Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Increasers — Apr 4, 2023, A Review

I love identifying early starting pitcher velocity surgers, as increases in velocity, if maintained, often lead to breakouts, or at the very least, strikeout rate surges. But do these early season velocity increases last? Let’s review the increasers I discussed at the beginning of the season to find out how they performed over the rest of the season. I’ll start with an Apr 4 post discussing seven pitchers.

Fastball Velocity Increasers
Player 2022 Velocity* 2023 Velocity Through Apr 2* 2023 Velocity Since Apr 3* Velocity Diff Since Apr 3
Mike Clevinger 92.0 94.3 92.9 -1.4
Pablo López 92.7 95.0 94.8 -0.2
Dean Kremer 90.9 93.1 92.2 -0.9
Shohei Ohtani 95.8 97.8 94.1 -3.7
Framber Valdez 92.1 93.8 93.2 -0.6
Hunter Greene 98.9 100.4 98.2 -2.2
Jesús Luzardo 96.1 97.3 96.6 -0.7
*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

Welp, it’s as clear as day — early season velocity surges should probably be taken with a grain of salt! Of the seven pitchers listed, every single one of them suffered a decline from their average at the beginning of the season. However, five of the seven still posted increased velocity versus 2022, some significantly so. Let’s discuss each pitcher.

Mike Clevinger has dealt with a variety of injuries over his career, including the type of arm injury that ultimately required TJ surgery to be performed in early 2021. His fastball velocity was down in 2022, so it was extremely encouraging to see the rebound early on in 2023. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hold it, but still did manage to maintain a mark well above his 2022 low. It didn’t do a whole lot for his strikeout rate though, as he only rebounded marginally off his 2022 bottom. Luckily, he dramatically overperformed his SIERA and less dramatically his xERA, so this looks like a reasonable bounceback. The skills weren’t there and I’d stay away if his price matches that of a sub-4.00 ERA guy.

Pablo López held onto the most of his gains among the pitchers on this list and also kept his velocity higher by 2.1 MPH over the rest of the season. What’s bizarre is that while it led to a significant strikeout rate surge to a new career high, his ERA barely moved and his results looked very similar to his 2022 season. He underperformed both his SIERA and xERA, suggesting some bad fortune, but with the 200+ strikeouts, he certainly still earned his owners a profit. If, and that’s a big if, he maintains this velocity heading into next season, I’ll be a big fan. You just never know if these velocity surges prove to be one year wonders or a new level established.

Dean Kremer’s velocity increase moved him out of dangerous territory and closer to the league average. It’s too bad he lost nearly a mile per hour since that early season increase, but since he was so low in 2022, he still managed to maintain a mark more than a mile per hour higher. While it did lead to a higher strikeout rate to over 20%, that’s still just below the league average and wasn’t good enough to get his ERA estimators, or actual ERA, below 4.00. Oddly, the increased velocity barely nudged his SwStk%, so I’ll need to see better stuff coming out in that metric to have any interest in rostering him.

Shohei Ohtani came out like gangbusters, but he then lost a whopping 3.7 MPH since that early surge. Perhaps his elbow, which ultimately led to surgery, contributed to the drop. He doesn’t figure to return to the mound until 2025 and it’s anyone’s guess if his velocity and performance will be impacted.

Though not an owner, I was pretty excited about Framber Valdez’s velocity spike and an increased strikeout rate could really make him elite. While he couldn’t quite maintain it, he was still up over a mile per hour over the rest of the season. That ended up resulting in a career best SwStk%, but that isn’t saying a whole lot since it only increased marginally. His strikeout rate did increase, but not to a career best, and his CSW% actually hit its lowest since 2020. His GB% also hit a career low, while his FB% hit a career high, so the changes in his underlying skills weren’t all that great. Note that his xERA jumped above 4.00 for just the second time, though he has consistently overperformed that metric.

Hunter Greene averaging over 100 MPH as a starting pitcher?! Clearly, it was too good to be true. He was the second on this list who not only failed to maintained his early season velocity bump, but ended up losing velocity compared to 2022. He spent a significant amount of time on the IL, so it’s possible that injury affected his velocity. Of course, his strikeout rate barely moved, remaining above 30%, though his SwStk% did decline. Once again, he dramatically underperformed both his SIERA and xERA marks. This time, it was due to a combo of an inflated BABIP and high HR/FB rate. The HR/FB rate issue is compounded by his extreme fly ball nature, though the high strikeout rate helps keep more of those long balls solo shots. Is he going to be a popular sleeper again or are fantasy owners tiring of his disappointments? He’s in a terrible park for his batted ball profile, but it’s impossible to give up on those strikeouts.

Jesús Luzardo enjoyed a velocity spike in 2022, so to see him even higher to begin the 2023 season was quite exciting. He couldn’t quite hold on, but still managed to keep about half of his gains. Unfortunately, the increased velocity didn’t result in a higher strikeout rate, though his SwStk% did increase slightly. Overall, he continued posting strong skills, proving that his 2022 half season breakout was real. The former top prospect has officially arrived after struggling majorly in 2021.

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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4 months ago

At least anecdotally, it seems like since we first saw FG track the spring training velo a few years ago that an extreme increase (maybe >3mph?) has often been a portend of an UCL injury.