Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Surgers – 7/29/20, A Review

On Monday, I reviewed my first starting pitcher velocity surger post. However, since it was so early in the season, not every starter had actually pitched yet. So I posted another one two days later, which I’ll review now.

Velocity Surgers
Name FBv 2019 FBv as of July 27, 2020 Diff FBv after July 27, 2020 After July 27 vs As Of
Yusei Kikuchi 92.5 95.3 2.8 94.9 -0.4
Robert Dugger 89.9 92.6 2.7 91.8 -0.8
Drew Smyly 91.3 93.4 2.1 93.9 0.5
Michael Wacha 93.0 94.5 1.5 93.6 -0.9
Steven Brault 91.9 93.1 1.2 92.1 -1.0
Luis Castillo 96.5 97.6 1.1 97.5 -0.1
Sean Newcomb 92.9 93.9 1.0 93.2 -0.7

Yusei Kikuchi was the talk of Spring Training thanks to a significant velocity surge and he managed to essentially maintain it all season long. For a guy whose fastball and slider generated SwStk% near the league average and an overall SwStk% below the league average, a big velocity spike was exciting. Sure enough, it results in a massive jump in both strikeout rate and SwStk%. He even raised his GB% over 50%. Unfortunately, his walk rate jumped as well, while he seriously struggled stranding runners (a weak 59.9% LOB%). The poor LOB% resulted in an ERA that was barely improved from last year’s 5.46 mark, and far above his more palatable 4.34 SIERA. I would bet on the LOB% rebounding and the control returning, so it all comes down to whether this newfound velocity sticks next year. Follow Spring velocities and it he’s still throwing in the mid-to-high 90s, he’s an easy buy.

We can basically ignore Robert Duggar, as all his innings last year came as part of the starting rotation, while about 70% of his innings this year came as a reliever.

Wow, Drew Smyly. Out of nowhere, the oft-injured formerly good pitcher enjoyed a huge spike in velocity, easily setting a new career high. In fact, his previous high was when he debuted back in 2012, and back then, he only averaged 91.6 MPH on his fastball. The velocity increase led to a skyrocketing strikeout rate and a surge in SwStk%. Obviously, it would be silly to expect a mid-30% strikeout rate over a full season from the rotation in the future. But this suggests he’s fully healthy again. Like Kikuchi above, try to monitor his velocity in Spring Training next year and if he’s still throwing this hard, he’s a prime sleeper.

I was very tempted to pick up Michael Wacha early in the season based on the early velocity jump, so looking back, I’m glad I didn’t! The velocity increase did lead to his highest strikeout rate and SwStk% mark since his 2013 debut, but he couldn’t maintain that first game velocity, as it slipped nearly a full mile per hour over the rest of the season. Overall, his velocity was generally in line with past years, so he’s not really someone to watch next year.

Steven Brault opened the season with a 1.2 MPH jump in velocity, but it didn’t last. The rest of the way, his velocity declined a full mile per hour, averaging just 0.2 MPH higher than in 2019. He somehow managed to escape 2020 with a 3.38 ERA, but his 5.07 SIERA was right in line with his career. A .243 BABIP and 5.9% HR/FB saved him from another 5.00+ ERA. His performance might make him a favorite for a rotation spot next year, but he should remain far away from your team, even in NL-Only leagues.

It’s not fair when a top tier starting pitcher, already throwing in the high 90s, pushes his fastball velocity even higher, but that’s exactly what Luis Castillo did! After a drop in velocity over his second season in 2018, Castillo has now fully rebounded back to his 2017 debut level. He’s elite.

Sean Newcomb made it just 13.2 innings before being banished to the Braves alternate training site, as he couldn’t maintain his first start velocity bump. I would imagine he’ll get another shot with the Braves, but it might be back in the bullpen.

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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All in on Kikuchi next year. Statcast loves him as well with a .279 xwOBA and 3.51 xERA. He’s going to be a bargain I think. His only downside is not getting to pitch against his own team 🙂

Not related to velo, but Kikuchi and Brault were the only 2 guys to throw 40 IP and not induce a single IFFB all year.