Last week, I debuted “The 10” by looking at unexpected gems and we’re staying on the mound again today. While there are small sample all over the place, pitchers are at least accumulating data in areas that often stabilize sooner and can add some insight despite the fact that we’re still almost a week away from Tax Day. Meanwhile, hitters are still ping-ponging between perceived hot and cold starts as evidenced by Nick Markakis jumping 51 points in AVG with a 3-for-4 effort on Monday night.
For this exercise, I’m comparing current velos through a couple starts or handful of relief innings against the player’s full April total from last year. These gains aren’t set in stone, but they are worth monitoring, even at this early juncture. Here are 10 velocity gainers on my radar:
Mike Clevinger CLE | +2.9 to 95.4 mph
Clevdog is on fire through two starts, fanning an absurd 52% of the batters he has faced in 12 scoreless innings. He’s one of the few guys throwing more fastballs en route to success, dropping his fresh mid-90s heater at a 58% clip, up from 53% last year. Clevinger is currently generating a truly obscene 23% swinging strike rate on his fastball, bested by only three relievers: Heath Hembree, Tayron Guerrero, and the top guy we’ll get to later. He did leave his latest start with some upper back tightness, but it’s not expected to keep him from his weekend outing in Kansas City.
Edit to add: Orrrrr he’s on the IL and Terry Francona is saying it’ll be 6-8 weeks before he even touches a baseball. I can’t know if the velo spike contributed to the back issue, but one potential downside of these spikes is added injury risk. This is just brutal for a Cleveland team that desperately needs every ounce of its pitching and for fantasy teams that were relying on Clevdog as an ace. This sucks all around.
Martin Perez MIN | +2.9 to 94.7 mph
Perez has only pitched in relief after starting throughout April last year so that influences his jump a bit, but he was also making headlines in Spring Training for velocity gains so it’s not that surprising to find him on this list. Unfortunately, success hasn’t quite followed the velo surge in his six innings of work with a 5.68 ERA and 2.37 WHIP. I was intrigued by the spike in spring despite the poor results, believing that perhaps he was working on commanding the new heat and his brand new cutter. However, the early struggles and lack of a rotation spot have made him an easy cut. I’ll continue to monitor him in case something clicks as mid-90s from the left side will always garner some attention.
Edit to add: A Twitter follower alerted me that Perez will be in the rotation once a fifth starter is needed for Minnesota. Looking ahead at the schedule, that should be the week of April 15th and Perez could actually net two starts in that week.
Zack Wheeler NYM | +2.5 to 96.9 mph
The breakout righty rode a filthy fastball to career year in 2018. The velocity gain is about the only thing going right so far after a passable season debut (4 ER in 5 IP, but also 7 K against just 1 BB) was followed by a disastrous 7-walk nightmare this past Sunday. Manager Mickey Callaway isn’t worried as he believes that Wheeler’s mechanics are a bit off are behind the slow start and not worth panicking over. I’m willing to buy that explanation and explore a potential buy low trade on Wheeler. A trade like that is unlikely to come in a SP-for-SP challenge trade, so I’d either look for a 2-for-2 with some bats involved or try to sell a fast-starting bat like Yoan Moncada or Wheeler’s teammate, Pete Alonso.
Jack Flaherty STL | +2.5 to 93.4 mph
Flaherty was bumpy in his debut but rebounded with five scoreless against the Padres. His stuff is already plenty nasty so he doesn’t necessarily need any extra velo. I’ll take it, though, as long as it doesn’t make his command and control even worse. His walk rate is down slightly in those first two starts, but so are his first-pitch strike and zone rates so I’m not putting a ton of stock in the 7% BB. I mean, I’m not putting a ton of stock in anything through two starts. He can be a stud even with a walk rate in the 8-10% range, but it puts a lot of burden on his hit rate staying low.
Jacob deGrom NYM | +2.3 to 96.7 mph
Oh ya, this is fair. On the heels of a devastatingly brilliant Cy Young season, deGrom’s been even better through his first two starts of 2019. His velo is only up 0.7 mph over last year’s eventual total but he’s up a good bit April-to-April which has helped him fan literally half the batters he has faced thus far. He hasn’t allowed a run and only 10 of the 48 batters he has faced have reached based. Imagine deGrom pitching as well as – or somehow better – than 2018 while also having some offensive and bullpen support. That’s unreal.
Matthew Boyd DET | +2.3 to 91.0 mph
Boyd’s velo spiked in the second half of 2018 and spurred a nice little finish that included a 3.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 72 strikeouts in 72 innings. He’s actually down a tick from that second half, but up substantially from where he was last April. Boyd is leaning on his slider even more at a 37% clip after amplifying the usage 20 points to 31% last year. My biggest concern coming into the season for Boyd was the corner outfielders possibly turning outs into hits, but Boyd has avoided that fate thus far by fanning 48% of the batters he’s faced. I can’t help but laugh at his 0.01 FIP. How do you get a 0.01?!?
Jake McGee COL | +2.3 to 94.8 mph
After laboring through a brutal season (6.49 ERA, 1.46 WHIP), McGee has to be excited to have his velo back from the jump here in 2019. He’s right in line with 2017’s mark of 94.9 mph when he posted a 3.61 ERA/1.10 WHIP combo. Perhaps most important is the fact that the 32-year old lefty is toting a 13% swinging strike rate, a five-year high. If his velo and whiffs are both back, that’ll be huge for the Rockies. Despite their overall success, the bullpen was a bit of an issue for them last year.
Josh Hader MIL | +2.0 to 95.5 mph
How, Sway? His 36% swinging strike rate on the fastball is easily the best in the baseball thus far, 11 points clear of Heath Hembree. He has also struck out 52% of the batters he’s faced with an eye-popping 48% K-BB rate. Hader is throwing his heater 93% of the time, too, so they even know it’s coming, but it doesn’t matter.
Yonny Chirinos TB | +1.3 to 94.5 mph
This is one of my favorites. It’s not so much because of the velo gain, it’s only 1.3 mph, but I like that the Rays are letting him accumulate some innings. Of course, if you only need 88 pitches to finish seven innings, it’s easy to let him go a bit. He hasn’t had an opener in front of him in either start yet, but I’m actually fine if they do give him one and then let him work 5-7 innings in the middle of the game. It’ll only add to his win probability. Chirinos is an all-formats guy right now.
Jordan Hicks STL | +1.3 to 100.1 mph
Hicks’ 100 mph average fastball hilariously represents a slight dip over his 2018 full season average but is up just over a tick from April of his debut season. What I like most about his season so far is the 17% swinging strike rate. It makes the fact that he’s still walking the yard (14% BB) a lot more tolerable.