Starting Pitcher Velocity Decliners

On Saturday, I took an early look at the 10 starting pitchers who have seen their average fastball velocity increase the most. Since velocity tends to gradually increase into the summer, I wanted to only capture the pitcher’s last start, and decided to use the “Last 7 Days” Split filter. In fact, there is a far greater number of starters whose velocity is down than whose velocity is up. Today, I will use that same method, but instead focus on the 10 starters whose velocity has declined the most. This is not the list you want to see your fantasy starter on!

Name 2012 FBv 2011 FBv Diff
Ryan Vogelsong 88.5 91.5 -3.0
CC Sabathia 91.5 93.8 -2.3
Tim Lincecum 90.0 92.3 -2.3
Anibal Sanchez 89.6 91.7 -2.1
Roy Halladay 89.9 92.0 -2.1
Brandon Beachy 90.1 92.0 -1.9
Carl Pavano 87.1 89.0 -1.9
Kevin Correia 89.0 90.8 -1.8
Madison Bumgarner 90.1 91.7 -1.6
Felix Hernandez 91.7 93.3 -1.6

Last year during his surprise season, Ryan Vogelsong never averaged below 90.0 miles per hour with his fastball in any of his starts. In his first two starts this year, he has failed to average that mark. Most fantasy owners already assume he was in for a big regression this year to begin with, so this loss of velocity only adds fuel to the fire. Interestingly, his strikeout rate is way up. However, his SwStk% has barely budged, so the early K/9 bump looks like a complete fluke. Strong surface stats to open the year gives his owners a window to trade him away as some non-believers may start to come around.

CC Sabathia’s velocity has been down over his first three starts, though it hasn’t affected any of his underlying metrics. Though, it’s possible that his inflated line drive and HR/FB rates are a product of the decreased velocity. But that could simply be a small sample fluke.

Perhaps the most talked about velocity decliner is Tim Lincecum. If you start back from his debut in 2007, his average fastball velocity declined every single year through 2010. The trend was then interrupted in 2011, but then continues again in 2012. Surprisingly, his SwStk% has been amazingly consistent, which is quite a testament to his off-speed pitches. While his strikeout rate has jumped so far this year, the number is deceiving as it is inflated by his insane .426 BABIP. His K% is actually down for a third straight season. As much as I want to say to go out and get him based on his 3.04 SIERA, I remained concerned enough not to give a full endorsement.

Anibal Sanchez had some shoulder problems over the spring, and now his velocity is down. Hmmmm. Maybe he is still building up arm strength as he moves further away from the issue. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if he missed some time again at some point due to that shoulder.

After experiencing down velocity at some point during the spring, the loss has extended into the season for Roy Halladay. And so far, only great fortune has allowed him to avoid being called a disappointment. His K% is down, BB% up and his SIERA sits at an un-Halladayesque 3.95. His F-strike% is down, supporting the increased BB%, but his SwStk% is right where it usually is (aside from last season’s career high). Funny how Halladay’s velocity drop is nearly as dramatic as Lincecum’s, but since Lincecum has had terrible luck on balls in play and Halladay has had great luck, you only read about the impending doom for Lincecum because people only look at their respective ERAs.

Brandon Beachy’s last two starts featured average fastball velocities below any start he had last season. Though from the surface it appears that Beachy is picking up where he left off last year as his ERA moves closer to his 2011 SIERA, his strikeout rate has dropped dramatically. Now his current SIERA is much more in line with his actual 2011 ERA. I don’t think the velocity drop here is that big of a deal though since he averaged 91.1 in 2010, so this shouldn’t raise concerns of a possible injury. But, he was extremely unlikely to post another 10.0+ strikeout rate again, and this velocity decline won’t help matters any.

Looking at Madison Bumgarner’s PITCHf/x velocity charts reveals a pitcher whose velocity has fluctuated quite a bit from start to start in the past. While his velocity gradually increased throughout 2010, it was in a downward trend last season and now his average velocity has declined in each of his last two starts. With only 7 strikeouts in 17.1 innings and a meager 5.5% SwStk%, is it time to panic? Man, between he, Lincecum and Vogelsong, is someone poisoning the water in San Francisco to offset all the magic they have enjoyed from a depressed HR/FB ratio in the past?!

Four starts in and Felix Hernandez’s velocity still has not rebounded to previous levels. Of course, he has pitched superbly anyway, with strong peripherals resulting in a fantastic 2.71 SIERA. Like Lincecum, Felix’s velocity has steadily declined since debuting in the Majors. Does anyone still remember that he averaged 95.8 miles per hour back in 2005 during his rookie campaign? His velocity then dropped into the 94.0 mile per hour range, which is still excellent, before falling to just 93.3 last year and then dropping further so far this season. So we have yet another ace who bears close monitoring to see if his velocity improves.

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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10 years ago

Obv, people not looking deeper past ERA plays into it, but there’s probably more talk/worry about Lincecum because he’s also publicly stated that he’s scraping his slider.