Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Surgers 4/11/2022 — A Review

Early in the season when we have a limited sample size to work with, I like to investigate those metrics that stabilize the quickest. Fastball velocity is one of those metrics. Since velocity is highly correlated with strikeout rate, a spike in velocity might hint at a strikeout rate surge, and perhaps a breakout. I originally identified six starting pitchers that enjoyed a velocity bump in their first start versus their 2021 marks. Let’s see if they were able to maintain those increases over the rest of the season.

As a reminder, to make data comparisons easier for me, I used Baseball Savant’s search tool and lumped all three fastball types (four-seam, two-seam, sinker) together.

1st Start Velocity Surgers
Name 2021 Velocity 2022 1st Start Velocity Diff RoS Velocity
Luis Severino 95.3 97.8 2.5 96.2
Mitch Keller 93.8 96.2 2.4 95.0
Shohei Ohtani 95.6 97.8 2.2 97.2
Carlos Rodón 95.4 97.4 2.0 95.5
Zach Davies 88.0 89.7 1.7 89.6
Tylor Megill 94.6 96.1 1.5 95.7

Overall, half of the pitchers held onto most of their first start velocity gains, two of them fell back to settle about halfway between their first start and 2021, while the final pitcher seemingly fluked his way into a first start surge, recording a velocity barely higher than 2021.

Luis Severino was the largest first start velocity gainer. This was important because he had missed all of 2020 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and then only threw six innings in his return in 2021. We can never be sure how pitcher is going to come back from the surgery, and many lose velocity and never gain it back. Others, of course, gain velocity, and this is what Severino experienced. He ended up posting classic skills rates, including a strikeout just above his career mark. A great comeback indeed, even if he couldn’t quite maintain that first start velocity.

I couldn’t stop talking about Mitch Keller’s Spring velocity spike and thought that this was finally the season he would enjoy a big breakout. He couldn’t maintain that first start surge, but did settle between that mark and his 2021, to still finish with a nice increase versus past years. While he did post the highest SwStk% and strikeout rate since his 2019 debut, both marks still fell well short of the league average. What’s missing here are effective secondary pitches, as his slider was below average in generating whiffs, while both his curveball and changeup have always been below average.

Shohei Ohtani couldn’t quite maintain that firs start velocity all year, but did hold onto more gains than he lost to finish well above his 2021 velocity. That velocity bump helped drive a career best strikeout rate and lowest SIERA.

Carlos Rodón was the only pitcher on this list who failed to maintain any of his first start gains, posting a velocity almost identical to his 2021 over the rest of the season. It didn’t matter though, as he was elite once again, posting another strikeout rate over 30%, along with a sub-3.00 ERA and SIERA. I’ll probably remain nervous about his injury history, but he’s definitely a top target in shallower leagues where replacement level is higher if he does hit the IL.

Zach Davies almost got his average velocity up to 90 MPH! He actually held the highest percentage of his first start gain of any on this list, but maybe it was easier for him given the low baseline. After three straight seasons in which his velocity dipped below 89 MPH, it was a pleasant surprise to see him suddenly bring it back up above 89 MPH again. While it didn’t result in more swinging strikes, his strikeout rate did increase to his second highest mark since 2016, but was still far below league average.

It’s too bad Tylor Megill dealt with so many injuries this year that limited him to just 47.1 innings. I was intrigued by his velocity spike, and he still managed to hold most of those gains despite the various injuries. An inflated HR/FB rate has covered up what looks to be quite a solid skill set, as his career ERA sits more than a full run above his sub-4.00 SIERA. If he has a rotation spot out of Spring training, he defines the word sleeper.

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 month ago

Last off season I asked the question… “What if this isn’t peak Ohtani? What if he’s even better this season?”

I’ll ask it again… what if this isn’t peak Ohtani? What if he’s even better this season?