Between Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, John Axford and others, we’ve been talking a lot about velocity during the first week of the season. I will admit that the talk is overblown and overstated, but just 10 days into the season, there are so few statistics of any relevance, we gravitate towards something that *might* be significant.
You should not make Fantasy baseball decisions based on average pitch velocity in just two (or even one) starts, or a handful of relief appearances, for sure. But the truth is that *most* pitchers are within one mile per hour (mph) of their average velocity from last season, so looking at those above or below 1.0 mph gives us a list of players to watch for either age regression or injury (or even sleeper status).
Consider this: In his first start (0 ER, 1 hit allowed) Matt Harvey’s velocity was below that of his 2012 speed. His second start (1 ER, 3 hits allowed), his velocity was better than in 2012. Both were dominant starts, but velocity tells us very little in this case. (We told you about his “stuff” and location in spring training; you should have listened).
Halladay’s velocity is down slightly – about 0.5 mph – but the steady drop in speed over the past few seasons is the bigger concern. Right now, location and control are hurting Halladay when he can least afford them to suffer. Weaver, of course, is expected to miss up to 2 months with a broken elbow. But his falling velocity should have been a concern and will be upon his return.
We promise not to use the phrase “on pace for” in this column, but we will Scratch the Surface and look at early velocity swings so you know which arms to keep an eye on for the rest of the month. The chart below lists most of the starters, and some notable relievers, whose velocity is down at least 1.0 mph. I did not list those pitchers who transitioned to the rotation from the bullpen, assuming they can’t sustain a higher velocity over several innings.
|Player||2012 Avg. Velocity||2013 Avg. Velocity|
Velocity as measured on pitcher’s most frequent fastball. Chart is through games of 4/9
My guess is most of these arms are “warming up” and will increase their speed with each start. We determined in an earlier column that when pitchers hit 90 or 91 mph on the gun, their ERA and WHIP are prone to rise and they must rely on location more often than those who throw harder. So it stands to reason that a 92 or 93 mph pitcher who hasn’t reached his peak velocity in the early season can get knocked around.
In that column we also pointed out Felix Hernandez’ disturbing velocity plunge, so owners either need to watch this further drop carefully or use him as a trading chip.
David Price’s drop is misleading – he has shifted to more frequent use of his two-seam fastball so far in the early season, and those velocity splits are 95.3/94.2 in 2013. Although it technically is down over 1 mph, we will assume a possible transfer to a two-seamer is simply in a transition state and that he will be just fine.
Dillon Gee is in trouble. He possesses an above-average skillset and could be a number two or three starter on most teams, but missing a half season with a blood clot in his shoulder has clearly sapped some strength and he needs to get his velocity up, perhaps in the minors or the bullpen, to be successful.
On the relief side, names like Papelbon and Nathan should return to form soon enough. But Axford is in real trouble, and with the closer situation in Detroit in flux, Albuquerque needs to dial it up quickly if he wants to slam the door for the Tigers. We know most changes in the closer situations occur early in the season, so perhaps this “warming up” concept is a main culprit in start-of-season closers losing that role. It’s worth a closer look for sure.
I’ve been called a “Doom and Gloom” guy by some, so I want to look at velocity from another angle. Who are the arms bringing it this season compared to last? When we talk about rotation spots and possible closer roles, velocity will surely be a factor in those choices. So who has dialed it up thus far in 2013?
|PITCHER||2012 Velocity||2013 Velocity|
That’s it folks. With very few names on this list, we give even more credence to the “warming up” theory. Listing Cecil is a bit unfair since he did start nine games in 2012, which skews his velocity a bit, but his K rate climbed from the 6 K/9 range to about 7.5 K/9 last season. So far this year he has fanned 7 of his 11 outs, and deserves a closer look for now in the Blue Jays bullpen. Andrew Bailey seems to have gained his arm strength back over the winter compared to his brief return from injury last year.
Mariano Rivera, by the way, appears on neither list because his velocity is about the same as before his injury. Of course it is.
We flagged Holland as an underrated starter during spring training and tabbed Scherzer as a long-shot Cy Young candidate. In this small sample size, they appear to be headed in the right direction.
We are not dismissing velocity swings; in fact we need to do more research. In Friday’s Deep Dive column we will look at other elements of early season pitching performances that might impact, or be caused by, velocity changes.
In the meantime, avoid John Axford and worry (just a little) about C.C. Sabathia. But don’t read too much into the radar gun. That’s our job.
Tom’s greatest velocity came at the county fair, where he correctly guessed his arm speed and won a stuffed animal. His sister wanted it, but he (not so) politely declined. Yeah, it’s like that with him. You can ask him about it at @TomMcFeeley on Twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.