Five thoughts on the Twins' Francisco Liriano's no-hitter:
Liriano spun the first no-hitter of 2011 on Tuesday night -- six were thrown last year -- in defeating the White Sox 1-0 in Chicago. It was the 248th no-hitter in major-league history; the seventh no-hitter in the joint Twins/Senators franchise history (the franchise relocated in 1961); the fifth no-hitter in Minnesota Twins history (the first since Eric Milton in 1999); and the third no-hitter in U.S. Cellular Field history (albeit the first not thrown by the White Sox's Mark Buehrle).
Nearly any secondary statistic -- as in, any number other than the important ones of nine (innings) and zero (hits) -- indicated that this was about as ugly as any no-hitter can get. Liriano threw only 66 strikes on his 123 pitches for a 53.7 strike percentage. He walked six and only struck out two. Several balls were hit hard.
By the Bill James-invented metric of Game Score -- which sums all parts of a pitcher's performance into a single number that can be read like a Fahrenheit temperature -- Liriano only scored an 83. That ties the Pirates' Lefty Chambers for the lowest Game Score in a no-hitter of the 170 since 1919 (and thus searchable in Baseball-reference.com's database).
While there is no such thing as an unimpressive no-hitter, this one isn't slated for any alltime baseball anthologies either.
Could this be the start that help the Dominican lefthander get back on track? The 27 year old has surely had an uneven career and a poor season. Liriano dazzled as a rookie in 2006, making the All-Star team while going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and a 4.5 strikeout-per-walk ratio. Then he missed 2007 with Tommy John surgery, pitched only half of '08 and struggled so mightily in '09 (5-13, 5.80 ERA, 1.9 K/BB) that when he regained his form in '10 -- 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA and 3.5 K/BB -- he was awarded the American League's Comeback Player of the Year Award.
If such a thing as Comeback Player of the Month existed, Liriano is the unanimous early favorite after a rocky April in which he went 1-4 with a 9.13 ERA and a 1.0 K/BB ratio thanks to matching 18 strikeouts and 18 walks. His 6.9 BB/9 rate was the worst among all starting pitchers this season.
He threw more than five innings only once while posting an 11.42 ERA in his four losing starts, averaging a paltry 4 1/3 innings in those outings. A year after leading the AL by allowing only 0.4 home runs per nine inning, Liriano entered Tuesday night's start among the 10 pitchers with the worst home run allowed rate of 1.5 per nine.
Liriano was so poor that manager Ron Gardenhire told the media late last week that fellow Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey was being stretched out on a Triple A rehab assignment, intimating that he would be in line to replace Liriano if he continued to struggle. That, however, is no longer an issue.
Of particular note was Liriano's velocity. While his slider is his best out pitch, he needs a strong fastball to set it up. When he has struggled -- 2008, '09 and April 2011 -- his fastball has averaged less than 92 miles per hour, according to data at FanGraphs. In his good seasons of 2006 and '10, it averaged 94-95 mph. On Tuesday night it wasn't quite back that high, but it showed improvement, as Liriano averaged 92.6 mph with his heater and hit as high as 94.2 mph, according to Pitch F/X readings.
The Twins entered this game with only nine wins, the fewest in the majors. Catcher and former MVP Joe Mauer has suffered a series of maladies that has kept him sidelined most of the year. Three other starters, leftfielder Delmon Young, second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka and designated hitter Jim Thome, are on the D.L. with him. All-Star closer Joe Nathan, who missed last year with Tommy John surgery, was so shaky in April that he lost his job.
Simply put, Minnesota desperately needed good news. While one no-hitter hardly repairs everything, such a rare feat can provide a lift. For starters, it lifted the Twins out of last place and a half-game ahead of the White Sox. And now they can hope this is something larger for the club, whom many thought would win (or at least contend do win) their third straight A.L. Central title.
While it has already been noted that scoring is way down and as of this morning more than a dozen pitchers had already carried a no-hitter through at least five innings, Liriano's gem might as well have been an overdue formal induction ceremony of 2011 as Year of the Pitcher II, as anticlimactic as a college student who took her last class in December finally receiving her degree with her fellow graduates in May.
In the week since the aforementioned article was written, offenses haven't shown any signs of waking up with leaguewide runs-per-game, average, on-base and slugging percentage all remaining virtually the same and thus all at rates that are the lowest in the majors since at least 1993.
The Mariners' Eric Bedard took his own no-hit bid into the sixth inning a little later on Tuesday night and the White Sox' Philip Humber had a no-no into the seventh last Tuesday, so there have now been 14 instances just this season in which a pitcher has had a no-hitter for at least five innings.