Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Surgers 4/12/2022 — A Review

Let’s continue reviewing how the first start fastball velocity surgers performed over the rest of the season. Did they maintain their velocity spikes and post a higher strikeout rate or did their gains fade?

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
Player 2021 Velocity 2022 Velocity Diff RoS Velocity
José Urquidy 92.5 94.0 1.5 93.5
Nathan Eovaldi 96.8 98.2 1.4 95.6
Merrill Kelly 켈리 91.7 93.1 1.4 92.6
Spencer Howard 94.2 95.5 1.3 94.3
Max Fried 93.8 95.1 1.3 93.9

Welp, this was an interesting mix of rest of season velocity marks! Two of the pitchers held onto the majority of their velocity gains, two gave back nearly all their gains to finish with a velocity of just .1 MPH higher than 2021, and one pitcher actually saw their velocity tumble to below their 2021 mark.

A meaningful jump in velocity would have been super bullish for José Urquidy, as his velocity has been in a slide and his strikeout rates have been disappointing given his minor league track record. An increase in velocity could also boost the effectiveness of his changeup, which is his best pitch. While he failed to maintain all his gains, he did hold onto most of them, resulting in a career best season fastball velocity. However, that didn’t help his strikeout rate at all, which actually fell below 20%, along with a drop in SwStk%. His four-seam fastball also recorded a lower SwStk% than his career mark, so the added zip didn’t lead to more whiffs. Oddly, his called strike rate has been in freefall, so that appears to be just as much of a problem as the declining SwStk%. Luckily for the Astros and his fantasy owners, his extreme fly ball rate has helped him suppress hits on balls in play, and he has also posted a consistently high LOB%. I would like to see more strikeouts, rather than a reliance on remaining better than average in two of the three luck metrics.

Nathan Eovaldi was the only name on this list that actually lost velocity compared to his 2021 after his first start bump. In fact, his fastball velocity finished at its lowest since 2012! It’s no surprise then that his strikeout rate fell to its lowest since 2018, though he did have no trouble keeping it above 20%. It’s actually pretty shocking that he hasn’t been posting higher strikeout rates given that he has consistently posted double digit SwStk% rates for multiple pitches.

Merrill Kelly could have really used a velocity bump, and did indeed hold onto the majority of his first start gains to post a career best season velocity mark. Outside his small sample 2020 season, this was his best strikeout rate, though his SwStk% fell just short of his 2019 debut. Luckily, a lower than league average BABIP and high LOB% allowed him to handily outperform his SIERA. I assume that’ll make him overvalued next season.

Man, this could have been the spark that Spencer Howard needed! Sadly, that first start velocity spike didn’t last, as he reverted right back to where he sat in 2021. His stuff simply hasn’t translated to the Majors, as his most used secondary pitch this season, his slider, barely registered a double digit SwStk%, while every other pitch sat in single digits. He’s not getting the swings and misses we expected from his minor league track record, so I’m curious what has caused the disappointment. There’s so much to fix here that he doesn’t even seem worth speculating on.

Max Fried didn’t exactly need the velocity gains, though a higher strikeout rate certainly would give him more fantasy value. Just like Howard, Fried gave back all his first start gains and finished the rest of the season with a mark just barely above his 2021. The good news is his SwStk% still jumped to its highest since a short 2018 season, though that didn’t do a thing for his strikeout rate. However, his fantasy owners certainly weren’t complaining, as he significantly outperformed his SIERA once again, this time thanks to a suppressed HR/FB rate. He’s also one of the few ground ball pitchers suddenly posting consistently low BABIP marks. I don’t want to be paying market price if and when that BABIP jumps back up and his fly balls start leaving the park.

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

Eovaldi’s is a tale of two seasons, as his velocity never recovered after he got hurt in June. Through his start on June 3, his four-seamer averaged 96.7mph—basically the same as in 2021—and posted a .294 wOBA/.324 xwOBA, with a 10.4% SwStr. From June 8 onward, the average velo on his four-seamer plummeted to 94.3mph, and produced a horrendous .510 wOBA/.488 xwOBA and 5.1% SwStr. His splitter was good all year, and actually had a better wOBA/xwOBA from June 8 on despite losing almost two ticks of velo, but its SwStr% fell from 26.1% to 21.3%—still excellent, but when factoring in its increased usage, that’s quite a bit more contact.

I’m very curious to see how his offseason plays out. The fact that his stuff didn’t recover at all, despite two IL stints, would worry me a bit.