Pitcher Fastball Velocity Decliners 4/14/2022 – A Review

Just as important as monitoring fastball velocities for spikes to identify potential breakouts, velocity declines might hint at potential injury and/or a drop in performance. So let’s now review the six pitchers who experienced early season velocity declines versus 2021 and find out if their velocities rebounded.

Unlike the previous posts separating starters and relievers, I lumped them all together here. As a reminder, to make data comparisons easier for me, I used Baseball Savant’s search tool and lumped all three fastball types (four-seam, two-seam, sinker) together.

Velocity Decliners
Player 2021 Velocity 2022 Velocity Diff RoS Velocity
Ryan Pressly 95.4 92.6 -2.8 94.6
Julio Urías 94.1 91.4 -2.7 93.1
Robbie Ray 94.8 92.3 -2.5 93.4
Scott Barlow 95.3 93.1 -2.2 93.6
Zack Wheeler 97.0 95.0 -2.0 95.8
Shane Bieber 92.8 90.8 -2.0 91.3

In red, I highlighted the velocity marks that finished closer to the early season decline levels. While every pitcher rebounded somewhat off the early season velocity drops, four of the six held onto the majority of their losses.

Ryan Pressly experienced a worrisome dip in velocity early on, and then hit the IL with a knee issue that cost him about three weeks. His velocity mostly rebounded over the rest of the season, but still easily represented his lowest mark since his first couple of seasons in the Majors. Perhaps the knee, and a neck injury that also sent him to the IL in late August, were to blame. Clearly, it had no effect on his performance, as his strikeout rate actually rose to a career best, driven by a SwStk% that matched a career high.

Between Julio Urías’ consistent SIERA outperformance, and now his down velocity early on, I was sure this was finally going to be the season he was a massive disappointment. I was wrong. His velocity did rebound, but still fell a full mile per hour short of his 2021 mark. But again, it didn’t really matter, because even though his underlying skill said is merely just solid, he benefited from a league leading BABIP and LOB%. Neither of those marks should be expected to be repeated. He did allow just a 15.1% LD%, while generating a high rate of fly balls and tons of pop-ups, so a better than league average BABIP was certainly deserved. But a .229 mark?! Steamer’s 4.04 ERA projected is a reminder that the skills here are no great shakes, as it refuses to believe that Urías has such incredible BABIP suppression and LOB% inflation skills. My forecast will likely be much more bullish, but I still can’t imagine him ever ending up on my team, as I always opt to pay for the skills that drive SIERA, rather than hoping the pitcher maintains better than average marks in the luck triumvirate (BABIP, LOB%, HR/FB).

Robbie Ray’s velocity jumped in 2021 to the highest since 2016, so the early season comparison was against a higher baseline than normal. That said, his early season decline was significant, and would have represented the lowest velocity of his career. Luckily, he rebounded, and while he fell short of his 2021 mark, he still posted a mark in line with his 2018-2020 seasons. That said, this time, velocity looks to have affected him, as his strikeout rate dropped back below 30%, and he lost a chunk of his SwStk%. Interestingly, the SwStk% on his four-seamer was actually 0.1% higher than he posted in 2021! So the drop in velocity didn’t seem to affect that pitch’s whiffiness, but perhaps it made his other pitches a bit less effective. As usual, his season is going to be determined by his walk rate and BABIP, both of which have jumped up and down.

While Scott Barlow was clearly hurt by his velocity loss, which he never rebounded from over the rest of the season, no one was complaining. He posted a career low ERA and career high save total, but his strikeout rate fell to its lowest since his 2018 debut over a small sample. Luckily, a .240 BABIP and 83.9% LOB% saved him. Without those rates, it’s possible a rough stretch may have cost him his closer role. I would still consider him a bottom tier closer option next season, especially if his velocity fails to rebound.

I was very worried about Zack Wheeler heading into the season after word was shared that he experienced shoulder soreness during his throwing program in December. Then when he opened the season with velocity down two miles per hour, I thought for sure he would either soon land on the IL, or it was the beginning of a disappointing season. Turns out, he made it most of the season injury free until late August hit, when he was placed on the IL right right forearm tendinitis. That wasn’t the shoulder, but Wheeler’s velocity only partially rebounded over the rest of the season and finished well below where he had the past three years. Yet, it didn’t matter a whole lot for his results. While his strikeout rate declined from his 2021 peak, he still managed to post the second highest mark of his career, while posting a sub-3.00 ERA for the third straight season. Sometimes being ignorant of offseason injury issues and velocity declines comes in handy!

I was real worried about Shane Bieber after his velocity was so down early on, especially after he suffered a shoulder injury in 2021, and when he returned, his velocity was down as well. Over the rest of the season, his velocity barely rebounded. But like Wheeler, it didn’t end up mattering for his results. He posted the lowest ERA and WHIP of his career over a full season. Of course, the velocity loss did affect his performance in some way — his strikeout rate tumbled to the lowest mark since his 2018 debut. After sitting above 30% for three straight seasons, he finished with just a 25% mark this year, which cut into his strikeout value. Thankfully, a career low walk rate, second lowest BABIP, and lowest HR/FB rate all assisted in ensuring his ERA finished below 3.00. Without a velocity rebound, I would still be nervous here as someone who doesn’t have a very good fastball, so there’s going to be a point where it’s diminished enough that it starts affecting his slider and curve’s effectiveness.

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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