Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Decliners – 7/28/20

Yesterday, I identified and discussed starting pitchers who have experienced at least a one mile per hour jump in fastball velocity. Sure, it’s just one start, but velocity stabilizes much faster than any result or skill-based stat. Today, I’ll look at the flip side – those pitchers who have suffered a velocity decline versus last year. Note that my level of bullishness is higher for the velocity gainers than the level of bearishness for velocity decliners (assuming the same amount of gain and decline if comparing two pitchers). You can’t really fake a velocity jump, but there are myriad reasons why a pitcher’s velocity was down in his first start.

There are 23 names whose velocity is down by at least one mile per hour. That’s too many to discuss, so I will list them all, but only discuss those down by at least two miles per hour.

Velocity Decliners
Name 2019 FBv 2020 FBv Diff
Mitch Keller 95.4 91.8 -3.6
Madison Bumgarner 91.4 87.9 -3.5
James Paxton 95.5 92.4 -3.1
Reynaldo Lopez 95.5 92.4 -3.1
Charlie Morton 94.4 91.8 -2.6
Mike Fiers 90.4 87.8 -2.6
Zack Greinke 90.0 87.6 -2.4
Jon Gray 96.1 93.9 -2.2
Mike Minor 92.6 90.5 -2.1
Patrick Corbin 91.9 90.1 -1.8
Martin Perez 94.0 92.2 -1.8
Dallas Keuchel 88.4 86.8 -1.6
Aaron Nola 92.9 91.5 -1.4
Andrew Heaney 92.5 91.1 -1.4
Danny Duffy 92.4 91.0 -1.4
Vince Velasquez 94.1 92.7 -1.4
Tyler Anderson 91.3 89.9 -1.4
Tyler Chatwood 96.0 94.7 -1.3
Mike Clevinger 95.5 94.3 -1.2
Randy Dobnak 92.8 91.6 -1.2
Blake Snell 95.6 94.4 -1.2
Ivan Nova 92.4 91.3 -1.1
Freddy Peralta 92.4 91.3 -1.1

Wow on Mitch Keller. Last season, his lowest game average fastball velocity was 94.8 MPH, so this was a full three miles per hour lower than last year’s bottom. Keller was a popular sleeper heading into the season and for good reason. I was a fan too, but failed to roster him in my two mixed leagues. This is a significant enough velocity drop to really question what’s going on here. If you own him, I would keep him on my bench and give him one more start to see where his velocity is. If it’s still down significantly, I would drop him and expect him to tell us something is hurting, at which point, he lands on the IL.

Gosh, everyone was already bearish on Madison Bumgarner upon leaving the pitcher heaven of AT&T Park, but now he has a velocity decline to contend with as well. Under 90 MPH is the danger zone and Bumgarner crashed through that level. In fact, if you check his career game log, this was the lowest average game velocity ever. His previous low was all the way back in 2009 at 88.1 MPH. His pitching splits page is equally scary with the additional data. He apparently maxed out at just 89.4 MPH with the fastball and failed to generate a swing and miss on 39 four-seamers. That’s right, a 0% SwStr% on the pitch. You can’t really drop him after one start, but man, I would bench him and find some good reliever to start this week instead.

We had heard that James Paxton’s velocity was down during summer camp and it didn’t rebound in his first season start. Amazingly, he still managed a 14.6% SwStk% mark for the game. We know that Paxton had back surgery in early February, so at least we have a possible explanation for his down velocity. Perhaps he had less opportunity to rehab and he’s still building up strength. That’s not something that will provide relief for his owners, but at least there’s seemingly an explanation here, which means there’s a better chance his velocity gradually returns.

It didn’t take long to learn that Reynaldo Lopez left his first start due to shoulder tightness, which is clearly behind the velocity loss.

Charlie Morton transformed into a strikeout pitcher beginning in 2016 when his velocity spiked. He has been able to maintain that velocity surge and has become one of baseball’s best pitchers. Now at age 36, is it all gone? His first start velocity was back down to his pre-2016 levels, and since 2016, he had never averaged a fastball velocity this low. Previously, his low was 92.3 MPH, back in 2018. Morton has been injury prone in the past, so you have to wonder.

Mike Fiers never had much of a fastball, only once averaging at least 90 MPH (last season). While this decline looks bigger than it should because his velocity spiked to a career high last year, it’s still lower than it ever has been. Fiers massively outperformed his underlying skills last year (3.90 ERA vs 5.19 SIERA), so if the risk of his good fortune disappearing wasn’t enough to scare you away from rostering him this season, then this velocity decline should be.

I think a lot of us have been expecting the big Zack Greinke implosion for seasons now as his skills have regressed and velocity hovered around 90 MPH. That never happened, but perhaps this is finally the season. There’s only so much finesse you can get away with when you’re only throwing 87.6 MPH, and are used to succeeding at 90 MPH. Greinke still owns quality secondary pitches, so he’s not as much a lock to implode like someone else who relies on his fastball more, but you have to wonder how effective his changeup and slider can continue to be given his fastball’s potentially new velocity level.

Despite its strong velocity, Jon Gray’s fastball has never been great at generating swings and misses. But in his first start, that fastball generated zero whiffs in 34 pitches. His slider remained superb, but with a weak changeup as well, he was just a one-pitch pitcher. And a one-pitch pitcher who calls Coors Field home. He’s an easy drop if his velocity doesn’t rebound.

In 2017, Mike Minor experienced a velocity spike, and he maintained about half of that surge in 2018 and 2019. In his first start this season, his velocity dropped right back to where it was before 2017. That’s not the end of the world, however, as he has had some success at this velocity level, but it’s going to be much harder to post a 20%+ strikeout rate at that lower level. He might need the new Rangers park to be quite pitcher friendly to come anywhere close to matching his 2019 ERA.

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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Thanks Mike. How much of this decline do you think can be attributed to getting back in shape while trying to avoid blowing out an arm?