Relief Pitcher Fastball Velocity Increasers — Through Apr 4, 2023

In deeper leagues, strong non-closer relievers can earn positive fantasy value. Every year, a slew of relievers seemingly pop up out of nowhere or take a giant step forward and become elite. Some of them eventually steal the closer role or record a couple of saves. So it pays to monitor their velocity readings as well. Today, I’ll share five relievers whose four-seam fastball velocity is up most compared to last year. Since we’re dealing with tiny samples here, I limited the search to just four-seamers and 10 pitches thrown during both 2022 and 2023.

Fastball Velocity Increasers
Player 2022 Four-Seam FB Velocity 2023 Four-Seam FB Velocity Diff
Cole Ragans 92.1 95.3 3.2
Garrett Hill 92 94.8 2.8
Reynaldo López 97.1 99.5 2.4
Aroldis Chapman 97.5 99.8 2.3
Carlos Hernández 96.8 98.9 2.1

Cole Ragans velocity increase was shared during spring training, which is why I bid on him for 2 FAAB units with a 1,000 unit starting budget (and won!) in AL Tout Wars during our first FAAB period the night before the season started. Sure enough, the reports were true, and in his first two games, he has come out firing. In fact, he was throwing even harder during his second game! Of course, this was partially expected, as all 40 of Ragans’ innings last year came as a starter. So you would figure his velocity would jump as a reliever, but over three MPH is definitely better than the average starter-to-reliever transitioner.

Unfortunately, the added velocity has done little for his ability to generate whiffs or strikeouts and his four-seamer sits with the exact same SwStk% as it did last year, which is well below league average. That said, the sample size is obviously tiny and he’s had strong strikeouts rates in the minors as a starter. So I’m bullish on him becoming a dominant reliever and given his starter background, it’s possible he could also go multiple innings and vulture a save now and then. Last year, his changeup was excellent, and his cutter good as well. So you would think those pitches could potentially become even more effective with added velocity.

Garrett Hill recorded about two-thirds of his innings last year as a starter, so he’s another guy we would expect a velocity bump from, but certainly not this dramatic. He had always posted pretty good strikeout rates in the minors, but that mark collapsed to the mid-teens during his rookie season last year. So far, the added velocity has helped his fastball miss bats, but his slider and curveball have been meh, and weak, respectively. Presumed Tigers closer Alex Lange is no lock, so Hill makes for an excellent darkhorse candidate to tally some saves.

With Liam Hendriks‘ return up in the air, the White Sox closer situation is murky. Reynaldo López has recorded a save so far, so he might currently be the favorite. With his velocity up to a career best, there’s a potentially elite reliever here. His slider has always been pretty good, while his changeup perfectly acceptable from a whiff perspective. The added velocity could finally boost his strikeout rate into the high-20% range. If he could also sustain his control gains the last two years, that’s a dominant reliever. Even if he doesn’t record many saves when Hendriks returns, he could still produce positive value in deeper leagues if the velocity translates into strikeouts.

Surprise! This is the hardest Aroldis Chapman has thrown since 2017. In just 22 pitches, he has already recorded a high velocity of 102.3 MPH, compared to a max of “just” 101.5 MPH last year over 378 pitches. That’s a big deal because Chapman’s strikeout rate plummeted last year and his ERA spiked above 4.00 for the first time in his career. Considering his walk rate was terrible, he couldn’t afford the loss of strikeouts. His four-seam SwStk% last year fell to just 9.3%, which is around the league average. That doesn’t sound so terrible until you compare it to his 14.8% career average. In 22 pitches this year, his four-seam SwStk% sits at a crazy 27.3%! It’s super early, but it sure feels like the elite version of Chapman has returned, though control issues might persist. Signed to a one-year contract on a team going nowhere, it makes all the sense in the world for the Royals to actually give him save opportunities to increase his perceived trade value.

Carlos Hernández is yet another on this list making a full-time transition to the bullpen. He recorded about half his innings as a starter last year, but after disappointing, was moved to the bullpen, where he’ll likely remain for good. Despite a mid-90s fastball, he somehow managed just a 13.2% strikeout rate last year and 10.7% SwStk%. That’s shocking. His velocity now sits at a career high and you would imagine that pumping in high 90s fastballs will eventually result in strikeouts. Walks have been an issue, which is far more problematic than it has been for Chapman above because of the low strikeout rate, as opposed to the latter who until last year, was a strikeout machine. He does have a decent enough slider, along with a curveball and splitter that has generated double digit SwStk% marks over his short career. So it’s a repertoire that has real potential to turn into strikeouts. I think there’s probably a longer ways to go here to earn positive fantasy value, but he’s well worth keeping an eye on.

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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1 year ago

So where does Chapman end up? Because he was pretty clearly signed as trade bait. There are plenty of contenders with unsettled closer situations – Angels, Mets, Dodgers