Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Decliners — Apr 7, 2021, A Review

Let’s continue reviewing the early season starting pitcher fastball velocity changes. Today, we’ll look at the decliners through the first start and compare those velocity readings to what each posted through the rest of the season. Were these first start declines early warnings to sell while you can or did the pitchers quickly bounce back?

Velocity Decliners
Player 2020 FBv* 2021 FBv – 1st Start* Diff 2021 FBv – RoS* 2021 RoS – 1st Start*
Luis Castillo 97.5 94.8 -2.7 97.3 2.5
Elieser Hernandez 91.4 88.8 -2.6 91.0 2.2
Corey Kluber 91.7 89.5 -2.2 90.7 1.2
Walker Buehler 96.9 94.8 -2.1 95.4 0.6
John Means 93.8 91.7 -2.1 92.9 1.2
Shane Bieber 94.2 92.3 -1.9 92.8 0.5
Kyle Hendricks 87.4 85.6 -1.8 87.4 1.8
Ryan Yarbrough 87.4 85.7 -1.7 86.5 0.8
Kevin Gausman 95.2 93.6 -1.6 94.7 1.1
*Pitch Type FBv

Once again, I highlighted those whose fastball velocity over the rest of the season remained well below their 2020 marks. This was somewhat arbitrary, as I accepted some level of decline to account for aging effects. The rest pretty much rebounded close to what they posted in 2020, confirming that their first start represented a false alarm.

Luis Castillo was one of, if not the, biggest alarm bell after his first start. He didn’t rebound immediately though as his fastball velocity didn’t average over 96 MPH until his sixth start. He was then quickly back over 97 MPH and back to his normal velocity from there. Who knows what happened in his early starts, but the velocity-induced panic combined with the poor results made for an excellent buy low opportunity. His season strikeout rate remained well down though, but given his results from June on, I’m guessing there will be no discount here in 2022, regardless of his strikeout rate.

Elieser Hernandez wound up on the IL after his first start, but mostly bounced back once he returned. He hasn’t thrown more than 82.1 innings in a season at the MLB level, so it’s hard to count on him as a high upside sleeper again.

No one really had a clue what to expect from Corey Kluber this year. When he opened the season with velocity that averaged less than 90 MPH, you had to wonder how healthy he was. Sure enough, he eventually landed on the IL in late May for a shoulder injury that knocked him out for a chunk of the season. His velocity was much better after that first start, but still remained down from 2020. Depending on where he signs, I’m not optimistic here.

Did anyone notice that Walker Buehler’s velocity was down all year? It was the first time he’s averaged less than 96 MPH with his fastball. His strikeout rate did dip to a career worst, but it didn’t matter, because a career low (in a full season) BABIP, career low HR/FB, and career high LOB% all led to his best ERA yet. I’m not paying what he’ll cost next year. Well, I never have owned him, but I think he’ll be more overvalued than usual in 2022.

John Means regained some of his lost first start velocity, but also remained down all season long. It led to a decline in strikeout rate, but another absurdly low BABIP and high LOB% led to SIERA outperformance. As an extreme fly ball pitcher with a mediocre strikeout rate, the risk here is higher than most think, as he’s heavily reliant on a low BABIP to maintain his value.

Shane Bieber missed a chunk of the season with a shoulder injury and his down velocity all year confirmed something wasn’t right. Amazingly, his strikeout rate remained above 30%, which is a testament to just how good his secondary stuff is. Every single non-fastball of his generated a double digit SwStk%, including a slider over 20%.

It was just a one game thing as Kyle Hendricks’ velocity rebounded to its normally low level, but less low than in his first start. It didn’t matter though as he endured the worst season of his career, with his worst strikeout rate since his 2014 debut and his first ERA above 3.95. He perfectly exemplifies the risk of lower strikeout pitchers who rely on a low BABIP and high LOB%. At some point, it all comes crashing down, and without the strikeout rate cushion, the pitcher goes from a solid mid-tier pitcher to hurting your team. I found myself owning Hendricks a bunch of times in the past (including, unfortunately, this season) because I always found him undervalued, even though I didn’t actually like owning him. But it’ll be hard to get me back on here.

Ryan Yarbrough isn’t that much different than Hendricks, but his velocity remained down all season, and when you’re throwing that soft to begin with, any additional loss could be devastating. While his strikeout rate fell to a career low, it was combined with a super low LOB% that really did him in. He actually posted a SIERA nearly identical to 2020, but his luck swung to the other side of the pendulum.

Kevin Gausman regained most of his losses after his first start, but still finished a tick down from 2020. That’s actually fine though as 2020 represented a big spike. His 2021 velocity was still higher than 2018 and 2019. His value will depend on where he signs.





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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I expect Means and Yarbrough to continue to be SIERA beaters going forward, since they had the most and third most IFFB of all pitchers last year. It is a dangerous line to walk (just ask Marco Estrada and Chris Young), but if you can do it right, it pays off.

Not saying that I’m going out of my way to get either of these guys, but their ERAs are usually going to outperform their estimators because none of them account for IFFB. Means is probably around a league average pitcher as far as ERA goes, which is not nothing in fantasy, especially in deep leagues.