Pitchers Who Experienced A Change In Velocity

For this fun exercise we are going to look into some pitchers who gained or lost velocity on their fastball. Usually a gain or loss in velocity could lead to a difference in performance. This season is a little tough because the question of the year is, were pitchers able to throw faster because they knew it was a short season? Or vice versa, did some of these pitchers lose their velocity because they didn’t have time to properly build up their arms? Or are they typically slow starters? Unfortunately these are questions that won’t be answered until the 2021 season begins. With that in mind let’s take a gander and these pitchers and what it could mean moving forward.

Drew Smyly 

Drew Smyly’s Four-Seam Fastball
Year MPH wOBAcon Exit Velocity SwStr%
2019 91.2 0.464 90.7 9.2
2020 93.6 0.277 90.6 11.6

Smyly not only had the highest spike in velocity for starting pitchers but he also saw the highest spike in strikeout percentage. Smyly was one of only four pitchers with an SwStr% over 15.0% and CSW over 35.0%. The other three were Jacob deGrom, Yu Darvish, and Shane Bieber. Granted this is all great but we are working on a small sample size with Smyly. He pitched a total of 26.12 innings with five starts in seven appearances. 

Besides the spike in velocity and high strikeout rate Smyly also made a pitch mix adjustment. He decided to throw his curveball over 36% of the time which is 7% higher than last year. His curveball is a fantastic strikeout pitch and produced a 40.8% chase rate with a 22.4% SwStr%.

With an even smaller sample size compared to other pitchers in 2020 Smyly is going to be tough to figure out. When we look for potential breakouts in pitchers we look for increased velocity, pitch mix changes, or movement changes. Smyly hits almost all the checkmarks and is well worth a late-round pick. Also, keep in mind that he is a free agent and we have to see where he signs.

Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGrom’s Four-Seam Fastball
Year MPH wOBAcon Exit Velocity SwStr%
2019 96.9 0.364 88.7 13.7
2020 98.6 0.389 92.7 18.6

As if deGrom couldn’t get any better, he comes out in 2020 throwing harder than ever before. Overall deGrom had a CY Young caliber season once again with a 2.38 ERA. 2.26 FIP, and 38.8 K%. His 38.8% strikeout rate is the highest of his career and it’s all thanks to his fastball.

As you can see above deGrom’s fastball produced a lot more whiffs in 2020. There was a bit of a trade-off by giving up some hard contact but nothing to be too alarmed about. The good thing is in September his fastball’s wOBAcon improved compared to August so we could probably expect better numbers in terms of contact for 2021.  

What’s scary is that with the new velocity and now another pitch with an above-average whiff rate it looks like deGrom might be getting even better. He now holds three pitches that he can strike you out with and in 2020 he had an insane SwStr% of 21.6. What? That is just straight up stupid. He has the highest floor and highest consistency of any pitcher in the past few years and he clearly needs to be the number one starting pitcher off the board next season.

Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner’s Four-Seam Fastball
Year MPH wOBAcon Exit Velocity SwStr%
2019 91.4 0.374 90.4 10.3
2020 88.4 0.385 90.7 3.6

Madison Bumgarner saw the biggest dip in fastball velocity out of any pitcher this year. The crazy thing about him is that all of his pitches dipped in velocity. This caused a major spike in hard contact and a major dip in whiffs. Check out his overall stats in 2019 compared to 2020.

Madison Bumgarner’s Overall Numbers
Year wOBAcon Barrel% GB% SwStr% dERA
2019 0.368 9.0 31.2 12.5 3.72
2020 0.426 14.5 24.8 8.6 5.88

Seeing this drastic change in performance some might wonder how this happened since he is only 31 years old. We have to remember that Bumgarner pitched a ton of innings in the playoffs throughout the years. He also has pitched over 200 innings in seven seasons. His 31-year-old arm is more like a 40-year-olds arm. With a 2020 season stat line of a 6.48 ERA, 7.18 FIP, and 5.31 SIERA Bumgarner seems to have hit that inevitable cliff we love to talk about. 

Patrick Corbin

Patrick Corbin’s Sinker
Year MPH wOBAcon Exit Velocity SwStr%
2019 91.8 0.351 90.7 5.6
2020 90.1 0.486 94.5 7.1
Patrick Corbin’s Four-Seam
Year MPH wOBAcon Exit Velocity SwStr%
2019 91.8 0.363 90.1 8.0
2020 90 0.483 91.2 3.1

Patrick Corbin really had a disappointing season in 2020. He went from having a 3.25 ERA and 28.5 K% in 2019 to a 4.66 ERA and 20.3 K% in 2020. So what was it that caused a drastic change in performance? With a decline of velocity in his arsenal just was not the same.

Let’s be clear here, Corbin’s fastball was never that great. It was mediocre at best but that’s all it needed to be because his slider was arguably the best pitch in baseball. Well in 2020 his fastball went from mediocre to terrible. With a decrease in velocity came a decrease in movement and an increase in wOBAcon. Overall his four-seam and sinker’s pVAL’s went from 7.0 and -3.3 to -3.5 and -5.3.

Not only did his fastballs become an issue but his slider also lost its luster. In 2019 Corbin’s slider was the best pitch in the league. It had a league-high 28.1 SwStr% (starters only) and absurd 51.7 whiffs per swing percentage. Fast forward to 2020 and his slider held a 21.2 SwStr% and 38.1 whiffs per swing percentage. Now don’t get me wrong those numbers are still great, but for a pitcher who relied on an elite pitch, it became just above-average. 

Corbin is tough to figure out especially for 2020. This goes back to the introduction of this article. Did his velocity drop because of the messed up shortened season? Was he unable to ramp up properly while we were waiting to see if the season would even be played? Watch him carefully in spring training. If he is throwing around 91.5 MPH perhaps Corbin can be Corbin again.

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