Starting Pitcher Fastball Velocity Surgers – 7/29/20

On Monday, I shared and discussed the 10 starting pitchers that have increased their fastball velocity the most compared with 2019. Finding the early velocity surgers is one of the best ways to identify the season’s breakouts, as velocity has a high correlation with strikeout rate, so a higher velocity should result in more strikeouts, which should reduce ERA. Since it’s so important, I’m going to update the list again with starters who have pitched since then. Once again, these are the starters whose “Pitch Type” fastball velocity has increased at least one mile per hour versus last year.

Velocity Surgers
Name 2019 FBv 2020 FBv Diff
Yusei Kikuchi 92.5 95.3 2.8
Robert Dugger 89.9 92.6 2.7
Drew Smyly 91.3 93.4 2.1
Michael Wacha 93.0 94.5 1.5
Steven Brault 91.9 93.1 1.2
Luis Castillo 96.5 97.6 1.1
Sean Newcomb 92.9 93.9 1.0

We heard during the Spring that Yusei Kikuchi was suddenly a fireballer, but I wondered if that would stick around for several months until the season actually begun. It has. Kikuchi has now enjoyed the largest increase in velocity among all starting pitchers and has gone from a below average velocity to a legit hard-thrower. This doesn’t happen very often. Unfortunately for his owners, that increased velocity didn’t help him in any during his first start. Not only did he allow five runs in 3.2 innings, but he also walked four of the 18 batters he faced (22.2% walk rate). He did strike out 22.2% (also) of the batters he faced, and while that’s a significant jump from last year’s 16.1% mark, it’s still below the league average.

I wonder if the increased velocity is more difficult for Kikuchi to control, but obviously one start isn’t going to tell us that for sure. Bottom line is that a 95 MPH Kikuchi is clearly more exciting than a 92 MPH Kikuchi, and the poor first start could give non-owners a chance to either pick him up from free agency or target him as a throw-in in a trade. I’m curious to see how his season plays out.

Robert Dugger debuted with the Marlins last year and just missed averaging 90 MPH with his fastball. In his first start, he got his fastball velocity up to near the league average, which is a huge improvement. From reading his scouting report, it seems like this velocity is more of a rebound, rather than a new level. His minor league strikeout rates were okay, and came along with solid control, which suggests that with his velocity back, he could earn some NL-Only value.

Before injuries derailed his career, Drew Smyly was pretty good. I was excited about his arrival in San Francisco and their pitcher friendly park. I had no idea that his velocity would surge, but this suggests he’s fully healthy again, and perhaps even establishing a new level. in fact, his 93.4 MPH velocity (which he averaged in both appearances this year) matches his previous career high, set all the way back in 2012 when he debuted! I’d be buying if I were in an NL-Only league.

Michael Wacha’s fastball velocity has bounced around, probably relating to the injuries he has suffered through the years. he averaged as high as 95.1 on his fastball (back in 2017), but has typically averaged in the low-to-mid 93 MPH range in other years. The velocity he averaged in his first start would represent his second highest mark, but interestingly, the pitch classifications suggest he threw his fastball at the lowest frequency of his career, instead upping the usage of his cutter and changeup. Over his career, his changeup has been his only good swing and miss pitch, so more of them is a good thing, especially with increased fastball velocity. He now has a better chance of being mixed league relevant.

I don’t think anyone had Steven Brault on their radar heading into the season, but perhaps this increased velocity will place him there. In addition to the faster fastball, he’s pulling a Wacha in that he threw it far less, and instead upped the usage of his two secondary pitches. His slider has been solid over his career, so more of those could be a good thing. Watch him in your NL-Only league.

It’s always surprising when one of the league’s hardest throwers is now throwing ever harder. In my first post, it was Jacob deGrom. Now add Luis Castillo to the list. Castillo, though, actually did throw this hard when he first debuted in 2017. Then his velocity dipped the following year, but has gradually risen back to where it started. His first start was positively insane. It literally is the definition of dominant, as he struck out 44% of batters and posted an absurd 24.2% SwStk%. That’s not all — 61.5% of batted balls were on the ground, while his line drive rate was just 15.4%. It looks like a repeat of 2019 is in the cards.

After a solid 2018 campaign pitching almost entirely out of the rotation, Sean Newcomb was booted to the bullpen last year. He is back in the Braves rotation and showing better velocity as a starter. Remember that if you’re just looking at his season velocity, it will look like a decline, but that’s because it’s propped up by all his relief innings. As just a starter, he’s throwing much harder, which is great news. His skills still aren’t great so he’s nothing more than a streaming candidate in shallower mixed leagues, but perhaps bump him up in NL-Only leagues.

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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One pitcher not named in the earlier piece nor this one is German Marquez. His fastball keeps increasing in velocity:
and then in his first start this year – 97.2