Pirates Are Seeing an Improved Version of Radhames Liz in September

ST. LOUIS — Radhames Liz has made two appearances since his recent call up to the Pirates. Those appearances have been fantastic, with high 90s velocity on the fastball, and a tight slider — a combination you’d want from any reliever. It’s probably too soon to say that Liz is a good option for the long-term Pirates bullpen, but a quick look at how he got to this point shows that this recent success might not just be the product of a small sample size.

The Pirates made a surprising move over the off-season when they signed Liz to a one-year, $1 M deal. The surprise was that Liz was given a guaranteed deal, when all signs pointed to him being worth no better than a minor league contract.

The Pirates had to make that offer because Liz had an offers from Korea and Japan for guaranteed money. But Liz hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2009. He was out of the majors and minors from 2011-13. He pitched briefly in Triple-A in 2014, but had poor results. The Pirates saw something they liked in the Dominican Winter Leagues, and that led to the aggressive pursuit.

Liz made the major league roster out of Spring Training, but struggled with the Pirates. He did have a 3.63 ERA in 17.1 innings, but his 4.49 xFIP suggested that wouldn’t continue. He also wasn’t consistently showing the velocity that he had in the Dominican Winter Leagues, continued with control problems that had plagued his previous appearances in the majors, and wasn’t comfortable with his relief role.

After going down to Triple-A, Liz quickly moved back to being a starter, and began having a lot of success. He was back to showing that amazing velocity, sitting in the upper 90s throughout the game. He also started showing better control numbers in the process. That control has carried over to the majors, as Liz has shown an increase in working in the strike zone this time around, while getting less contact in the zone in the process.

A big part of the change was that Liz wasn’t originally comfortable in the reliever role, despite that being the only option for him in Pittsburgh.

“It was going to take some time to get comfortable in the reliever’s role,” Clint Hurdle said to me before today’s game. “I think the contrast he had was making the big league club, pitching in the big leagues, and then being in an unfamiliar situation. So there was some confusion I think on his part in how he needed to get ready, what he needed to do to stay sharp. We tried to help him with that. It didn’t play out as well as we wanted, or as quickly as we needed.”

Hurdle said that going down for Liz helped him clear some of the noise and focus on what he needed to do to be successful in the bullpen. The Pirates initially tried him as a reliever, then moved him to the rotation. When September was approaching, they moved him back to the bullpen to give him a heads up of his September role. This time around, Liz felt a lot more comfortable.

“I just feel comfortable going to the bullpen,” Liz said of the role this time around. “It wasn’t hard at all to go back to the bullpen. I just feel like I belong [there]. Now I feel way more comfortable than I felt at the beginning of the season.”

But it’s not just being more comfortable as a reliever that led to the stronger results from Liz. He spent time in Triple-A working on his mechanics, which also played a big factor in his success. He focused on staying on his back foot longer, not opening up too early, and most importantly, staying straight to home plate in his delivery. His mentality also changed to focus on being more aggressive.

ImprovedLiz

The combination led to better control numbers, due to the improved alignment to the plate, and better velocity due to the aggressiveness. And that’s not something that Liz consistently had his first time through the majors with the Pirates, even though he’s always been capable of this velocity. Hurdle said that he still wants to get a few more looks at Liz, but did notice the velocity improvements and that Liz is more comfortable in the role. He also noted that the slider is improved, looking “sharp, hard, and crisp.”

“The fastball out of his hand, it’s top velocity right away, where last time it was taking sometimes 15, 20, 25 pitches for him to get to his zenith velocity,” Hurdle said. “I see a guy who is more comfortable in the role, but I think he’s more confident in that skill set now in that role as well.”

Hurdle said that he talked this morning with Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor, and one of the guys they discussed was Liz. Hurdle went over the recent outings with Treanor pitch by pitch. He said that Treanor told him that Liz is in a very positive place for the recent success.

“The repeatable delivery, the alignment to the plate, staying aggressive, and it’s an aggressive thought,” Hurdle said of the takeaway from his conversation. “It’s a pitch thrown with commitment. Not hoping it’s going to spin, or hoping it’s going to be hard. It’s coming out of his hand much better.”

Treanor definitely has a lot of knowledge of what Liz can do. He managed Liz in the Dominican Winter League last year, and was part of the influence to sign him after his strong results. He then oversaw the transformation in Indianapolis over the summer. If anyone could give an assessment of where Liz is currently at, it would be Treanor.

Liz is in an interesting contract situation. He will finish the year with one year and 47 days of service time, meaning the Pirates would have him under team control for five more seasons. He’s also out of options, so he would need to remain on the MLB roster for good. That’s not going to be an issue if this success turns out to be legit.

It’s only four innings and two appearances so far, but there’s a lot to like about Liz. His velocity is way up there from pitch one. His slider is improved. His control is much better. This gives him an upper 90s fastball, a great out pitch, and improved control, which is the recipe for a late inning reliever in the majors. These trends are all a continuation of what he showed with Indianapolis, leading a little more credit to the idea that Liz has made some lasting changes.

If he continues showing these improvements through the end of September, then he could lock down a spot on this team for the 2016 season. He should certainly get a chance at this, as he appears to have quickly caught Hurdle’s attention. Even without thinking about the future, an improved Radhames Liz would give the Pirates another hard throwing reliever down the stretch, adding another weapon to a rapidly improving bullpen.

  • All great rants. Going to the playoffs I’m good.

  • With only two true starters in the rotation for next year maybe they should think about Liz in that role instead of relief.

