Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Gainers — Apr 8, 2021

On Tuesday, I shared the names of the eight starting pitchers who had seen their fastball velocities rise most versus 2020. Obviously, not every starting pitcher had made their first start yet, so let’s dive into the velocity gainers once more. I’ll exclude the names I discussed the first time, so this is an entirely new list of pitchers.

Velocity Gainers
Player 2020 FBv* 2021 FBv* Diff
Carlos Rodon 91.5 95.4 3.9
Mike Foltynewicz 90.5 94.2 3.7
Nick Pivetta 92.4 95.0 2.6
Freddy Peralta 91.3 93.7 2.4
James Paxton 92.1 94.1 2.0
Casey Mize 93.7 95.4 1.7
Trevor Rogers 93.6 95.3 1.7
Brad Keller 92.8 94.5 1.7
Kyle Gibson 92.3 93.9 1.6
Andrew Heaney 91.5 93.0 1.5
*Pitch Type velocity, as it is updated more quickly than Pitch Info

I won’t blame you if you completely skipped Carlos Rodon this year due to his multiple injuries over the past couple of seasons. Beginning in 2017, he has dealt with bursitis in his left biceps, left shoulder inflammation, left shoulder surgery, left elbow inflammation, and then a sore left shoulder. Yikes! So what happens in his first start of the 2021 season? His fastball averages its third highest velocity in his career, of course! What’s interesting is maybe we should have seen this coming, as his velocity sat at 96.2 MPH and then 94.2 MPH during his last two games last year, after sitting at 92.8 MPH and just 89.0 MPH during his first two starts of the season before going down with that sore shoulder. This almost undeniably means he’s healthy for the moment, which means a possible return to a mid-20% strikeout rate, at the very least. Of course, Rodon’s problem has always been his control, and added velocity won’t necessarily fix that unless he’s getting hitters to chase more of his pitches off the plate. Anyway, this is a fantastic sign, and if he wasn’t already owned in all my leagues, I’d be pouncing.

After breaking out of mediocrity in 2018, Mike Foltynewicz descended back into mediocrity and then lost his velocity last year. The good news is that he’s now one of the biggest velocity rebounders so far this season. The bad news is it’s still well below his previous pre-2020 levels. He also only generated a meager 7.4% SwStk% during his first start, but still somehow managed a 38.9% strikeout rate. Foltynewicz definitely looks like a better option in AL-Only leagues now knowing his velocity isn’t still sitting around 90 MPH, but his underlying skills outside of 2018 were never very good to begin with, so it’ll take a lot more to convince me he’s worth gambling on over a middle reliever in a deep league.

Like we’ve seen with other names on the previous gainers list and also the just discussed Foltynewicz, Nick Pivetta is merely rebounding from a down 2020. His first start velocity was actually higher than what he averaged from 2017-2019, and he also amped up his slider usage significantly, mostly at the expense of his curve ball. Pivetta used to be an annual popular sleeper, even though he’s never posted an ERA below 4.77. But his slider has been his whiffiest pitch over his career, so the move to more of them seems like a good thing. I’m paying attention now, but I’m not sure his skill set or outlook should be much different than Foltynewicz. In deep leagues where middle relievers actually have value, you’re taking a real risk on a guy who could blow up your ratios, all for some strikeouts and the hope of a win.

Note that because I clicked on Starters, only Freddy Peralta’s start on Tuesday is included in this velocity average. He was actually more than two miles per hour faster during his April 1 relief appearances. Peralta only started one game in 2020, which is why the velocity you see doesn’t match his season mark. But it’s worth noting that even his first start velocity on Tuesday was higher than what he averaged every season in his career previously, and 2019 and 2020 were mostly from the bullpen. So Peralta’s velocity is legit up, which is a scary thought for hitters considering he owns a career strikeout over 30% already.

Welp, it only took 1.1 innings for James Paxton to get hurt again. Once again, like Foltynewicz, Paxton’s velocity rebounded off a down 2020, but settled well below his pre-2020 seasons. Combine the not-quite rebounding velocity with his health and I’m not going to touch him.

Casey Mize was part of my “Steamer projected K% beater” bold prediction, thanks to his spring training velocity surge. Sure enough, that supposed surge was real, as he was up 1.7 MPH during his first start. Oddly, it didn’t actually lead to more whiffs, as his SwStk% was just 6.1% and he struggled to throw strikes. Since our prospect rankings had him sitting 92-95 MPH and he actually averaged 95.4 MPH, it’s clear that this velocity bump is above the velocity range prospect rankers assumed when evaluating him. If he was already a top prospect at 92-95, I think his ceiling now rises if he could maintain this new level.

Remember that dominating spring training that got everyone talking about Trevor Rogers? That may have been driven by the velocity jump we see after his first start. Yes, he still battled control problems and he’ll be that frustrating pitcher who won’t even go five innings to qualify for the win. But he already had strong strikeout potential at the lower velocity level thanks to an elite changeup, so I’d have to imagine this higher velocity will make his slider and changeup even more effective. Though shockingly, he failed to induce a single whiff on the changeup during his first start in 10 pitches!

Brad Keller got bombed over his first start, lasting just 1.1 innings, and he failed to strike out a single batter, and posted just a 3.9% SwStk%. But his velocity was up! It sat at a higher mark than he averaged in each of his first three seasons. Of course, it’s possible he typically opens games at a higher level and then gradually tires out and loses velocity, bringing that average down. Since he only went 1.1 innings, those later innings of lower velocity didn’t have a chance to average in. I’m just throwing out theories here as a possible explanation, or of course, this is a legit velocity bump after it’s declined each season since his debut. Since he has the ground ball rate, all that’s really holding him back is the strikeouts. Even just a 20% mark would do wonders for his fantasy value.

Kyle Gibson also got rocked and pitched to just eight batters before being knocked out, so take his velocity increase, which actually sat higher than he averaged every year of his career, with a grain of salt. His skill set actually looks a lot like what the upside for Keller is, which doesn’t sound too flattering.

Every season I await an Andrew Heaney breakout that doesn’t arrive, but this might finally be the year! His first game fastball velocity was higher than he averaged during any season in his career, and it’s particularly noteworthy because that velocity declined last year to his lowest since 2016. He somehow managed to walk 12.5% of batters he faced during that first start, despite throwing 70% strikes (league average is around 63%), which is elite. The increased velocity actually translated into whiffs, as that 15.7% SwStk% is elite and higher than he has averaged in any previous season. As a Heaney owner, I’m hoping he could maintain this increased velocity and remain optimistic on him if he does.

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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Jolly Good Show
1 year ago

Thanks for doing these, they are very useful.