The Change — Velocity Gainers and Losers

Here’s the saddest thing about velocity changes in pitchers: it looks like you’re screwed either way. Velocity is mostly good for results, but Tommy John pitchers both a) threw harder across pitch types when they were healthy and b) showed velocity loss the year they had surgery. So, either way according to Jon Roegele’s research at least, it could be seen as a negative even if you show up as a velocity gainer on our lists today.

On the other hand, it’s probably better to combine velocity loss with things like a drop in zone rate and an inconsistent release point — things that Josh Kalk put into his injury zone work — and not just rely on velocity loss alone.

That said, a tick on the gun is still worth something in run prevention. And so let’s look at which pitchers are happy or hurting on the radar gun.

First, let’s look at the guys that have lost the most velocity. Better to get the bad news out of the way and end on a high note.

Here are the guys that have lost more than a full tick on the gun. We’ve averaged all of their fastball velocities, in case you’re wondering why these don’t link up with the numbers on their pages exactly.

Player 2014 Velo Apr/June Velo Current Week Velo Velo Difference
Jonathan Broxton 93.4 94.1 90.4 -3.7
Steven Wright 83.6 84.8 82.1 -2.7
Pat Venditte NULL 84.9 82.2 -2.7
Luis Garcia 94.9 95.3 92.8 -2.5
Elvis Araujo NULL 93.5 91.5 -2.0
Michael Lorenzen NULL 94.1 92.1 -2.0
Carson Smith 92.7 92.8 90.9 -1.9
Ike Davis NULL 87.9 86.1 -1.8
Ryan Kelly NULL 93.8 92.1 -1.7
Kendry Flores NULL 91.9 90.2 -1.7
Tyler Thornburg 93.5 92.7 91.0 -1.7
David Phelps 90.1 90.3 88.8 -1.5
Justin De Fratus 91.5 91.8 90.4 -1.4
Aroldis Chapman 100.2 99.6 98.2 -1.4
Chris Heston 89.7 89.4 88.1 -1.3
Jason Motte 91.9 95.2 94.0 -1.2
Michael Tonkin 93.3 94.4 93.2 -1.2
Aaron Brooks 91.8 91.3 90.1 -1.2
James Shields 90.1 91.4 90.3 -1.1
Frank Garces 91.6 91.2 90.1 -1.1
Pat Neshek 90.3 90.3 89.2 -1.1
Hansel Robles NULL 96.0 94.9 -1.1

Some of the entries on this list are PITCHf/x errors. Luis Garcia, for example, is not down three mph on his fastball. Look at the velocity on his fastball in his last outing and there’s obviously something wrong in there. Independent corroboration on the Jonathan Broxton velocity loss is much more conclusive: dude is losing oomph on his fastball, and that just makes it even less likely that he’s in line for saves even if Trevor Rosenthal gets the yips again.

There are actual, injured pitchers on this list, too. Like Pat Venditte. And pitchers that switched roles, so for Aaron Brooks, Michael Lorenzen, Ike Davis, Steven Wright — we’ll look past some velocity fluctuations in your line because your roles have been up in the air.

Carson Smith really jumps out of the list now as our eyes focus. He’s supposed to be a mid-nineties fireballing closer, not a barely-cracks-91 kind of reliever. He doesn’t have the command to survive there, probably, even if the breaker is plus plus. Even if there is a classification error here (and that’s doubtful, given he doesn’t have a cutter listed on any site and is a reliever with as short mix), you can see from the max and minimums on his fastball velocity that something is not right.

CarsonSmithVelo

Aroldis Chapman had only one way to go with this velocity, maybe it’s not such a big deal. And Jason Motte has enough injury history that some of this loss seems inevitable.

But the Chris Heston velocity loss is a little worrisome. Part of what made him a little more viable than this minor league numbers suggested was that he’d added muscle and velocity, at least that’s what he told me. The sinker — and for what it’s worth, all of his pitches really — still has more movement than average, but now the margin is tighter. And as a ground-ball pitcher, anyway, his upside is lower and his potential for value in shallower mixed leagues is less obvious.

James Shields losing velocity as he gives up homers seems like a big deal. Fans and owners will just have to hope that it’s just because of a cold gun or a one-week malady, as his velocity chart doesn’t drop off as much as show a one-game problem (which might be a classification problem, since it doesn’t show up everywhere).

To the gainers!

The average pitcher gains more than a tick on the gun between April and when velocity peaks in late July and early August, so we’ll limit this to the pitchers that have gained above and beyond that expected gain. So these guys have all gained more than 1.5 mph since April.

