Reacting to Early Season Velocity Data

Fastball velocity has seemingly received increasingly greater attention over the past couple of years. Perhaps it’s because it just keeps rising. A quick Google search yielded this interesting article detailing recent trends and confirming that average fastball velocity has risen every year since 2008. For us fantasy owners, velocity is important because a spike is often the precursor to a breakout. So let’s talk about a couple of pitchers and what we have seen from their velocity in the early going. These guys have all started just one game, which is as small a sample size as ever. But, velocity stabilizes very quickly, so it’s still worthwhile to discuss.

Zach McAllister

No pitcher was talked about more this spring as it pertains to fastball velocity than McAllister. Learning to maintain the increased velocity he brought with him during his time in the bullpen, McAllister’s heat lived up to the spring chatter. Well, his two-seamer did. That pitch, which ranged from around 91 to 92 mph previously, averaged 94.2 mph in his first outing. He used it about half the time as his four-seamer though, which was thrown at similar velocity to past years. It’s curious that his two-seamer was up two miles per hour, but four-seamer remained flat.

Unfortunately, the improved velocity didn’t lead to better results. Depending on which pitch classification system you trust, he either threw 64% fastballs or an inflated 84% fastballs. The former percentage would be okay, but if the latter is the more accurate rate, that’s far too many fastballs. The real problem is that his secondary stuff stinks. The hope was that improved fastball velocity would not only improve the effectiveness of that pitch, but also his other pitches. But his curve generated just an 8.3% SwStk%. It’s a tiny sample of just 12 pitches, but his curve has never even been average.

The one silver lining is that his swinging strike rate (Baseball-Reference version) surged to levels he had never approached before. But at the same time, his rate of foul strikes fell precipitously, which is why he didn’t punch out batters at any higher a rate than he typically has.

So bottom line is that the increased velocity is really here. That’s great news. But that needs to lead to better secondary pitches or he’ll continue to be mediocre and at risk of losing his spot to Danny Salazar at some point.

CC Sabathia

I think I was the only bozo to be excited about Sabathia this season. I even went as far as boldly predicting that he would be a top 40 starting pitcher. Much of that optimism was due to reports that his velocity this spring was much improved and back over 90 mph. Considering he averaged just 88.8 mph with his fastball last year, this was encouraging news. So what happens in his first start? He averages 88.4 mph! What. The. Heck.

During the broadcast, they talked about the cold weather possibly affecting Sabathia’s velocity and therefore it wasn’t necessarily worth panicking over. But his opposition, Daniel Norris, didn’t seem affected, as his velocity was almost identical to last year. So now I’m at a loss. On the one hand, Sabathia did everything we ask from a pitcher — strike out a third of the hitters he faced, walk nobody, and induce either grounders or pop-ups from those who do make contact. Yet just like the past two seasons, he got BABIP’d to death and struggled to strand runners. Amazingly, neither of the two fly balls he allowed managed to fly over the fence.

I am crossing my fingers that his velocity rebounds in his next outing, as I have a hard time believing he could maintain such strong peripherals with a sub-90 mph fastball. As usual, I’m going to remain stubborn and keep starting him for as long as those underlying skills remain elite.

Brandon McCarthy

McCarthy enjoyed a skills breakout last season on the heels of a two mile per hour jump in fastball velocity. We all know that the results didn’t follow thanks to inflated BABIP and HR/FB rate marks, which led to many, including me, to slap the sleeper/undervalued tag on him this season. But I was aware that a repeat of those skills hinges on him maintaining that increased velocity. And it’s usually a bad idea to bet on a jump in velocity being sustained. So I was cautious, rather than going all in.

In his first outing, he quelled all my concerns. His velocity not only didn’t drop back, but actually jumped another tick. His primary fastball, the sinker, jumped above 93 mph and suddenly he’s become a legit hard-thrower. I watched the game and his stuff looked just ridiculous. Who knew McCarthy would transform from soft-tossing fly baller to ground ball pitcher with excellent stuff? Every single pitch of his in that first game generated a SwStk% above 10%. Naturally, he still got hit, just like last year. But this was a seriously exciting start. Even though it was just one start, he makes for a highly desirable acquisition target.

Kyle Gibson

I had little interest in Gibson heading into spring training. Sure, I loved his elite ground ball rate, but with mediocre control and a poor strikeout rate, he was essentially Henderson Alvarez. And when that’s your upside, you’re not going to find your way onto my fantasy team. But then spring reports noted that his velocity was up and his strikeout rate followed, so I suddenly perked up a bit. If he could boost his strikeout rate into the high teens, he would suddenly become rather interesting. Brett Anderson-like in fact, someone who I cannot seem to shake.

After one outing, his velocity was indeed up, but only because it was down last year. This increase was merely back to where he stood during his 2013 debut. And he actually maxed out at levels below where he peaked in both 2013 and 2014. The rebound in velocity back to 2013 levels didn’t improve his ability to induce swinging strikes. His two-seamer induced them as a usual rate, while his 14 four-seamers induced zero swings and misses.

There are some seeds here, including a pretty good slider and acceptable changeup, but without a bump in velocity, I’m losing interest. The poor Twins defense doesn’t help matters, so he remains just a guy in AL-Only leagues at this point.





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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Chicago Mark
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Chicago Mark

Good stuff Mike,
I watched the McCarthy game on tv. I was surprised to see his velocity. I didn’t know it was an increase. He looked good. I see him getting better and better if velo continues.
Thanks for the write.
Ps. I have him at $1 in my dynasty league. Great!!!