Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Gainers — Apr 6, 2021

There’s not a whole lot that we could evaluate after just one pitcher start. However, one of the few things we could analyze and take action on is fastball velocity. Typically pitchers see their average fastball velocity gradually increase as the season progresses, so it’s completely normal if a pitcher is down a tick from last year, as you figure it will improve moving forward. On the other hand, since average fastball velocity immediately means something, it’s worth noting when a pitcher is already enjoying a significant bump. So let’s take a look at all the starters whose average fastball velocity in their first start has increased by at least 1.5 MPH versus 2020.

Velocity Gainers
Player 2020 FBv* 2021 FBv* Diff
Shohei Ohtani 93.8 98.0 4.2
Corbin Burnes 96.0 98.1 2.1
Madison Bumgarner 88.4 90.5 2.1
Tanner Houck 92.1 94.1 2.0
Brady Singer 93.4 94.9 1.5
Mike Minor 90.6 92.1 1.5
Dylan Bundy 90.2 91.7 1.5
Zack Greinke 87.1 88.6 1.5
*Using the Pitch Type velocity, as Pitch Info Pitch Velocity isn’t available yet

Before diving into the names, I wanted to get one caveat out of the way. Just because fastball velocity already means something after just one game doesn’t mean that it will remain stable every start. Just like any other metric, velocity is going to jump around a bit every game, so sticking with just the most significant gainers (and losers) is the safest way to come to conclusions that remain true.

Shohei Ohtani averaged 96.7 MPH with his fastball during his 2018 debut before he got hurt. It’s not too surprising his velocity was down last year, but now presumably with a healthy arm, his velocity is now higher than even 2018. This is an exciting development, but it’s clear his control hasn’t returned just yet. He’s a tough own as a pitcher because he might struggle to go five innings and qualify for a win, plus he’s not going to be taking on a normal starter workload. If your league counts him as one player and you use weekly transactions, he’s clearly much more valuable keeping in your hitting lineup.

I don’t think anyone thought it could get any better than last year for Corbin Burnes, but he’s trying his best with this velocity bump. If nothing else, this confirms to me that he’s now a legit top tier starter.

After Madison Bumgarner’s velocity tumbled last season, it was back just above 90 MPH during his first start, which is an excellent sign. Of course, that still represents his lowest mark since his 2009 debut, so I wouldn’t expect the Bumgarner of old to be back. But it does suggest he should easily outperform his ERA projections that all sit around 5.00.

Heading into the season, we had Tanner Houck sitting between 91 and 94 MPH, but he averaged 94.1 MPH in his first start, so this appears like a real unexpected velocity jump. His minor league strikeout and SwStk% rates were unimpressive, so perhaps this velocity bump raises that ceiling and actually makes him worth following. Without it, I had no interest in rostering him, even in AL-Only leagues, given his pedestrian minor league record that resulted in ERA projections around the 5.00 mark.

Though the results weren’t there, Brady Singer’s increased velocity is exciting and could make him worthy of a shallow mixed league roster spot. Oddly, his strikeout rate was strong, but his SwStk% was well below average. So clearly that velocity didn’t yet lead to more whiffs. If the velocity jump sticks, I’d expect the whiffs to come.

Mike Minor was one of my bold prediction Steamer K% beaters due to his apparent velocity increase during spring training. Sure enough, the supposed velocity increase was for real, though this merely represents a rebound from his decline last year. I think he’s in a good situation, in a home park that will hold all those fly balls in, and in front of a pretty good outfield defense.

Dylan Bundy was another of my K% beaters and sure enough, his velocity over his first game is higher than his average each season from 2018-2020. I was off him (or so I thought!) because of his velocity decline last year, so this is a great sign. Now we could just focus on his situation in a good home park, backed by a solid offense.

While it’s good to find Zack Greinke’s name on a velocity gainer list, he dropped so much last year that he might be out of the league if he dropped any further! Greinke’s velocity in his first game was still below previous seasons, so it’ll interesting to see how he performs. It’s hard to imagine him continuing to be a strong performer and generating a 20%+ strikeout rate and double digit SwStk%. It was only one game, but he only generated a 6.1% SwStk% during his first start, which is well below average.

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

hey i doubt you are seeing this but is it worth it to drop half my weekly waiver budget on Ha Seon Kim?

1 year ago
Reply to  feddy