Early Starting Pitcher Velocity Changes

It may be a bit early to analyze velocity changes as pitchers continue to build up arm strength and we are still working with tiny sample sizes, but as you could tell by now, I am a sucker for comparisons and ranking lists. We all know that velocity has a significant impact on a pitcher’s effectiveness and all else equal, the higher the velocity, the better the results. When a pitcher suddenly experiences an increase or decrease in his average fastball velocity, it could portend a change in performance, for better or for worse. Since fantasy owners sometimes jump on pitchers quickly after just one strong outing, it is important to identify the velocity changers early on before it becomes obvious in their results.

As usual, we will start with the pitchers who so far have seen the largest bump in their velocities compared with 2010. Only the top five are presented below, as the increases further down the list were not significant enough to include.

Tim Lincecum owners and Giants fans have to love seeing Timmah at the top of this list. After seeing his velocity drop every single season since his 2007 debut, his velocity is currently sitting above his 2009 mark of 92.4 miles per hour. This is a good sign that his strikeout rate will hop above 10.0 again and his ERA will drop below 3.00 as a result. Daniel Hudson was another one of those sleepers that wasn’t (he went for a shocking $11 in my 12-team mixed league), but this velocity jump may just allow him to earn that price tag. Nice to see Javier Vazquez find some of his lost velocity from a year ago, but it is still well below the 91+ average fastball velocity he had displayed in previous seasons. I had always been a Vazquez fan, but I do not see much reason for optimism at this point. He is easily droppable in a shallow mixed league. Hmmm, maybe I will be way off on my Bold Prediction for Clayton Kershaw! But in my defense, I had no idea his velocity was about to rise.

And now for the velocity decliners. I have listed 10 this time since there are so many of them.

Woah, not a good sign for Colby Lewis owners. As an extreme fly ball pitcher in an unforgiving ballpark, and good, but not great, control, he cannot afford to lose his fastball. Though I would guess the majority of his strikeouts come from his slider, batters will have an easier time sitting on the off-speed stuff if his velocity cannot reach 90.0 MPH, let alone 88.0. I knew my projection and resulting dollar value for Francisco Liriano was better than most everyone else, but I still let him go during my auction at a discount. His health just scares the heck out of me and the velocity drop simply adds fuel to the fire. His control has also been terrible, and his fly ball rate so far has been an astounding 55.2%, versus just 27.4% last season. Something just ain’t right. Max Scherzer again? He just hates April. Maybe the Tigers should simply start him in the minors every season and have him suck it up down on the farm until his velocity returns.

*Phil Hughes is missing from the above list, I assume it is because his 6.0 innings were too low to make the qualified pitcher list.
**From just random FanGraphs player surfing, I noticed Joakim Soria’s velocity is down from 91.9 MPH last season to just 89.5 this year. Any injury grumblings?

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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.

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Mark
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Mark

What about a comparison with just last April’s velocity? At the very least that might ease concern/temper optimism in some places where velocity is more similar in the season’s first month. Some pitchers don’t like the cold, and some pitchers may let it all hang out a bit too early in the year.

Geoff
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Geoff

Agreed. Most pitchers would probably throw their heat in May / June – July / August, with April and September being the dips due to building up strength in April and tiring in September.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Would this effect relievers less though? They’re likely to be throwing gas early on, unless they haven’t built up arm strength.