Fastball Losses

Previously, I looked at the pitchers with the biggest increases in fastball speed this past season. The list of the top 20 was dominated by relief pitchers, which is not a huge surprise given how volatile relief pitchers tend to be and since they tend to throw harder, on average, than starters, those fluctuations can cause bigger shifts in absolute speed.

Looking at the list from the other end, however – that is, from the pitchers that lost the most speed on average on their fastballs – produces more starters. Whether because starters will get more innings even when injured, a usual byproduct of diminished fastball speed, or some other cause is open for speculation, but the results are definitely interesting.

As promised, a list of the biggest drops in fastball speed from 2009 to 2008. A minimum of 50 innings pitched in each season was needed to qualify.

Joba Chamberlain, -2.5
Ervin Santana, -2.1
Ross Ohlendorf, -2
Jared Burton, -1.7
Tim Lincecum, -1.7
Daniel Cabrera, -1.7
Manny Delcarmen, -1.6
Chan Ho Park, -1.6
Brian Fuentes, -1.6
Jeremy Sowers, -1.5
Lance Cormier, -1.4
Chris Young, -1.4
Grant Balfour, -1.3
Mariano Rivera, -1.3
Tim Redding, -1.3
Oliver Perez, -1.2
Aaron Cook, -1.2
Kevin Gregg, -1.2
Kyle McClellan, -1.1
Aaron Heilman, -1

Obviously, the decrease in fastball speed meant little to Tim Lincecum as he went on to repeat his NL Cy Young. Ervin Santana‘s recovery from injury in 2009 was far from 100% and how his fastball shows up in 2010 could have a major impact on the close AL West race. The Yankees might be starting to worry about the future ceiling of Joba Chamberlain and the Mets, well, the Mets should have been worried about Oliver Perez long before they inked him to that ridiculous extension.




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

16 Responses to “Fastball Losses”

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  1. Kevin says:

    I had noticed Lincecum’s decrease this year. He’s really thrown a lot of innings for a kid that young. If the Giants don’t sign him to a long term deal, there’s not as much incentive to reduce his workload.

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  2. SharksRog says:

    Regardless of whether the Giants sign Lincecum to a long-term contract or not, they have control of his for four seasons — or just one year less than Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander signed for.

    Tim has demonstrated he can pitch just fine with the lower speed, thank you very much. He did so in great part because he threw his off-speed stuff 45% of the time instead of 35%.

    The key question is whether his speed will continue to drop, and how well he will adjust if it does.

    Personally I’m expecting another large improvement for Tim next season. Although his ERA improved by a seventh of a run per game last season, his peripherals improved by nearly as much as they improved in 2008 when his ERA dropped by nearly a run and two-fifths.

    Tim has gotten so good that I don’t know how much longer he can keep improving. But I expect him to do so for at least one more season.

    Regarding workload, Tim cut his pitches per inning by about a pitch in 2009, in great part because he lowered his walk rate below three. As a result, he threw 243 fewer pitches than in 2008 despite pitching only an innings and two-thirds less.

    Tim went from 39 innings of 10 pitches or fewer and 61 innings of 20 pitches or more in 2008 to 46 innings of 10 pitches or fewer and 42 innings of 20 pitches or more in 2009.

    I would think it is the innings of 20 or more pitches that are the killers for the arm.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      You all best listen to Shark. This guy has called everything right on Tim Lincecum from when he was still in the minor leagues. Great work, Shark!

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    • KMils says:

      Exactly – Lincecum’s off-speed pitches are quite good, especially his changeup. Still, you’d like to see him still throwing his bread-and-butter with the same effectiveness, especially at the age of 26. F. Hernandez has thrown a ton of pitches too, and he’s younger than Lincecum, but he’s still throwing an effective fastball and hasn’t lost much speed.

      Chamberlain, on the other hand, has dropped 4.5mph off his fastball in two years, and he doesn’t have the secondary stuff (at least, he didn’t last year) to make up for the drop. Something to look for as the season progresses – can Joba find his “out” pitch, whether that be a fastball or whatever else.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Sharksrog can correct me if I’m wrong here, but Tim didn’t throw a two seam fastball at all when he first came up. He started adding a two seamer in 2008 and last year was throwing it at least 50% of his fastballs. I believe two seamers are a tick or two slower than the 4 seamer for most pitchers. This could explain a 1-2 MPH drop in average velocity without having to conclude that there is a loss of effectiveness.

