Game 49: Frankie Must Get His Slider Going

After the Rangers ended the five game win streak the Pirates had going, today’s rubber match will determine the series winner. The Pirates (28-20) will face the Rangers (28-21) in Arlington at 3:05 PM as Francisco Liriano takes on Martin Perez.

Francisco Liriano is one of the major key to success in today’s game. His season ERA of 4.30 would mark the worst he’s had with the Pirates, but what’s even more troubling is that his FIP puts him at a 5.20. Frankie has had some really top notch outings followed by a string of poor outings. What really did him in was the poor outing on May 13 against the Cubs where he gave up 8 in just 4.2 innings. He is coming off of back to back quality starts, though, and has a great track record verse the Rangers for his career. As a matter of fact, he is 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts.

What has plagued Liriano this season is the walks he’s given up. He’s tied for the N.L. worst with 30. Part of his problem is due to batters not swinging at his slider. Liriano’s slider has been so filthy that it’s always appeared to be a strike that made hitters chase it. Last year, 45.8% of batters swung and missed at this pitch leading to a .098 batting average against it. This season, his slider has not been very effective, leading hitters to back off of it and take it for a ball. For example, in 2015, his slider had a PITCHf/x value of 23.1 making it the sixth most valuable pitch in MLB. For 2016, it only holds a 1.4 value, making it barely above avergage.  This information combined with the fact that the Rangers are the 6th best team as far as team strikeouts go, smell of trouble for this matchup.

The Rangers will be throwing their own lefty as well in Perez. Martin Perez shows a much better ERA than Liriano (3.13), but has given up just as many walks. His FIP of 4.34 also suggests that a regression is coming. He is coming off of his best outing of the season where he tossed six scoreless innings against the Angels, but anyone can easily see this lineup in Pittsburgh is not the Angels regardless of Mike Trout being in it. Perez comes in with a fastball that sits about 93 MPH and features a change up, slider, and a cutter. His change up is really the only effective secondary offering he brings though.

Andrew McCutchen struggles seem to be ongoing even though he’s still having a very productive year. His 23.4% strikeout rate and 72.2% contact rate are career lows, however he still has an .804 OPS and a 118 wRC+. In other words, everyone is worrying that he’s not putting up MVP type numbers while he’s still giving you top 30 offense by all outfielders.

Gregory Polanco enters today’s game with a 152 wRC+ that ranks him the 8th best offensive outfielder in the game. He currently sits in the N.L. top 10 in Runs, Stolen Bases, Slugging, OPS, Hits, and Doubles. With the ‘struggles’ that McCutchen is finding himself having, Polanco’s breakout could not have been timed any better. With that being said, Polanco will be taking a day off!

In Polanco’s place will be Matt Joyce. Joyce has been exceptional this year coming off of the bench and in limited starts. For the season (74 plate appearances) he is batting .333 with five home runs and 15 RBI’s. He also is rocking an astounding 13/13 BB/K ratio. Though Joyce has excelled this season, he has struggle most of his career verse lefties hitting just .184 against them.

Pirates Lineup:

  1. Mercer SS
  2. McCutchen CF
  3. Freese 1B
  4. Kang 3B
  5. Marte LF
  6. Cervelli DH
  7. Rodriguez 2B
  8. Joyce RF
  9. Stewart C

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