. Blackburn. Yes, please. That’s the beauty of CC.

    • Liriano is a good pitcher, but the problem with Minnesota, is they do not have a shutdown Number #1 Pitcher, or a lineup that scares you (Without Morneau). Every other team in the playoffs has one of those pitchers (Except Cincinnati and perhaps Atlanta (Hudson is debatable)).

      Liriano is good, but he’s not a true shutdown number #1 pitcher; that’s Minnesota’s biggest problem. Every other team in the playoffs has at least one such shutdown ace (except Cincinnati and perhaps Atlanta; Hudson is debatable).

      Also, without Morneau, the Twins don’t have a lineup that scares anyone.

      Fixed.

    • pete says:

      I would rank the #1 starters currently in the playoffs as follows:

      1. Halladay
      2. CC
      3. Lee
      4. Liriano
      5. Price
      6. Lincecum
      7. Hudson
      8. Volquez

      • pete says:

        I’d rank the Twins’s biggest problems as follows:

        3. Lack of shutdown starters AFTER Liriano
        2. Mediocre offense without Morneau
        1. They’re playing the Yankees.

      • James says:

        A thing to note about Liriano is that he’s only 26 and just entering his prime after arm surgery. Two years from now he very well could be a 115 pitch shutdown machine. He after all does have three above average pitches.

        I’d also rank Lincecum a little higher. Granted it’s his first post-season start tonight, but the man is still a 26 year-old, two-time Cy Young winner (with this just his 4th year in the league).

        • pete says:

          Two years – hell, maybe even one year – ago, I’d put him at #4. But the massive dropoff in velocity this year definitely hurts him in my mind.

          I will agree, though, that Liriano’s relative inability to pitch deep into games registers him a notch below the first three guys right now. All season he has been very efficient and very effective, but he’s not somebody you’d be comfortable with throwing 115+ pitches in a tight playoff game, no matter how well he does the first 5 innings. Still, he is as much of a shutdown pitcher as anyone through those first 5 innings, and with the abundance of rest available to relievers in the playoffs, you shouldn’t underrate the value in that.

      • dalelama says:

        I would flip Lee and CC.

  6. guest says:

    For the sake of completeness, Liriano retired Brett Gardner to end the inning on batter later, throwing him nothing but fastballs during the seven pitch at-bat.

    Wasn’t it Mijares who retired Gardner?

  7. dan genovese says:

    LETS WIN AND THEN, SWEEP ON SATURDAY!

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