Velocity & Pitch Mix Changes (Opening Day)

If any stat can be monitored with a small sample, it’s pitch velocity. Fastball velocity stabilized with a sample of ‘1’. Just one fastball is enough to know a pitcher’s velocity going forward. I collected the Opening Day starters’ fastball velocities and compared them to last year’s values. It’s all we can really do at this point in the season.

Additionally, I compared this year’s and last year’s pitch mix. Mainly, I was hoping to find if a starter dumped or added a pitch. I didn’t mention a pitch if its usage didn’t change by  10% points or more.

Here are the starters ordered by fastball velocity change. Also, to save space, when I mention a pitch changes a certain percentage, I mean percentage points (ex. up 10% = up 10% points).

Starter Velocities & Pitch Mix Changes
Name 2018 2019 Diff Pitch Mix Notes
Julio Teheran 89.8 91.4 1.6 Fastball % down 15%, Slider up 15%
Max Scherzer 94.4 95.1 0.7 Normal
Hyun-Jin Ryu 90.2 90.8 0.6 Fastball % up 12% with most coming off his change
Mike Minor 92.8 93.3 0.5 Normal
Kyle Freeland 91.6 92.0 0.4 Normal
Marcus Stroman 92.4 92.8 0.4 Effectively dropped curve and threw slider more
Madison Bumgarner 90.9 91.3 0.4 Curve and fastball down with slider up 11%
Jose Berrios 93.2 93.6 0.4 Fastball down 11%, curve and changeup
Andrew Cashner 92.4 92.5 0.1 Fastball down 15 %, went with a slider (cutter) and change
Brad Keller 93.9 94.0 0.1 Normal
Jacob deGrom 96.0 96.0 0.0 Threw just one curve, previously 10%
Aaron Nola 92.4 92.2 -0.2 Normal
Jordan Zimmermann 91.2 90.8 -0.4 Fastball % down 10%, curve and slider usage up
Corey Kluber 92.0 91.6 -0.4 Cutter down 15%
Luis Castillo 95.8 95.3 -0.5 Fastball % down 10%, all to change
Jhoulys Chacin 90.1 89.5 -0.6 Split finger up to 10%, fastball down to 43%
Justin Verlander 95.1 94.5 -0.6 Brought back his change to 10%
Mike Fiers 89.4 88.8 -0.6 Normal
Jameson Taillon 95.2 94.6 -0.6 Fastball % down 12%, most to slider
Masahiro Tanaka 91.7 90.9 -0.8 Normal
Trevor Cahill 91.8 91.0 -0.8 Dropped slider down 15%, all of diff went to curve
Eric Lauer 91.2 90.4 -0.8 Normal
Blake Snell 95.8 94.9 -0.9 Fastball % down 10%, curve up 17%
Miles Mikolas 93.9 92.9 -1.0 Normal
Carlos Rodon 93.0 92.0 -1.0 Normal
Zack Greinke 89.6 88.5 -1.1 Normal
Jon Lester 91.0 89.5 -1.5 Normal
Marco Gonzalez 90.1 88.5 -1.6 Normal
Jose Urena 95.8 94.1 -1.7 Slider up 13%
Chris Sale 94.7 92.2 -2.5 Fastball down 10%

Notes

● Nine of the pitchers saw their fastball usage drop by at least 10% points while only Ryu increased by that much. If Opening Day starters (i.e aces) are dropping their fastballs to throw more breaking pitches, what will the rest of the league do? The fastball may be dying. Starters threw fastballs 54% of the time last year and yesterday that value was down to 48%. It’s a trend to track going forward.

● Julio Teheran’s value jumped the most after going through these starters. His velocity increased over 1.5 mph. Also, he dropped the usage of his faster fastball and went with his slider (23% SwStr%) instead.

● For pitchers adding or removing pitches, deGrom and Stroman dropped their curveballs while Verlander brought back his change.

● The three big value droppers are Chris Sale, Jon Lester, and Zack Greinke. Each lost at least 1 mph off their fastballs. Sale is by far the most concerning. Here is how his fastball has performed at different velocities over the years.

Chris Sale’s Fastball Results
MPH SwStr%
90 9.1%
91 7.8%
92 8.7%
93 10.2%
94 6.2%
95 13.8%
96 13.8%
97 17.0%
98 21.8%
99 22.5%

While his 92-mph fastball is not as good as one in the upper 90’s, it’s still effective. But they weren’t yesterday. He might need to be benched at this point. Maybe.

As for Zack Greinke, his fastball has always been trash in the low 90’s and high-80’s, so it doesn’t matter if he loses a tick.

Zack Greinke’s Fastball Results
MPH SwStr%
88 4.3%
89 4.1%
90 4.4%
91 4.7%
92 5.9%

As for Jon Lester, the results on his fastball don’t decline at the lower velocities, so the drop won’t bury him anymore.

Jon Lester’s Fastball Results
MPH SwStr%
88 4.3%
89 7.7%
90 6.3%
91 6.6%
92 6.9%
93 6.1%
94 9.7%

We hoped you liked reading Velocity & Pitch Mix Changes (Opening Day) by Jeff Zimmerman!

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Justin C
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Justin C

Hi Jeff, do you think Brad Keller can be a 6% HR/FB guy for a full season? Is his FB really that heavy?