Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Decliners — Apr 5, 2023, A Review

On Monday, I reviewed seven starting pitchers that increased their fastball velocity early in the season to find out how they performed the rest of the way. Now let’s review the starting pitchers whose fastball velocity declined in the early going. Did any of them enjoy a rebound over the rest of the season? Let’s find out.

Fastball Velocity Decliners
Player 2022 Velocity* 2023 Velocity Through Apr 3* 2023 Velocity Since Apr 4* Velocity Diff Since Apr 4
Eric Lauer 92.2 88.4 89.0 0.6
Tanner Houck 94.8 92.1 93.1 1.0
Michael Wacha 91.8 89.4 90.9 1.5
Tyler Anderson 88.9 86.7 88.3 1.6
Madison Bumgarner 89.2 87.2 88.0 0.8
James Kaprielian 94.0 92.0 92.2 0.2
Shane Bieber 89.9 87.9 89.3 1.4
*Aggregate of Fastball (4-Seam), Sinker (2-Seam), and Cutter from Statcast to account for pitchers with different primary fastballs and make for easier comparisons

This is quite the fascinating group of pitchers! All seven of them did increase their velocities over the rest of the season compared to their early season marks. However, every single one of them still remained well down from where they averaged in 2022. So the improvement was good, but not nearly enough. Let’s find out how it affected each of them.

Eric Lauer enjoyed a velocity bump in 2022, which not only didn’t last, but he fell to the lowest velocity of his career this year. He saw a marginal improvement from his early season velocity, but remained below 90 MPH. His strikeout rate declined, driven by a drop in SwStk%, while his walk rate jumped into double digits for the first time, en route to a bloated 6.56 ERA. He deal with a shoulder injury in late May, which most likely explains the loss of velocity, but never made it back to the Majors after returning from injury. He’s not the type I’d be speculating on a rebound from.

Of course Tanner Houck’s velocity was down as he transitioned from majority bullpen work in 2022 to a full-time starter. He still gained a full mile per hour from his early reading, which brought his velocity back into average territory. Unfortunately, he ended up dramatically disappointing, finishing with a 5.01 ERA, thanks to an inflated HR/FB rate and suppressed LOB%. His SwStk% remained strong, suggesting significant upside on his meh 21.4% strikeout rate. Speculate here in deep mixed and AL-Only leagues.

Michael Wacha gained back a one and a half miles per hour to get him back over the 90 MPH hump over the rest of the season. He still remained well below the league average though and where he averaged in 2022. Luckily, it seemingly didn’t matter, as he posted a near identical ERA to 2022, while even enjoying a slight strikeout rate rebound. He continues to dramatically overperform both his SIERA and xERA marks though, so either he’s consistently doing something not captured by either formula, or he’s just one of the fortunate ones on the extreme ends of the bell curve (there’s always going to be a group of fortunates that still don’t explain!).

After a shocking sub-3.00 ERA in 2022, Tyler Anderson returned to being…Tyler Anderson. Well, maybe a bit worse, as he did end up posting the worst ERA of his career. His velocity, already down in the danger zone, declined further and even a rebound over the rest of the way left it uninspiring. His strikeout rate fell to the second lowest mark of his career, or lowest if you exclude the short 2020 season. He also struggled with his control, posting his first full season walk rate over 10%. His 2022 results were a clear aberration and I wouldn’t have any desire speculating on a rebound here.

It took just four starts and 16.2 innings for Madison Bumgarner’s career to likely have ended. With his velocity in freefall and into the danger zone (sub-90 MPH), he seemingly had little to get outs at the MLB level, as he walked more than he struck out. He was subsequently released by the Diamondbacks, potentially marking an end to an excellent career.

James Kaprielian keeps suffering shoulder issues and this season was no different. His velocity barely rebounded after his early season decline, though you wouldn’t know it by seeing the increased strikeout rate and SwStk% compared to 2022. Ultimately, he went down with a shoulder injury at the end of June which he got surgery on in early August, knocking him out for the rest of the season. It’s anyone’s guess whether the 29-year-old returns healthy and get another chance in the rotation.

Shane Bieber’s early season velocity troubles was worrying, and while he mostly rebounded, it still remained a far cry from his 2019-2021 levels. His velocity slipped to a career low, actually finishing below the league average for the first time. It’s hard to believe that he posted a mark less than half what he did in his unbelievable short 2020 season. The drop in strikeout rate led to his highest ERA since his 2018 debut. He eventually ended up on the IL in mid-July due to an arm injury, before returning to make just two more starts to finish the season. That injury perhaps could explain the loss of velocity, though it was no better in those two starts. Unless and until Bieber is back averaging 93 MPH with his fastball, I’m not interested in paying his draft day cost.

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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