Player 2014 Velo Apr/June Velo Current Week Velo Velo Difference Diff_from_2014
Kelvin Herrera 96.5 96.4 99.5 3.1 3.0
Bruce Rondon NULL 95.9 98.7 2.8 NULL
Trevor May 91.8 91.9 94.7 2.8 2.9
Keone Kela NULL 94.3 97.1 2.8 NULL
Mark Lowe 92.2 94.7 97.3 2.6 5.1
Kyle Crockett 89.1 87.7 90.3 2.6 1.2
Ryan Madson NULL 93.4 95.9 2.5 NULL
Greg Holland 95.6 93.3 95.8 2.5 0.2
Anthony Bass 93.6 91.9 94.4 2.5 0.8
Justin Grimm 93.9 94.5 96.9 2.4 3.0
Aaron Sanchez 97.0 94.0 96.4 2.4 -0.6
Jake Petricka 94.0 93.1 95.4 2.3 1.4
Wade Davis 94.6 95.5 97.8 2.3 3.2
Jumbo Diaz 96.5 96.0 98.2 2.2 1.7
Adam Warren 94.1 92.1 94.2 2.1 0.1
Jesus Sucre NULL 87.8 89.8 2.0 NULL
Zach Britton 95.1 95.2 97.2 2.0 2.1
Tommy Hunter 95.7 95.8 97.7 1.9 2.0
Bud Norris 93.2 93.3 95.2 1.9 2.0
Eddie Butler 92.7 93.0 94.9 1.9 2.2
Jonathan Papelbon 90.1 91.0 92.8 1.8 2.7
Brian Matusz 90.6 90.0 91.8 1.8 1.2
Blaine Hardy 87.8 87.8 89.6 1.8 1.8
Daniel Norris 91.0 91.0 92.8 1.8 1.8
J.A. Happ 92.6 91.6 93.3 1.7 0.7
Mat Latos 90.9 91.2 92.9 1.7 2.0
Shawn Kelley 92.1 91.5 93.2 1.7 1.1
Ryan Mattheus 91.6 92.4 94.1 1.7 2.5
Jake Peavy 89.0 88.6 90.2 1.6 1.2
Joaquin Benoit 94.7 93.9 95.5 1.6 0.8
Ross Detwiler 92.9 91.2 92.8 1.6 -0.1
Travis Wood 87.2 89.4 91.0 1.6 3.8
Chase Anderson 90.9 91.0 92.6 1.6 1.7
Yordano Ventura 96.2 95.0 96.6 1.6 0.4
John Danks 87.2 88.5 90.0 1.5 2.8
Hector Rondon 95.1 95.4 96.9 1.5 1.8
Craig Breslow 88.3 89.2 90.7 1.5 2.4
Eric O’Flaherty 89.9 89.7 91.2 1.5 1.3
Mike Pelfrey 90.1 92.9 94.4 1.5 4.3
Chris Tillman 90.8 91.5 93.0 1.5 2.2
Tommy Kahnle 94.0 94.2 95.7 1.5 1.7

Once again we have some role-changers. Trevor May, Aaron Sanchez, Jesus Sucre, Bud Norris, Adam Warren — a whole bunch of guys got the benefit of the added tick you usually get when you move to the pen.

Even within the bullpen, role change could be at the heart of why Bruce Rondon, Hector Rondon, and Tommy Kahnle have added gas. We know that being a rookie in a debut can be worth an extra mile per hour, so maybe being in the mix for the closer’s position can be worth something similar.

A few guys have gotten healthy over the course of the season. At least, that’s been the story behind Mark Lowe, Ryan Madson, Justin Grimm, Eric O’Flaherty, Shawn Kelley as their velocity as returned to previous levels.

You could even say the same thing for Mat Latos, and Chase Anderson. Both of those pitchers went to the disabled list in the middle of a bad run of games, both spent some time getting right, and both saw a velocity boost once they returned. Velocity stabilizes quickly — three starts give you what you need to predict most of their rest-of-season velocity — so this is good news here. Anderson in particular can take heed. His command has been just as good, if not better, than it was last year, and concentration on his two-seamer has led to better ground-ball rates. This velocity uptick might mean the strikeouts come back.

Most of the list is made up of the volatility and small sample size theory that is relief pitching. And then you have Eddie Butler, Yordano Ventura, and Chris Tillman. There isn’t a trend for Tillman, and the last velocity numbers come from a two-inning outing, so the ‘boost’ might just be that his theoretical fifth-inning fastball velocity wasn’t included.

The other two have a clear trend. Yordano Ventura has returned from the minor leagues with a couple ticks of gas, perhaps as he tries to keep his hands around a tenuous major league drop. In the same way, perhaps, Eddie Butler has slowly pushed his fastball velocity over 95. Butler’s sinker got more of the boost than his four-seam, and his sinker is having the best month by whiffs and grounders of his career. Still, Butler’s change hasn’t gotten average whiffs yet, and that was supposed to be his best pitch. He’s still missing something.

Ventura has similarly seen more of the gain in his sinker than his four-seam. But, like with Butler before, velocity has never been his problem before.

Velocity loss and gain can’t be the sole source of your analysis. But for Carson Smith, Chris Heston, and James Shields, the radar gun has been bringing bad news. And really only Chase Anderson has a clear-cut case to be happy about the digits he’s reading.

We hoped you liked reading The Change — Velocity Gainers and Losers by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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JC
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JC

Good stuff Eno. FYI Broxton is now in St. Louis.