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      • KMils says:

        @DrBGiantsfan

        Looking at his Pitch Type Values, it appears that Lincecum’s fastball dropped from 26.6 runs above average in 2008 to 10.8 runs above average in 2009; per 100 pitches, runs above average drops from 1.11 to .59. It’s certainly not a bad pitch by any means, and his change-up went from great to devastating in that same stretch, but it does appear to be less effective.

        It might be that he’s throwing a two-seamer versus a four-seamer and lost some velocity/effectiveness that he might gain back. Even with a slightly worse fastball, he’s still a two-time Cy Young winner.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        What’s amazing to me is that over the course of just 3 seasons, Tim has totally reworked his arsenal. When he first came up, he was essentially a two pitch pitcher, 4 seamer and breaking ball. He never threw a two seamer and only rarely threw a rudimentary changeup. He still throws the 4 seamer and breaking ball, but he’s added a two seamer that he throws at least as often as teh 4 seamer and the changeup is an out pitch that is one of the best in baseball.

        Short of severe injury requiring surgery, I have a lot of confidence in Timmy’s ability to adjust as he goes along. Maybe his velocity is down a hair, but he’s a much more complete, and better, pitcher.

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    • MattC says:

      What I heard was Lincecum’s velo drop was by design. I watched something(I think it was Kurkjian on ESPN) that said that Tim thinks his offspeed stuff works better off of a 92 or 93mph fastball vs. a high 90s one. I don’t really know why he would think that but he obviously knows more about it than me and it’s obviously working so I’m not going to question it. I think what’s more telling is what he can still top out at if he chooses to reach back and looking at his velo charts he was still hitting 96 or 97 at some times so he still has it if he chooses to throw it.

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  3. Max says:

    Interesting but not a constant predictor. Some of these guys had pretty darned good seasons. Joba gets a “pass” due to him starting 31 of 32 regular season games in 2009 vs. 12 of 42 in 2008. Going forward, the reason for concern is not simply his drop in fastball velocity in 2009, but because he threw 63.1 more innings (incl. post season) and 1135 more pitches than the previous year. I wouldnt be shocked to see him miss some time with a sore shoulder this year.

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  4. BW says:

    I think one criteria for whether or not to be concerned about decrease in velocity is why it occurred. If a pitcher makes a conscious effort to throw more changeups, for example, naturally his velo goes down. But if it’s indicative of an injury, then that’s a whole different story. Not sure how to tell, though, since most pitchers attempt to hide injuries.

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  5. Dude says:

    Matt – Part of me wonders if the start/relief appearance ratio has anything to do with some of these changes. It would make sense if players who went from starting to relieving (batista comes to mind) would have an uptick in velocity across the board, while those who went from the pen to the rotation (Joba) have a corresponding decrease.

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  6. Peter says:

    Is it even fair to say that Chamberlain’s fastball has “dropped”? It looks like the greater a percentage of his pitching Joba spends as a starter, the “slower” his fastball becomes, which only makes sense. We know anecdotely that RPs can let it fly more than SPs, so Joba should end up with a slower and slower “average fastball” as he spends less time in the pen.

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  7. JohnC says:

    I agree with what Max and Peter are saying about Joba. He’s still trying to find his identity as a starter. He’s not even 25!! It didn’t help that Yankee Brass kept him in the dark about their plans for him down the stretch. This was his first full season as a starter, expect him to react and adapt. The drop in velocity doesn’t scare me with him.

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  8. NEPP says:

    Park’s drop is easily explained by his use as a starter for the first part of the year. His fastball was right back where it was in 08 once he went back to relief.

    Lincecum is a concern to me personally.

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  9. West says:

    Lincecum threw more 2 seamers, hence the Velo drop and continued success.

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  10. hateraid says:

    I’d bet anyone here money that over 1/2 the people on this list gain velocity instead of losing it next year. I’d almost say this is a list of people who are likely to have a bounce-back year instead of a list of declining players.(vice-versa on the list of improved velocities)

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