Pitcher Fastball Velocity Decliners 4/14/2022

Earlier this week, I shared and discussed starting pitcher velocity gainers on Monday and Tuesday, and then relievers yesterday. Now let’s flip to the fastball velocity decliners. My level of concern for the pitchers on this list, and for those who missed the cut but have also suffered declines, is lower than my excitement for the velocity gainers. Given the abbreviated spring training, it’s understandable if some pitchers are still building up their arm strength, and we’ll see their velocities gradually rise closer to what we expected. Surprisingly however, leaguewide velocity is actually up! During the same date range of Apr 7 – Apr 12, 2022 fastball (four-seam, two-seam, sinker) velocity is actually up from 93.4 MPH in 2021 to 93.6 MPH in 2022. So it’s hard to use the blanket short spring training as an explanation, but I’m sure every pitcher is affected differently. Bottom line is while this group is certainly worth monitoring and a trip to the IL with an injury shared could certainly be announced, I wouldn’t panic just yet.

Velocity Decliners
Player 2021 Velocity* 2022 Velocity* Diff
Ryan Pressly 95.4 92.6 -2.8
Julio Urías 94.1 91.4 -2.7
Robbie Ray 94.8 92.3 -2.5
Scott Barlow 95.3 93.1 -2.2
Zack Wheeler 97.0 95.0 -2.0
Shane Bieber 92.8 90.8 -2.0
*Statcast average velocity of Fastball (4-seam), Fastball (2-seam), and Sinker

This list includes all starting pitchers with at least a 2.0 MPH decline in fastball velocity, but excludes Michael Kopech (2.0 MPH decline), who pitched as a reliever for the majority of his innings last year. I also cherry-picked the fantasy relevant relievers as well.

Ryan Pressly has now made three appearances. The good news — his fastball velocity has risen with each outing. The bad news — in his latest outing on Tuesday, his velocity still averaged just 93 MPH, versus last year’s 95.4 MPH. It has hardly mattered though in terms of generating whiffs, as his current 19.2% SwStk% would mark a career high and is elite. As a Pressly owner myself, I’m admittedly a bit nervous, but it’s literally been just 12 pitches. As a potentially top tier reliever when healthy, there’s nothing you can really do here except hope his velocity returns and/or he’s healthy even at this lower level and still remains effective. It might be worth checking to see if Ryne Stanek and/or Héctor Neris are available in your league so you’re ready to pounce if necessary. It’s not clear who would be next in line, though Neris’ closing experience and stronger skills would be my preference.

Julio Urías was the biggest velocity decliner among starting pitchers, and unsurprisingly, he got walloped in that first start. He failed to strike out any of the 16 batters he faced, which is shocking for a guy who struck out 26.2% of opposing hitters last year. He also generated just a 7% SwStk%. This was actually the lowest average velocity he recorded in a game in his entire career, and only the second game his velocity dipped below 92 MPH. His next two lowest velocities came all the way back in 2016! It’s concerning, to say the least, but I’m guessing we’ll know whether he’s healthy or not soon enough. At age 25, he shouldn’t be losing significant velocity like this if completely healthy.

Robbie Ray’s velocity decline looks larger because of his surge last year, but still, his first game velocity was below all his previous season averages. He also hasn’t pitched a game at this average velocity or lower since August of 2020. That said, he did record a 92.4 MPH velocity back in 2019, and his first game mark was barely below that, so this isn’t completely new for him. Velocity is obviously going to play a key role in his strikeout rate and being able to maintain a mark around 30%, but I think his control is really the biggest question. Last year’s big year pushed him up the rankings, but that required him to hold onto most of his walk rate gains. After four straight seasons of double digit walk rates, was it asking too much of him to follow up with another single digit walk rate?

Scott Barlow’s velocity was much better in his second outing, as he improved from just 92.7 MPH to 94.2 MPH. That last outing was still well below last year, but it’s a bit less concerning. Velocity spikes play a role here too, as his velocity has increased every season he has pitched. It started at just 90.6 MPH back in 2018, then skyrocketed to 94 MPH in 2019, and has increased ever since. It’s at least possible that he’s lost a bit of that mojo and is returning to his 2019 level, but it’s also possible that it’s been just 17 pitches and he’ll be fine. Relative to other closers, his underlying skills are fine enough, but not overly impressive. So if his velocity doesn’t come back and it chips into his strikeout rate, that could open the door. Who takes advantage is anyone’s guess though as the obvious candidate Josh Staumont has major control problems.

Hmmm, Zack Wheeler experienced shoulder soreness over the offseason and his velocity was down two MPH during his first start. Whether it’s the result of a weaker shoulder or the injury cutting into his ability to build up arm strength during spring training, I don’t know. But his first game velocity was well below his season velocities since his 2017 debut. He hadn’t pitched a game with a velocity of 95.0 MPH or lower since 2018. It’s impossible to know if the shoulder is still bothering him or he’s still building up strength, but we should know soon enough. Either his velocity rises, or he ends up on the IL.

Shane Bieber never possessed premium velocity, and his fastball, even at average velocities, was always classified as “hittable”. So when his fastball velocity drops by two MPH, that’s a scary situation for his owners. In his first start, he averaged just 90.6 MPH with his fastball, the lowest average he has ever recorded. His second start was slightly better at 91 MPH, but that still pales in comparison to previous seasons. That merely matches his second lowest velocity, recorded last year in his last start of the season and just below the velocity he recorded in his second to last start of last season. That’s important because those last two starts of last season was after returning from a shoulder strain, which knocked him out for about 3 1/2 months. That means that ever since returning from a shoulder injury, his average game velocity hasn’t exceeded 91.4 MPH, whereas he had never recorded an average velocity over a full season below 92.8 MPH. Seems pretty clear to me that his shoulder still isn’t 100%.

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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2 months ago

I’d quietly be shopping Bieber, letting the 2.70 ERA & 0.60 WHIP do the talking. Obviously, in some cases these velo drops mean nothing and in other cases they mean a lot… good luck figuring out which case you’re dealing with. Charlie Morton lost 2.5 MPH from ’18 to ’20, then regained 2 MPH back in ’21. Clayton Kershaw went from 93-94 MPH and 200+ IP/year to 90-91 MPH and 120+ IP/year, but is still an excellent pitcher when he’s out there. But then of course there are also the players like Stephen Strasburg where a drop in velocity means an indefinite trip to the IL.

2 months ago
Reply to  kid

Sure, it’s not always clear how much velo drops impact actual results, but they do usually mean something and often significantly so even though it doesn’t mean the pitcher will just fall off a cliff (unless it points to significant injury or the like).

Significant velo drops seem rarely to mean nothing at all.

Last edited 2 months ago by TheUncool