Pitcher Velocity Gainers and Losers

We’re already four games into the season! We know that fastball velocity stabilizes quite quickly and while it’s too early to all out panic about anything, it’s far more acceptable to panic, or get excited, about a pitcher’s velocity than anything else. Obviously, not every pitcher has thrown a pitch this season yet, and stats are only updated through Saturday’s games as I type this. So this obviously isn’t a comprehensive comparison, but we’ll keep rolling out updates.

I gathered pitchers’ 2018 velocities on the fastballs they threw the most (either four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, splitter, or sinker), and used the Pitch Info velocities for the most part. For some reason, a couple of pitchers didn’t have those velocities registered yet, so I used the Pitch Type box instead. I then compared that velocity to the same pitch type in 2017, but also set the split to use only March/April. We know that fastball velocity rises throughout the season, so it’s much more meaningful to compare to the first month than the entire season.

Let’s start with the fantasy relevant gainers:

2018 Fastball Velocity Gainers
Name 2018 Velocity 2017 Velocity Diff
Amir Garrett 94.7 92.1 2.6
Blake Snell 96.0 94.1 1.9
Kenta Maeda 93.8 92.0 1.8
Luis Severino 98.8 97.5 1.3
Ryan Madson 96.0 94.8 1.2
Robert Gsellman 94.2 93.0 1.2
Chris Devenski 95.2 94.1 1.1
Arodys Vizcaino 97.8 96.7 1.1
Roberto Osuna 96.2 95.2 1.0
German Marquez 96.0 95.0 1.0
Kyle Hendricks 86.9 85.9 1.0
Dallas Keuchel 89.6 88.6 1.0

Far and away, Amir Garrett has been the biggest velocity surger. That shouldn’t come as a surprise for two reasons – first, despite impressing during the spring and showing improved velocity, he opened the season in the Reds bullpen, which allowed him to throw harder, and second, he played through a hip injury last year which may have caused his velocity to decline. Now throwing in the mid-90s and still featuring an electric slider, he’s a guy I want in NL-Only leagues, regardless of role. If he does get his chance in the rotation, I’m even down with rolling the dice in shallower mixed leagues, assuming his relief efforts go well.

I was excited about Blake Snell due to his vast array of strong, whiff-inducing pitches to begin with. Now with added velocity to what was already above average velocity makes him that much more intriguing.

Woah, Kenta Maeda! His velocity already jumped more than a mile per hour last year, and now it’s up another mile and a half. In all of 2017, just twice did he average at least this velocity in a game, and those starts came in June and September. Given a 2017 SIERA well below his ERA, he is likely to prove to be a bargain.

Really, Luis Severino? Don’t you think you should give hitters some sort of a shot?

It’s good to see Kyle Hendricks’s velocity recovering a bit after freefalling by about two miles per hour last year. Though he has continued to have great success with such weak velocity, you have to wonder how much longer it could last. Getting back up to the high-80 mph range will give us more confidence than remaining in the mid-80s.

Dallas Keuchel’s velocity was off early last season, but he ended up finishing right around his 2016 mark. This year, he’s right where he needs to be, so there’s nothing to worry about like last year.

Now let’s get to the velocity losers:

2018 Fastball Velocity Losers
Name 2018 Velocity 2017 Velocity Diff
Cole Hamels 86.1 89.5 -3.4
Alex Wood 90.3 93.2 -2.9
Shane Greene 86.9 89.8 -2.9
Kenley Jansen 90.8 93.5 -2.7
Brandon McCarthy 90.9 93.4 -2.5
Kyle Barraclough 93.5 95.8 -2.3
Keone Kela 94.5 96.7 -2.2
Danny Duffy 91.1 93.1 -2.0
Michael Wacha 93.6 95.5 -1.9
Craig Kimbrel 96.9 98.8 -1.9
Zack Greinke 89.2 90.9 -1.7
Julio Teheran 89.5 91.2 -1.7
Carlos Martinez 93.5 95.2 -1.7
Johnny Cueto 90.0 91.6 -1.6
Chase Anderson 91.7 93.2 -1.5
Sean Manaea 91.2 92.7 -1.5
Lance McCullers Jr. 93.8 95.3 -1.5

Man, there’s a lot more fantasy relevant significant velocity losers than gainers!

Holy guacamole Cole Hamels. His velocity had already dropped last year, and now it’s down even more significantly in his first start. In 2017, his average four-seam velocity never fell below 91.3 mph in a game. In his first start, it was at 89.4. His cutter never notched below 87.8, but he sat at just 86.1 in his first game. His sinker never sat below 91.0, but in his first game, it averaged just 89.5. No one really seemed to like Hamels during drafts, but if I ended up rostering him, I’d probably be running for the hills.

Alex Wood’s 2017 velocity chart was scary, creating a perfect downward trend. Unfortunately, that trend has continued in 2018, as he was unable to regain any of that lost velocity. However, he has always thrown around 90 mph, so really, that 2017 early season velocity spike looked like the fluke. He has always been successful without throwing in the mid-90s, and he still generated a 14.4% SwStk% in his first game. I’m not that concerned.

This was Shane Greene’s cutter, which he happened to throw more often than his other fastballs in his first appearance. His other fastballs didn’t suffer nearly the same velocity decline, so I wouldn’t worry much.

Wow, what happened to Kenley Jansen?! He’s aware of his missing velocity, so we’ll see if it was just a mechanical thing or if he’s hiding an injury. I would guess Pedro Baez or Josh Fields would be next in line.

Brandon McCarthy seemed to be a respectable NL-Only option for as long as he could stay healthy, but not with this kind of velocity!

No one really expected Brad Ziegler to hold down the closer job in Miami all season, so we all figured that Kyle Barraclough would garner some saves. However, he won’t exactly be a top alternative with a fastball down more than two miles per hour.

Speaking of closers, Keone Kela was tabbed the Rangers closer and has the underlying skills to hold the job all season. But down velocity is a worry for a guy with a history of not staying healthy.

In 2016, Danny Duffy averaged 95.5 mph with his four-seamer. Last year, that tumbled to 93.4, and now it was down to just 91.8 in his first start. I don’t want any part of him.

So odd. Zack Greinke’s velocity was down early in spring, and we worried. Then it rebounded and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. But now it’s down again?!

Man, a Julio Teheran rebound ain’t coming if he can’t even average 90 mph. His decline has been swift.

Given the enormous gap between his ERA and SIERA, Chase Anderson was overvalued in 2018 drafts and auctions. The excitement stemmed from a strikeout rate surge, backed by a jump in fastball velocity. But guess what? his velocity in his first start is right back to where it had been before last season’s spike. Be very afraid of that Steamer and THE BAT ERA projection in the high 4.00 range.

It makes me sad to find two of my favorite pitchers in Sean Manaea and Lance McCullers Jr. appear here. At least both have elite secondary pitches and could survive on a velocity decline.

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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Any thoughts on Gausman’s velocity? Rest of season outlook?