Francisco Liriano’s Dominating Slider

One of the oldest cliches in baseball is that pitchers have to establish their fastball. The average Major League pitcher throws their fastball about 60% of the time, and any deviation from that can get you labeled a junkballer.

Francisco Liriano, with the Pirates season on the line, told that cliche to go pound sand.

Here are his final pitch tallies for the night, per PITCHF/x.

Fastball: 23
Change: 23
Slider: 44

Basically, Liriano swapped his fastball and slider usage, using the breaking ball as his primary pitch and using the fastball as his change-of-pace. Needless to say, it worked. Of the 44 sliders Liriano threw, 34 of them were strikes, and 13 of them were swinging strikes. That’s absurdly good; for context, he got four swinging strikes on his fastball and change-up combined.

And when they made contact, they generally pounded it into the ground. Opposing batters put Liriano’s slider in play nine times. One of those went for a single. Eight of those went for a groundout, including a double play.

Liriano’s slider is one of the best in baseball, and is clearly his best pitch. Rather than relying on his fastball as his primary pitch, Liriano threw his best pitch more often than the others. The result was not so bad. Maybe there’s something to going with your best weapon, rather than relying on a large number of straight pitches that hitters can actually put their bat on.

When you have a dominating out pitch, use it. Liriano does, and he did.

And now, slider GIF mania. You’ve been warned.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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10 years ago

Isn’t there something about guys who rely on the slider being way more prone to injury? I mean it obviously worked tonight but are there long-term red flags for guys who throw a lot of sliders? I feel like I read or heard this somewhere but can’t remember where.

10 years ago
Reply to  N8

I’ve read this too, but I wonder what the velocity breakdown was for the pitcher groups. This is only a general belief (I haven’t checked the stats) that slider-heavy pitchers tend to throw harder whereas curveball-heavy or changeup-heavy pitchers tend to rely on change of speed because of less velocity. If so, it would be something to keep in mind (if high velocity throwers get injured more).

10 years ago
Reply to  Fauxvoice

Ya got one about pulling Liriano before he faces the righties twice?

10 years ago
Reply to  N8

With improper mechanics, throwing a slider or any other specialty pitch can put unnecessary stress on the arm or elbow. This can lead to injury. But with proper mechanics, there is little risk.

Liriano has had his share of injuries. But there are many pitchers who throw a high percentage of sliders that have been more or less durable. I’m pretty sure Ervin Santana throws a very high percentage, as do Edwin Jackson and Madison Bumgarner. Again, it depends on mechanics.

Sparkles Peterson
10 years ago
Reply to  JD3aD

Liriano’s injury troubles were blamed on his slider, so there are at least some people around the sport who don’t think he’s one of those guys who’s not a risk going nuts with the slider.

10 years ago

Too many double negatives to know what you are saying – but ultimately, for winning individual games, your durability is not hugely relevant. (as long as you can survive the early innings, you are golden) Once you get to the playoffs, it’s about wins in individual games.

10 years ago

The fact that his troubles were blamed on his slider doesn’t mean that the slider was actually to blame. The level of knowledge and analysis of injuries and their causes in MLB is pretty woeful.

Brad Johnsonmember
10 years ago
Reply to  JD3aD

The assertion that there is little risk with proper mechanics is completely unfounded. That’s just a popular hypothesis that has yet to be adequately tested. In large part because the concept of proper mechanics is misleading since each person has different “ideal” mechanics and many people simply aren’t designed correctly to handle the rigors of pitching.

Brad Johnsonmember
10 years ago
Reply to  Brad Johnson

A small follow up, as uniqueusername states below, there are some indicators we know that increase injury risk, but that is not the same as saying it is safe to throw a pitch if you avoid known, dangerous practices. There’s still the unknown, dangerous practices as well as the body’s poor design for all overhand throwing.

10 years ago
Reply to  JD3aD

This is patently untrue. Throwing a baseball using any type of mechanics, regardless of pitch type is a completely unnatural motion and hard on the shoulder and elbow. Some pitches or mechanics may be worse, but none have ‘little risk’, and anyone making that claim has never thrown over a hundred pitches in a game.