March 2024 Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Risers & Fallers

With just three games in the books of the 2024 regular season as I type this (or five for the Dodgers and Padres), there’s not a whole lot of statistical analysis to be done that avoids running into sample size issues. What does stabilize relatively quickly is pitcher velocity. Of course, that doesn’t mean that one game is enough to celebrate a gainer or panic over a decliner. Velocities fluctuate from game to game and also tends to increase as the season progresses. However, the data is far more valuable than the majority of other metrics we have to stare at on the very, very young season.

So with those caveats out of the way, let’s check in on the starting pitchers that have both gained and lost the most velocity on their preferred fastball type. I used the Statcast velocities on our leaderboard and then used my Excel ninja skills to determine their most frequently thrown fastball type in their first start, the velocity of that specific pitch, and the average velocity on that same pitch last season.

Let’s begin with the gainers.

Velocity Gainers
Name Pitch Type 2023 Velocity 2024 Velocity Diff
Ryan Weathers FA 95.1 96.7 1.6
Joe Ryan FA 92.3 93.8 1.5
Hunter Greene FA 98.3 99.6 1.4
Brayan Bello SI 95.0 96.1 1.1
Kyle Hendricks SI 87.5 88.5 1.0
Shane Bieber FA 91.3 92.3 1.0
José Berríos SI 93.8 94.8 0.9
Tarik Skubal FA 95.8 96.6 0.9

This is the highest average fastball velocity Ryan Weathers has ever enjoyed in a game during his MLB career…by far. His next highest velocity in a single game was 96.1 MPH, which didn’t occur until June of last year, and then again in August. In fact, he’s only averaged at least 95 MPH 12 times (out of 46 games, including relief appearances) in a game before this season. So this jump is significant in all kinds of ways. For someone who hasn’t even reached a 20% strikeout rate, you would think some added velocity would be just the ticket to at least get that mark up to league average.

While his first start was weak from a run prevention perspective, he did strike out 22.7% of opposing batters with an 11.7% SwStk%, both marks that would represent career bests. Funny though, the four-seamer only generated a 4.8% SwStk% in that first start, which is quite poor. However, his changeup and slider were both fantastic. He should be pretty widely available in fantasy leagues and should be firmly added to your mental watchlist to see if the velocity sticks and translates into more whiffs, and ultimately, strikeouts.

Joe Ryan was this close to making my “The Projections Are Wrong!” post. However, even though I highlighted him on my home league valuation Excel (and bought him during our auction), I left him out of the article because he has already been a big strikeout guy, with projections in the mid-to-high 20% range. All of his pitch velocities were up significantly during his first game, and his four-seamer averaged 0.5 MPH more than his previous high game.

Interestingly, his first game featured a lower SwStk%, but higher CStr%, which isn’t what I’d expect to see from increased velocity! Anyway, I’m not sure how much strikeout rate upside he actually has, but after posting an ERA more than a full run higher than his SIERA and nearly a full run higher than his xERA last year, he was one of the more obvious bounceback candidates. His increased velocity simply makes me more confident it’ll come to fruition.

Holy guacamole, how much harder can Hunter Greene throw?! He still remains weak at getting called strikes and the additional velocity didn’t help on the swinging strike side of things during his first game either. There’s so much potential here, but the slightly elevated walk rate and extreme FB% in a home run friendly park have conspired to make him a disappointment over his first two seasons. I wish he was in a more forgiving ballpark for all his fly balls, but I’d still be willing to roll with him.

Brayan Bello was a strikeout machine at Double-A and Triple-A, so I’m not sure where those went since he’s been in the Majors. Perhaps the increased velocity will allow him to recapture that minor league magic, though it didn’t happen during his first start. Given his high GB%, he’s highly intriguing, but I need to see a higher SwStk% before I buy back in.

Woah, Kyle Hendricks is a surprising name to find here. It’s more meaningless than the rest of the names here though, as he’s averaged as much as 92.5 MPH with his fastball in the past. I don’t think it matters all that much if he’s throwing 87.5 or 88.5 MPH, as his performance relies on a low walk rate and suppressed BABIP, neither of which I’m holding a roster spot for.

