The unpredictable ace

Francisco Liriano was dominant in 2010 but an enigma in 2011

Updated: September 15, 2011, 3:47 PM ET
By Derek Carty | Baseball Prospectus
LirianoAP Photo/Paul BattagliaLiriano's whiff rate is down and his walks are up, but the Twins shouldn't give up on him.

In 2010, three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Francisco Liriano seemed to finally regain his old form. His velocity returned, he was inducing ground balls, and he received some votes for the Cy Young award. His season was very good by traditional standards (14 wins, 3.62 ERA) and exceptional by nontraditional standards (2.66 FIP), leading some to forecast him as the 2011 Cy Young winner. Things were looking up for the Minnesota Twins left-hander.

Unfortunately, 2011 couldn't have played out more differently. Aside from an incredibly lucky no-hitter, Liriano has been an absolute mess this season, and it's not the James Shields circa 2010 kind of mess, where much of it can be chalked up to bad luck; his 4.55 FIP is right in line with his 4.84 ERA. (The reason the no-hitter was "lucky" is because Liriano posted just two strikeouts and six walks. No pitcher in history has thrown a no-hitter with so few strikeouts and so many walks.)

So what is Liriano doing differently this year? It's easy to place the blame on the pitch-to-contact philosophy that manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson tried to force upon him earlier in the year, which was a terrible idea from the start and seemed to be based upon their incorrect assumption that strikeouts raise a hurler's pitch count.