Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Surgers – 7/27/20

It’s super early, so there’s not a whole lot to analyze at this point, aside from injuries and playing time. However, there is something that stabilizes very quickly, and that’s fastball velocity. It also carries great significance, as fastball velocity is highly correlated with strikeout rate. All else being equal, a higher strikeout rate should result in a lower ERA and WHIP. So after one start, whose fastball velocity has spiked by at least one mile per hour versus 2019? I used the “Pitch Type” velocities, rather than “Pitch Info Pitch Type”, because the latter section takes a full day to update and therefore doesn’t have the velocities from Saturday’s games. I also only compared 2020 velocity to velocity during games started in 2019, so if a starter made any relief appearances, those wouldn’t be counted as part of 2019 velocity.

Velocity Surgers
Name FBv 2019 FBv 2020 Diff
Dustin May 95.6 98.0 2.4
Jose Berrios 92.8 94.6 1.8
Dinelson Lamet 96.1 97.8 1.7
Robbie Ray 92.4 94.1 1.7
Jacob deGrom 96.9 98.4 1.5
Steven Matz 93.4 94.9 1.5
Ross Stripling 90.2 91.7 1.5
Corbin Burnes 94.6 96.0 1.4
Erick Fedde 92.1 93.5 1.4
Sandy Alcantara 95.6 96.9 1.3

As the Dodgers’ second ranked prospect and 14th overall, Dustin May was on everyone’s radar. But with a stacked Dodgers rotation, we weren’t sure how many starts he would make this year. Clayton Kershaw hitting the IL already opened a slot for May, and man, his stuff looked wayyyyy better than I expected. May has never posted strong strikeout rates in the minors and his SwStk% marks were underwhelming as well. Given his elite ground ball rate, I figured he would be a more valuable real life pitcher than fantasy one because of the mediocre, at best, strikeout rate. Instead, he was throwing in the high 90s, and featured three pitches (sinker, cutter, curveball) that generated double digit SwStk% marks. I think I’m in love.

In his first start, Jose Berrios averaged 94.6 MPH with his fastball, a mark he never averaged in all of 2019. In fact, he only averaged at least that mark once in all of 2018 and twice in 2017. For some reason, it didn’t lead to many swings and misses or strikeouts, but if he could sustain this big velocity bump, he could drop his ERA for the fourth straight season. If he averages similar in his next start with mediocre to poor results, I’m targeting him in trade.

So Dinelson Lamet’s fastball velocity is up yet again, even after missing all of 2018 thanks to TJ surgery. He’s still a two-pitch pitcher, throwing that fastball and a slider, which makes him vulnerable to left-handers, as seen by his stark career splits (.261 wOBA vs righties, .346 wOBA vs lefties). Yet that hasn’t hurt his overall strikeout rate yet and the shortened season and many starters not expected to go deep into games, one of his major flaws is less damaging in fantasy leagues.

There’s been talk about Robbie Ray changing his mechanics, and although so far that didn’t improve his control, it may have been behind his velocity rebound. But this is different than the previous pitchers as Ray actually sat at this velocity back in 2016 and 2017, but his velocity had declined ever since. So rather than a surge to new heights, this is simply regaining lost velocity. Obviously, this is good news, but since he’s pitched with this kind of velocity before and has posted similar skills (though a bit better) to his previous two season with down velocity, it’s not as big a deal. As usual, it will all come down to his control.

Seriously, Jacob deGrom, do you really need more velocity? This is getting unfair.

Looks like Steven Matz has been drinking the same thing that deGrom has. Matz’ season velocity has been amazingly consistent, sitting between 93.1 and 93.6 from 2016-2019, so this is worth paying attention to. The increased velocity could make his best pitch, his changeup, even more effective.

Remember that the velocity comparison is only for games started, so Ross Stripling’s relief appearances last year are excluded. Some of this apparent jump is because his velocity declined last year, so this was merely a rebound back to his 2018 level. So this is a similar situation to Ray, in that it’s good news that the velocity has rebounded, but we can’t necessarily expect a potential new level of performance since he’s done this before.

Man, Corbin Burnes’ stuff is ridiculous. I don’t know how long he’ll be making starts or how many innings he’ll go, but he’s the type of guy I’ll always be rolling the dice with.

Erick Fedde?! He was never much of a strikeout guy in the minors and rarely posted strong SwStk% marks. He looked to be basically a non-prospect you can ignore in fantasy leagues. And although this velocity spike looks good, it’s in the Ray/Stripling camp of a rebound off a decline in 2019. Now Fedde is back to his 2018 level, which only resulted in a 4.27 SIERA and 21.2% strikeout rate. Perhaps the velocity rebound means he’ll earn a bit of positive value in NL-Only leagues for as long as he’s starting, but he’s still free agent material in anything shallower.

Sandy Alcantara was one of those hard throwers who was unable to translate the velocity into strikeouts. So what does he do? Throw even harder, maybe that’ll rev up the strikeout rate! There was a lot Alcantara needed to improved upon, even though it wasn’t obvious given his 3.88 ERA last year. But that was due to massive amounts of good fortune, as his SIERA sat at an ugly 5.28. Perhaps the added velocity this year will boost his strikeout rate and he’ll be able to post a legit sub-4.00 ERA without needing serious BABIP and HR/FB rate luck.

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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Alcantara didn’t need much good fortune in that first start. He looked legit.