Pitcher number one in my Projections Are Wrong, Shane Bieber, wasted no time trying to make me look good! The good news — after two straight seasons at a 91.3 MPH average velocity, he’s turned that around and gotten his velocity back above 92 MPH. The bad news — the 92.3 MPH velocity is still below anything he has averaged prior to 2021. So his velocity hasn’t fully returned, but we know it’s early and it could continue to inch up.

Obviously, his first start was masterful, as he generated an insane 21.7% SwStk% and punched out half of opposing batters. I’m still upset that the hype clearly got around heading into my home league auction, as he went for much more than I expected and I ultimately bailed on the bidding as my profit potential was significantly reduced.

This was tied for the fifth highest average sinker velocity in a game over José Berríos’ career. As expected, all his other pitches were also up meaningfully. After first experiencing a velocity spike in 2020, he’s remained remarkably consistent since, so perhaps this increase unlocks a new strikeout rate level. He’s never been a big swinging strike rate guy, so higher velocity could change that.

I guess it wasn’t enough for Tarik Skubal’s velocity to surge last year, as it may not have been done surging! His fastball-changeup combo were a hitter’s nightmare last year, so I can’t imagine what an even faster fastball will do for him. The only question is how many innings he’ll be able to throw, as we should be pretty confident those innings will be at or near elite level.

Let’s now move on to the decliners.

Velocity Decliners
Name Pitch Type 2023 Velocity 2024 Velocity Diff
Zack Thompson FA 93.1 91.2 -1.9
Seth Lugo FA 93.4 91.5 -1.9
Griffin Canning FA 94.7 92.9 -1.8
Zac Gallen FA 93.6 91.8 -1.8
Tanner Bibee FA 94.9 93.3 -1.6

Though it obviously depends on the severity of the increase or decrease, I think fastball gains are more worthy of celebration than fastball declines are worthy of panic this early in the season, especially after just one start. So in general, I’m just not as concered about the declines as I’m excited about the gainers.

Zack Thompson split his time between the starting rotation and bullpen last year, but the velocities in these tables are only when the pitcher started, so it’s apples to apples. This is a significant decline and makes him far less interesting as a sleeper in NL-Only leagues after decent skills last year. His pitch mix in his first start was also far different than he posted last year, so perhaps we give him one more chance before moving on.

Seth Lugo was a surprisingly strong starter last year, but a single digit SwStk% won’t get me out of bed. His 91.5 MPH velocity was the fifth lowest average in a game over his career, though the four games worse came back in 2017, the first year he was a near full-time starter. I wasn’t really interested here to begin with given the underwhelming SwStk%, and if that velocity doesn’t at least get back to last year’s mark, I would be seriously concerned that his ERA jumps well above 4.00 with a below average strikeout rate. In fact, the projection systems are already forecasting that and aren’t even aware of his first game velocity!

I’ve been on and off Griffin Canning over the years, but between injury and typically underperforming his ERA estimators, I’ve lost interest. His appearance here isn’t as scary as it looks — it looks like it just means he won’t be able to sustain last year’s velocity spike. That’s obviously not great, but this is where he was before the surge. The surge last year did lead to his highest strikeout rate, so without it, he’s probably just a streaming option in shallow mixed leagues.

I’m sad to see Zac Gallen’s name here as I was never a fan to begin with due to his mediocre SwStk% that failed to support a mid-to-high 20% strikeout rate. However, his price was oddly cheap in LABR Mixed, so I felt like I was obligated to scoop him up at a discount…as if everyone knew his velocity would be down this year and lead to a bust of a season.

This was the fourth lowest average fastball velocity of Gallen’s career and he hadn’t averaged below 92 MPH since September of 2021. What’s hilarious to me is that even with the reduced velocity, he generated an elite 15.6% SwStk% and his CSW% was higher than his previous two season averages! Still, regardless of the outcomes of the first game, his velocity is something to monitor. He’s likely the most expensive pitcher on many fantasy teams, and my confidence in him earning his cost would diminish if his velocity fails to bounce back.

Tanner Bibee rode some good fortune to enjoy a strong rookie season, but his poor first start velocity, combined with weak control (five walks in four innings and just a 56.2% strike rate), would have me concerned if I were an owner. He made two starts last year with an average velocity below 94 MPH, so this has happened before. But I get nervous when velocity is down and control has been lost. It’s often times an early warning sign that something isn’t right physically. Again, I wouldn’t do anything knee-jerky just yet, but his next start could be telling.

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.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
22 days ago

Thanks Mike!