Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Decliners — Apr 5, 2023

Yesterday, I reviewed and discussed seven starting pitchers who enjoyed significantly increased fastball velocity during their first start compared to full season 2022 velocity.

Fastball Velocity Decliners
Player 2022 Velocity* 2023 Velocity* Diff
Eric Lauer 92.2 88.4 -3.8
Tanner Houck 94.8 92.1 -2.7
Michael Wacha 91.8 89.4 -2.4
Tyler Anderson 88.9 86.7 -2.2
Madison Bumgarner 89.2 87.2 -2.0
James Kaprielian 94.0 92.0 -2.0
Shane Bieber 89.9 87.9 -2.0
*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

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, remember that velocity tends to increase as the season progresses, so April velocity will generally be the lowest average for a pitcher. That means that it’s not yet time to truly panic if you own any of these pitchers. It’s also just one game and velocities definitely fluctuate from game to game. So rather than immediately jettison any of these names, just closely monitor their velocity over the next outing, hoping for improvement.

Holy cow, that’s a massive drop for Eric Lauer. Of course, it didn’t end up mattering in his first start, as he generated a double digit SwStk% and 28.6% strikeout rate anyway. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the repertoire to afford losing meaningful fastball velocity. His slider is his best secondary pitch, but it has generated a meager 12.7% SwStk% over his career and just a 12.3% mark last year. Both his curveball and changeup have been pretty awful at generating whiffs, as his four-seamer has been his second best swing and miss pitch. So if he loses a chunk of velocity and it loses effectiveness, I wouldn’t want to own him anywhere.

Tanner Houck pitched the majority of his innings in relief last year, so we would expect a decline in velocity as a starter. However, the reliever to start transition doesn’t normally cut 2.7 MPH from a pitcher’s velocity, so this is still bigger than expected. Like Lauer, it didn’t end up mattering during his first start, as Houck still managed excellent strikeout, SwStk%, and CSW% marks. He does own a better overall pitch mix than Lauer, so he might still be decent as a starter for as long as the expected Red Sox rotation isn’t fully healthy and he holds down a spot.

Yikes, Michael Wacha’s fastballs were never above average at generating swings and misses and the only strong secondary pitch he threw was his changeup. So a loss of velocity would not only hurt his fastball and cutter, but likely the effectiveness of his best pitch as well. Unlike the first two names, Wacha’s first start went poorly. He struck out just two batters in his six innings, though that looks like a weird fluke, as his SwStk% was in double digits and CSW% was higher than any of his previous full seasons. He’s too risky to start again until you see his velocity return.

Tyler Anderson has never been much of a strikeout guy and he’s sat at sub-20% rate since 2020. So a loss of fastball velocity is a scary thought. Like Wacha, he owns a strong changeup, and his cutter has been solid as well from a whiff perspective. But his velocity is getting into the danger zone and it’s anyone’s guess how long he could continue outperforming his ERA estimators. I didn’t want him at his cost with regular velocity, so I certainly wouldn’t want him now.

A drop in velocity was indeed a clue that Madison Bumgarner was dealing with an arm issue, as we learned after the game that he was dealing with “left arm fatigue”. This is precisely why monitoring velocity is important.

I get scared away from pitchers returning from shoulder surgery and it seems like everyone else does too, as James Kaprielian wasn’t even rostered in AL Tout Wars. Despite word that he sat mid-90s during a spring training game, Kaprielian’s velocity was well below his first three seasons. Though his home ballpark helps, especially as a fly ball pitcher, his offense is going to struggle to give him run support to earn him wins. There’s little hope of fantasy value unless and until his velocity rebounds.

Oh boy, Shane “Don’t call me Justin” Bieber’s velocity dropped last year, so you certainly don’t want to see yet another decline. The good news is this is pitch mix related, as he threw his cutter far more often during his first start, which is a pitch that comes in about five MPH slower than his four-seamer. Both velocities were down during his first start, the cutter more than the four-seamer, but the four-seamer was only down marginally, and neither pitch was down two MPH. With an elite slider and curveball, he has proven that he could still be an excellent pitcher with diminished velocity. But remember that his strikeout rate and SwStk% both fell hard last year, the former of which directly cuts into his fantasy value.

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

Mike, how fine of a line is Bieber walking right now in regards to staying on the elite starter level? Are his secondary pitches THAT good to where he can still be an ace? Or are we looking at a drop off to maybe a mid tier starter level?

1 year ago
Reply to  jlt421

A guy that comes to mind is Greinke. He had velocity declines till he got to the point he was no longer elite. With that said, he looks to be throwing harder this year, so maybe there is a bit of a bounce with him.