Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Surgers – 7/27/20, A Review

Performing backward looking analysis with the intention of using it for forward looking actionable advice is only as good as the success of the advice. So I always make sure to look back on the season and review all the analysis I performed and the advice it drove. We know that fastball velocity is very important for pitchers and that it also stabilizes pretty quickly, meaning we don’t need many pitches to learn valuable information. So early on in the season, I posted several articles highlighting fastball velocity surgers and decliners. Let’s now review the first I posted on July 27, which was after just one start and through July 25. Did these pitchers sustain their newfound velocity levels or were they one game wonders, regressing right back to 2019 marks?

Velocity Surgers
Name FBv 2019 FBv as of July 25, 2020 Diff FBv after July 25, 2020 After July 25 vs As Of
Dustin May 95.6 98.0 2.4 98.1 0.1
Jose Berrios 92.8 94.6 1.8 94.2 -0.4
Dinelson Lamet 96.1 97.8 1.7 97.0 -0.8
Robbie Ray 92.4 94.1 1.7 93.7 -0.4
Jacob deGrom 96.9 98.4 1.5 98.6 0.2
Steven Matz 93.4 94.9 1.5 94.4 -0.5
Ross Stripling 90.2 91.7 1.5 91.7 0.0
Corbin Burnes 94.6 96.0 1.4 95.9 -0.1
Erick Fedde 92.1 93.5 1.4 93.5 0.0
Sandy Alcantara 95.6 96.9 1.3 96.5 -0.4

Pretty cool, exactly half of the 10 pitchers remained within 0.1 MPH of their first start velocity surge level. Interestingly, the five that were unable to maintain the spike gave up an average of 0.5 MPH since that first start. And yet, even given the declines after the first start, the pitchers who couldn’t maintain that first start were still up at least 0.9 MPH from 2019 over the rest of the season. That means that the first start velocity spike, at least for these 10 pitchers, was no fluke at all, and provided some of the earliest indicators of their 2020 performance.

Despite throwing a higher percentage of innings as a starter this year, Dustin May pumped up his velocity by the greatest amount of anyone and it wasn’t even close. Amazingly, even with a high 90s fastball, May posted a well below average SwStk% in the high single digits and failed to reach a 20% strikeout mark. He’s one of the current pitcher types whose stuff looks like it should be missing wayyyyyyyyyy more bats. For now, he’s Marcus Stroman, which is perfectly fine, but he’ll be someone fantasy owners will annually predict a strikeout rate surge, and we won’t know if or when that might come. The strikeouts are what’s going to separate him from the top tier starters, as he already has the control and ground ball rate.

José Berríos‘ velocity spike led to a career best SwStk%, but his strikeout rate fell just short of his 2018 mark. Combined with a walk rate spike, his ERA actually shot up to 4.00 for the first time since his ugly 2016 debut.

What happens when you pair a high-octane fastball that gains velocity for the second time with an already insane slider that is now being thrown over half the time? A major short season breakout for Dinelson Lamet. It’s crazy that Lamet throws so many sliders after returning from TJ surgery, and he’ll probably continue to be an arm injury risk. But enjoy him for as long as he remains healthy!

Sheesh, that’s not the season one expected from a pitcher whose velocity surged, but it’s what happens when you walk nearly 18% of batters like Robbie Ray did. He also became an extreme fly ball pitcher and allowed a crazy 2.26 HR/9 rate, so that’s a lot of multi-run homers! Because of the strikeout rate, you can’t give up on him, but it’s pretty cool that 2017 season fueled by his lowest BABIP by far was the fluke.

Is it really fair that Jacob deGrom enjoyed a velocity boost? Like he really needed his stuff to improve any more!

Of course, just because your a Mets pitcher and enjoyed a velocity boost doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good season. Steven Matz’s ERA skyrocketed to 9.68 over 30.2 innings, thanks to some of the craziest small sample luck metrics I’ve ever seen. With a 37.8% HR/FB rate and a 58.6% LOB%, Matz had no chance at keeping runs off the board. Yet, his SwStk% and strikeout rate both his career bests. If he’s back in the Mets rotation next year, he’s going to be a bargain in deeper leagues, and back to a solid streaming option in shallow ones.

Now in Toronto, what will Ross Stripling’s role be? He rotated between the Dodgers rotation and bullpen, which was frustrating for fantasy owners. If he’s just a long reliever in Toronto, he could be ignored, especially as his skills slipped, with his strikeout rate diving below 20% and SwStk% dropping into single digits.

Corbin Burnes was an obvious breakout candidate given his strong 2019 skills (this is why you ignore ERA and let SIERA guide you!), but without a guaranteed rotation spot, I foolishly failed to roster him. Interestingly, his strikeout rate skyrocketed, despite the fact his SwStk% fell from an elite level, to a merely fantastic level. I’m eager to see how he’s valued next year.

It might seem like the velocity boost was kind to Erick Fedde, but that’s not the case. His SIERA was more than a full run higher than his respectable looking 4.29 ERA, while his strikeout rate and SwStk% finished at ridiculously low levels. Since he walks too many as well, he’s making a run at worst starting pitcher in baseball honors.

Despite suffering from COVID-19, Sandy Alcantara’s velocity spiked, en route to a luck-fueled 3.00 ERA, which is likely going to lead to some serious overvaluation next year. His SwStk% didn’t rise as a result of the velocity jump, but his strikeout rate did hit a career high, even though it’s barely above the league average. He’s not a bad streamer or deep league buy, but he’s going to cost you far more than that and disappoint, unless he dramatically improves his strikeout and walk rates.





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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Bill
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Bill

Nice work,thanks!