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).
|Name||2018||2019||Diff||Pitch Mix Notes|
|Julio Teheran||89.8||91.4||1.6||Fastball % down 15%, Slider up 15%|
|Hyun-Jin Ryu||90.2||90.8||0.6||Fastball % up 12% with most coming off his change|
|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|
|Jacob deGrom||96.0||96.0||0.0||Threw just one curve, previously 10%|
|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%|
|Jameson Taillon||95.2||94.6||-0.6||Fastball % down 12%, most to slider|
|Trevor Cahill||91.8||91.0||-0.8||Dropped slider down 15%, all of diff went to curve|
|Blake Snell||95.8||94.9||-0.9||Fastball % down 10%, curve up 17%|
|Jose Urena||95.8||94.1||-1.7||Slider up 13%|
|Chris Sale||94.7||92.2||-2.5||Fastball down 10%|
● 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.
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.
As for Jon Lester, the results on his fastball don’t decline at the lower velocities, so the drop won’t bury him anymore.
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.