We’re only a week and a half into the season and therefore no American League starting pitchers have started more than two games. With such a tiny sample size to work with, there simply isn’t enough data to analyze that would yield any sort of insight. However, we know that velocity stabilizes very quickly and so it would therefore be worthwhile to check in on the biggest velocity surgers and decliners. Velocity gradually increases as the season wears on, so it would be most accurate to compare current velocities with last April. However, too many pitchers came up later in the year and had no velocity readings to compare to. So to make things easier, I am comparing to the full season.
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Yup, what we heard about Tyler Skaggs‘ velocity during spring training was the truth. The harder fastball didn’t lead to more swings and misses over his first start, but getting over the 90 mph hump is huge. You would think it would make his curve ball even more difficult to hit. He’s now in a better ball park to hold his fly balls and I’m optimistic that a big breakout is coming.
Garrett Richards is another interesting Angels breakout candidate, though his premium velocity has yet to translate into even an average strikeout rate. He throws his fastball a little too often to enjoy a major strikeout rate spike, but you never know what will happen when you throw 95 mph.
It’s surprising to see Dallas Keuchel’s name here as his velocity was down significantly at one point during spring training. Now that his velocity is fine, and actually up, he’s got serious profit potential in AL-Only leagues given his ground ball ways.
In his first season as a starter, Chris Sale experienced a significant velocity dip, much more so than the typical reliever to starter experiences. Last year, he recovered some of that lost velocity and so far this year, he’s ticked up once again. He’s good.
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The first thing you’ll notice is that three of the five pitchers are on the Indians. Corey Kluber’s velocity was also down in his first start. I thought there must be something going on in Cleveland, perhaps the gun was cold or maybe it’s just been unusually cold where these pitchers have pitched.
Justin Masterson’s velocity was down significantly in both of his first two starts. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway doesn’t seem too concerned, thinking it’s just a mechanical thing. If this is the case, then Masterson’s velocity should rebound quickly. If it doesn’t, there might be a bigger problem.
Erik Johnson pitched yesterday as well, but his velocity isn’t reflected here. I’m not sure where he sat, so it’s possible that he was improved. If not, then he’s droppable in all but perhaps AL-Only leagues.
Oy vey, Carlos Carrasco. I’m hoping there’s some Indians-related answer here because reports from spring training were that he was consistently hitting the mid-90s like last season. But he only peaked at 94.7 mph in his first start, compared to 98.1 last year. Part of my excitement was due to the high octane fastball, so I’m crossing my fingers that his velocity returns. It’s clear that his stuff is fantastic, but he left way too many balls in the heart of the zone, which might suggest that he needs to improve his command.
And your third Indians starter is everyone’s favorite sleeper who isn’t, Danny Salazar. At this point, he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, complementing his fastball with a ridiculous changeup. But if he’s no longer throwing in the upper-90s, that changeup is going to lose effectiveness fast. His fantasy owners, who likely paid a pretty penny despite his limited experience, will need his fastball to reappear just to break even for them. Jeff Zimmerman looked at Salazar in the most recent MASH report, sharing with us that Salazar is already displaying a few injury characteristics.
Also included in that same MASH report is Sonny Gray, another highly skilled sophomore who has fantasy owners excited. Gray’s velocity did improve in his second start, but it was still his second lowest average velocity while in the Majors. I love his combination of ground balls and strikeouts, but I’d be a little less optimistic if this decreased velocity is here to stay.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.