  • Just in time Caminiero seems to be regressing a bit

  • And it would be wonderful, simply a treat, to have our second baseman playing second base more than a day or three a week.

    • Agreed. Ramirez Kang Walker and Alvarez should be playing every day. This constant attempt to force feed Mercer and Harrison into the line up is maddening. You’re in what is essentially a must win game if you want to win the division and Alvarez Walker Ramirez Cervelli and Polanco are all resting. Don’t give me this best defensive infield for Charlie thing either, or that a lefty is pitching. Play your best players in a must win game!

      • And if memory serves me right…Ramirez has good career numbers against StL and in Busch…maybe give him more than one pinch hit opportunity? Hurdle is awful…terrible at playing match ups…terrible in game decision making…terrible

      • That must have been the rational, supposedly best defense for Ground Chuck. Harrison clearly isn’t right at the plate and should not be starting. It was an anemic, JV batting order….and the Cards had to be delighted to see it. Stewart should have been held for tomorrow night and Cole. Sad to see this type of strategy.

  • People can imply that Morton has bad luck all they want – walk, HBP in front of the pitcher who can sacrifice, walk then boom, error. 2 runs in without a hit. Terrible.

    I HATE Morton. Literally can’t stand to see him, hear him, think about him pitching. I long for the day when he is no longer a Bucco and pray that it comes sooner rather than later.

    Gah.

    • You have another month and a full season to go, then you’ll get your wish.

      Yeah, no starter should be as awful as to give up two runs (one earned) in six innings. If only we had another pitcher besides Happ who could do better than that over the past month.

      • Next year’s rotation is interesting (barring injuries): Cole and Liriano are 1/2.
        Morton/Worley/Locke for 3/4/5 are uninspiring Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, Cumpton won’t be ready in April.
        Looks like we’ll be dumpster diving again…

  • This will probably come as no surprise to those who have read my comments here and at other sites, but I totally disagree with you Tim. Anytime you try to put a square peg into a round hole, you end up with a mess, and that is what I see the Pirate’s have done with Liz.

    When Liz was with Baltimore, he had a horrible line as a starter. In 2009 the Orioles tried to use him in relief, and horrible was looking good compared to his numbers in relief. He then went overseas where he rebuilt his career as a starter. He has stated numerous times he doesn’t like nor want to pitch in relief. When he signed with the Pirates, I fully expected them to use him as a starter. That didn’t happen, and Liz was sent down to AAA after shockingly failing in a relief role. At Indy, the Pirates put him back into a starter role where he excelled. They brought him back up, and put him back in the pen and to no surprise, he looks exactly like a pitcher who shouldn’t pitch in relief.

    His first appearance came with the Pirate’s down by 4 runs. In a no pressure situation, he pitched like he did in AAA. Ahh, but then his second appearance came with the Pirates down only one run, and he quickly gave up a run on 2 hits in one inning. Once the pressure was ramped up, Liz folded. Sure he struck out 3 batters, but the damage was done.

    There is nothing wrong with a pitcher who finds it uncomfortable to pitch in relief. There is a whole total mindset difference and routine that some have a hard time adjusting to. It is my belief that Liz’s value is as a starter, not a reliever, and I would never use him in any close game in relief. Future events could prove me wrong, and I hope I am. Time will tell.

    • What about the fact that Liz now feels comfortable in the bullpen role?

      • What about the results?

      • If it is his only ticket to the big club this year I am sure he would say he is comfortable in the role. With his starting performance at AAA why not try him in that role next spring?

        • It’s not him accepting the role. It’s getting used to being a reliever. It was his only ticket to the big leagues earlier in the year and he couldn’t get used to the role. That’s what has changed now.

          • Ok. He got used to it….he also said he was now comfortable as a reliever. He clearly did not perform as a reliever at the beginning of the year. Will he be trusted and perform in a pennant race? All I am saying is that he excelled as a starter and we may see value from him there.

          • Doesn’t mean that relieving is what is best for the team…they haven’t given him or Worley a real chance like they continue to give Locke. How many terrible post all star performances do we need to see year after year before we give someone else a shot.

  • I thought the FB was sitting 95, 96 first go around. Hopefully the control sticks.

  • The way Hughes is going, he appears to be a liability on a postseason roaster. There could be a spot open for Liz.

  • This lineup today is a joke.

    • Awful…it’s a joke for sure. I really wish we had another manager…I think this team could win the division.

      • Hurdle better be questioned after the game for this mess he put on the field today.

        • Yeah Walker and Pedro against a good LHP is better.

          Fire Hurdle, without him we surely win 100 games most years.

          • I do think we would/could be better with someone at the helm that was good at managing.

            • I just vehemently disagree with that and feel its fans getting emotional about things. I dont like moves that Hurdle makes at times, but if im looking at his entire ability as a manger he’s not a huge negative. He isnt stealing 5+ wins from us each year.

              I dont see a wide range of clearly high quality managers that dont have areas where they struggle and drive fans crazy at times. STL fans hate Matheny in areas. Beyond a few names like Maddon and Bochy, i see a ton of good managers that have areas they arent great at and fans overreact as if they are a net negative and “someone else” would easily be better. Seems like a grass is greener situation.

              Hurdle is shaky with in game moves at times, and can run out a lineup fans hate with odd reasoning. But he’s great with players, very open to new ideas and ways to help him/his staff get better, and gets his team to show consistency year to year. I dont think he’s a top manager, but throw out a name you think is a clear upgrade or else it seems like 90% of managers are similar to him or worse, just in varying areas of struggle.

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