Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Decliners — 7/30/20, A Review

Today, I continue reviewing my early season velocity change articles to see how the starting pitchers with the biggest gains and losses versus 2019 ended up performing the rest of the year. I’ll move on to the velocity decliners I posted on July 30, which were velocities as of July 28. Did these pitchers regain their lost velocities over the rest of the season or not?

Velocity Decliners
Name FBv 2019 FBv as of July 28, 2020 Diff FBv after July 28, 2020 After July 28 vs As Of
Mike Foltynewicz 94.9 90.5 -4.4 90.5 0.0
Mike Montgomery 91.7 89.1 -2.6 89.7 0.6
Homer Bailey 93.0 91.1 -1.9 91.0 -0.1
Jeff Samardzija 91.9 90.0 -1.9 90.7 0.7
Wade Miley 90.5 88.6 -1.9 90.2 1.6
Tanner Roark 92.1 90.5 -1.6 90.7 0.2
Griffin Canning 93.9 92.4 -1.5 92.8 0.4
Chris Bassitt 93.5 92.0 -1.5 92.9 0.9
Austin Voth 92.8 91.4 -1.4 92.1 0.7
Kyle Gibson 93.3 92.1 -1.2 92.3 0.2
Justus Sheffield 92.9 91.7 -1.2 92.0 0.3
Aaron Civale 92.6 91.4 -1.2 91.8 0.4
Anibal Sanchez 90.5 89.5 -1.0 89.6 0.1
Jon Lester 90.3 89.3 -1.0 89.2 -0.1

Of the 13 pitchers, three didn’t regain any velocity, posting a mark within 0.1 MPH of their first start, five only regained between 0.2 MPH and 0.4 MPH, four regained between 0.6 MPH and 0.9 MPH, and one regained a whopping 1.6 MPH, putting him within 0.3 MPH of 2019.

Mike Foltynewicz was the one pitcher that failed to make another start. That’s because immediately after getting clobbered in his first start amid the velocity loss, the Braves surprisingly designated him for assignment. In another surprise, he wasn’t claimed on waivers, so he was ultimately sent to the team’s alternate training site and never returned. Interestingly, we never heard about any injury, so it’s anyone’s guess what less to the dramatic loss of velocity.

Wade Miley was the list’s bigger post-first game velocity gainer. His velocity stood at just 88.9 MPH after his first start and we soon learned that he may have been pitching through a groin injury, as several days later, he ended up on the IL due to it. He then returned to make three starts with better velocity, before going down again for a shoulder injury, and missed nearly a month. In his final start of the season, his velocity was significantly higher, which is a good sign heading into next season. Of course, with such poor peripherals, that still doesn’t make him worth rostering.

I loved Griffin Canning in a shortened season as the delayed start meant more time for his elbow injury to heal. Rather than getting a late start to the season, he would be ready for opening day, and sure enough, he ended up making 11 starts. Although his ERA just pushed below 4.00, the velocity was down all year, and the underlying peripherals deteriorated. It’s anyone’s guess if the elbow affected his performance, but I’m thinking he might go from undervalued heading into 2020 to overvalued heading into 2021.

After losing 1.5 MPH on his fastball, Chris Bassitt’s velocity jumped back 0.9 MPH the rest of the way, coming much closer to his 2019. It didn’t actually matter though, as he ended up posting a 2.29 ERA, significantly lower than his pedestrian 4.46 SIERA. He’s made a career out of outperforming his SIERA though, as he now owns an ERA nearly a full run lower over 398.1 innings. Will that outperformance continue? I’m certainly not going to pay the going rate to find out! Without a strong strikeout rate, there’s not much downside cushion in case his BABIP and HR/FB rate moves closer to the league average.

Kyle Gibson suffered a 1.2 MPH velocity drop in his first start and only regained 0.2 MPH of that drop the rest of the way. His strikeout rate and SwStk% had continued to rise each year, so this velocity decline helped to reverse that upward trend. However, since his velocity spiked in 2018 and was maintained in 2019, the decline this season was merely a reversion back to pre-2018 levels, rather than at low levels not experienced before. So that’s not as worrisome. There are still the seeds of a strong pitcher, given three whiff-generating secondary pitches and a ground ball tilt, but he’s generally just been unable to sum those parts very well.

A drop in velocity and significant decline in SwStk% led me to being okay trading away Justus Sheffield in my AL-Only keeper league. His velocity barely improved after the early decline and I expected far better than an 8% SwStk%. He might end up being overvalued in 2021 now if fantasy owners think the small sample 2020 ERA was part of the breakout we all hoped for. Unfortounately, he’s not going to repeat that tiny 4.4% HR/FB rate.

Ahhh, luck in baseball is so funny sometimes. I was very bearish on Aaron Civale heading into the season, as the sleeper hype was likely boosted by his luck-fueled 2.34 ERA during his 2019 debut. Fast forward to 2020 — he improved his peripherals, resulting in a respectable SIERA, but luck ended up doing a complete 180. Now, his 4.74 ERA significantly underperformed his SIERA! Folks, this is why I call the trio of BABIP, HR/FB rate, and LOB% the “luck metrics”. They bounce up and down, especially over small samples, but greatly affect ERA. His BABIP spiked from .250 to .333, HR/FB rate surged from 6.6% to 15.7%, and LOB% declined from 77.6% to 72.4%. That’s why ignoring ERA over small samples and focusing on the underlying peripherals and SIERA is the far better way to go when projecting future performance.

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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