Contrasting Bullpen and Rotation Velocity

The glorious juxtaposition of the Red Sox starting Tim Wakefield and relieving him with Daniel Bard or Manny Delcarmen was never lost on me. Moving from a pitcher with an unplugged heater to a live arm with a fireworks shooter attached in place of a right arm is one of the weirdest sights around. How hitters manage to adjust in such a quick manner is a testament to their talents. Are there any teams that go from Bards to Wakefields though? The very thought of which drove me to find out just which rotations throw harder than their pen friends.

As it turns out, they do exist, all three of ‘em root from newly minted franchises. Allow me to procrastinate before introducing the results by hand-waving the usual caveats associated with pitch speed data. My hope is that since all comparisons are inner-team, most of the noise from pitching in different ballparks and with various pitch scorers cease to be an issue. For more information on just how much velocity readings can vary by park, I highly encourage Mike Fast’s piece here. Tom Tango left an interesting comment that sort of applies here, too; you’ll see why almost immediately.

To the methodology. I simply went to the team leaderboards and pulled the average fastball velocity for each team’s rotation and bullpen, then subtracted the rotation velocity from the bullpen velocity. The numbers in this post originally came out as negatives, but I absolute-valued those mothers so as to make everyone more comfortable. To the results.

Marlins: 0.6 MPH

Josh Johnson throws hard (94.9 MPH). So hard that he leads the Marlins among qualified pitchers in velocity, just ahead of a number of bullpen arms, like Jose Veras (94.3), Leo Nunez (94.0), and Tim Wood (92.9). So, how then is the Marlins’ rotation tossing hotter pebbles than their pen? Because of Nate Robertson (87.8), Brian Sanches (88.4), Clay Hensley (88.6), and Burke Badenhop (88.7). The rest of the Marlins’ starters are consistent in their heat, sitting between 92 and 91 MPH.

Rockies: 0.7 MPH

Ubaldo Jimenez (96.2), Esmil Rogers (94.4), Jorge de la Rosa (93.4), and Jason Hammel (93.1) make this one easy to understand. Outside of Franklin Morales (94.4), no other reliever with at least 30 innings pitched would top any of those aforementioned starters. One can only contemplate how different the figure would be without Greg Smith (86), Jeff Francis (87.2), and Aaron Cook (89.5) weighing down the rotation’s average velocity.

Rays: 1.6 MPH

I should have known the team I am most familiar with would lead the league. David Price (94.6) and Matt Garza (93.3) feature two of the most explosive fastballs in the league. The bullpen, meanwhile, consists of an army of feather ticklers: Andy Sonnanstine (86.6) and Lance Cormier (88.6) who rack up pitches and mop up innings alike, as well as the interchangeable set-up specialists Randy Choate (87.2) and Dan Wheeler (88.6). Joaquin Benoit (94), Rafael Soriano (92.9), and Grant Balfour (92.7) do their best to make opposing batters feel the heat rise during the final frame.

Later, the teams with bullpens that significantly overpower their rotations.



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Will
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Will
5 years 10 months ago

RA Dickey to Bobby Parnell to K-Rod (when one was healthy and the other wasnt in court)

noseeum
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noseeum
5 years 10 months ago

Reading the THT article, I was thinking the same exact thing as Tom Tango. There’s naturally less drag in Colorado then other cities, so the ball should show a noticeably smaller decrease in velocity from release to catcher’s mitt.

Regarding your article, it’s interesting info, but I wonder if you can take it further? I would love to see some deeper analysis on bullpen/starter velocity differentials and overall bullpen success.

Is it just the average bullpen velocity that matters, regardless of what the starters are doing? Or does the difference between the two corps make a noticeable impact? Would love to hear more!

Mike Fast
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Mike Fast
5 years 10 months ago

Noseeum, I was looking at adjustments to the pitch speed at 50 feet from the plate, or at least that’s what I was attempting to measure. At that distance, which is 4 or 5 feet after release, differences in the drag coefficient don’t make very much difference in the pitch speed.

As I noted in the article, the overall effect of drag is a loss of 0.6-0.8 mph between release and the 50-foot distance. Air density in Colorado is about 80% of what it is at sea level, so we’re talking a difference of maybe 0.1-0.2 mph in the measurement there. It’s something I haven’t incorporated into my overall adjustments, and perhaps I should, but it doesn’t begin to explain why Colorado is at +1.1 mph for the season.

Ben Crossett
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Ben Crossett
5 years 10 months ago

Some things just don’t need to be explained. Velocity is nice, but getting guys out is what matters. At the major league level an elite reliever possesses 1 dominant pitch plus another pitch that is either plus, or plus plus in grading. For example. Daniel Bard possesses a explosive fastball but partners it with one of the most electric breaking balls you’ll see in any bullpen.

With regards to the number of starters we see throwing smoke, if you look at the builds of these guys now a days your typical starter is a physically fit, strapping young buck capable of throwing much harder than they sit at. What I’m saying is that while Price operates in the 94 range, when he was in the pen in 08′ I think it was, his fastball was sitting at 97/98. This is rather typical as you aren’t asked to throw 100+ pitches.

To fully answer your question, think about this. There are very few pitchers that do something so unique that a hitter has never seen it or can’t quickly adjust. So while you may face a pitcher that throws a lot of junk, say… Ted Lilly and then have to face a Kuo for an inning or two. Sure it may take some time to adjust but that adjustment period for skilled hitters is minimal. One pitch? Maybe two? Sometimes that’s more than enough to get the hitter. Other times it’s just the shear ability of a pitcher to pitch.

In my opinion, the affects are minimal and there is bound to be trade offs for both cases. I mean, how many times have we seen a hitter come to bat against a fresh fireballing reliever and take him yard after struggling to get a hit off Lilly for 6 or 7 innings. Think of all the times Broxton or Marmol squandered late leads? At the same time, those guys have also came in and dominated following a start from the crafty lefty. The bottom line comes down to ability. Can you hit my fastball? Can you hit my slider/cutter/change/ some other combination of off-speed & breaking pitches. Can I throw them for strikes and keep you guessing?

Finally, look at the quality of arms each team has. That normally does all the talking for you. Yes, velocity is nice and it gives you more room to make mistakes but at the end of the day getting hitters out, is getting hitters out.

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