The Giants Are Sneaking Into the Velocity Era

It’s no secret that, over the last several years, we’ve been seeing more and more high velocity in the major leagues. The league-average fastball keeps getting hotter, thanks to different training techniques, and thanks to different young-player development, and thanks to God knows how many other things. It’s not that everyone now can throw 95; it’s that the guys who can throw 95 are no longer thought of as freaks. Every team has at least a few of them stashed away.

The velocity trend has lifted many boats. As you can imagine, with league-wide velocity increasing, the same has been apparent on the team level. The Pirates, just as one example, have pretty clearly targeted hard throwers, and that’s just a part of their complicated plan. Not every team has participated, however. The Angels haven’t featured too many hard throwers, as Jered Weaver has taken it upon himself to counter Garrett Richards. The Diamondbacks were more finesse-y for a stretch, before picking it up last season. And the Giants have been another exception. Probably the greatest exception — no team has averaged a slower fastball over the last four years. Presumably related to that, the Giants have also thrown the lowest rate of fastballs.

Yet now they’re a team in transition. I’m not saying this is intentional, but looking ahead, the Giants are lined up to be a harder-throwing baseball team. After years of sagging velocity, the 2016 Giants could be almost league average.

To get this out of the way now: of course there’s more to pitching than throwing hard. And the Giants have been more successful than any other organization, overall, the last several seasons. I don’t think they’re targeting velocity as an end goal; maybe it’s all just a coincidence. But let’s set a line at, say, 92 miles per hour. Last year, Giants pitchers threw just 14% of their pitches at least that hard, which was the lowest rate in the league. They’ve since bid farewell to some pitchers. They’ve thrown money at Johnny Cueto. They’ve thrown money at Jeff Samardzija. Their bullpen features Hunter Strickland, but it’s also going to feature more Josh Osich. They’re still not a flame-throwing team, but the plot below shows how the Giants line up.

It’s kind of an ugly plot, but, well, I’m not a trained plotter. There are two y-axes. For 2002 through 2016, you see league-average fastball velocities, and you see the Giants’ average fastball velocities. On the other axis, I’ve plotted the Giants’ team ERA- (revolving around a league average of 100). Obviously, the 2016 season hasn’t happened yet, so those numbers are just projections, based on the depth charts and based on what the various pitchers threw a season ago. Still, something interesting is revealed.

giants-pitching

Through 2011 or so, the Giants’ team velocity matched up very well with the league-wide numbers. Then you see the divergence, with the league going up, and the Giants going down. There’s a wide separation between the Giants and the rest of MLB between 2012 – 2015, but now look at where the blue line is headed in 2016 — it almost catches back up. My early projection is that the Giants’ team velocity increases by 1.4 miles per hour over last year, and that would rank in the top 5% of all observed season-to-season team velocity increases since 2002. It’s not like the Giants have brought in a bunch of bazookas, but they’ve welcomed harder throwers and separated from softer throwers, and this is where the difference is evident. It compares well to what the Diamondbacks just went through: after throwing 90.0 as a team in 2014, last year they climbed up to 91.6. The Diamondbacks are projected to climb even further in the coming season, as this could be something the new front office prioritizes.

I estimated the Giants’ projected ERA-, and you might see a pattern there, too. Between 2009 – 2011, when the Giants had better velocity, relatively speaking, they posted a team ERA- of 88. The last four years, they’ve come in at 106, with the best mark being an even 100. This year, with better velocity, they’re projected to come in around 93, and though, again, that’s not all about the velocity increase, it’s not unrelated. The Giants are going to have a harder-throwing pitching staff, and they ought to have a more effective pitching staff. Even Madison Bumgarner has trended gradually toward throwing slightly harder and harder. Lately the Giants haven’t had a lot of pitchers with raw stuff that compares to Samardzija’s. I don’t know if this is a new leaf, but it’s at least something that’s happening.

You need a lot more evidence than this to say it shows a clear team preference. The Giants have done fairly well, all things considered, without throwing too hard, and the explanation might be as easy as, Cueto and Samardzija were both talented and available. We’ll see where the Giants go in the future, but for now, they’re going to look a little less exceptional. Velocity keeps going up all over the place, and the Giants couldn’t fend it off any longer.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Cory Settoon
Member
3 months 10 days ago

The drop from 2011 to 2012 seemed to coincide mainly with Lincecum dropping from 92.3 to 90.4 MPH. Brian Wilson’s downfall dropped them too.

ADoctolero
Member
ADoctolero
3 months 10 days ago

I wrote about this a few years ago, nice to see them start to bring velocity back in to the mix.

https://freebrandonbelt.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/where-have-all-the-fastballs-gone/

4cornersfan
Member
4cornersfan
3 months 10 days ago

This writer misses the point.If there was also a chart representing the number of arm injuries by pitchers during the same time span the line would likely look something like the line representing the increase in fastball velocity. From 2010 to 2015 the Giants had at least 4 starters who pitched over 30 games. That’s an indication of a healthy pitching staff. There are other teams that rely upon younger pitchers or who signed fastball pitchers during that period spent a lot of time on the DL. The Yankees come to mind. Pineda has been on the DL most of the time, Nova had TJ surgery, so did a couple of their good pitching prospects who throw heat, even Betances missed time with arm problems, as did Miller. Not everyone is meant to throw 95 mph fastballs, even if they can.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Member
3 months 10 days ago

If anything, the Giants are returning to the velocity era that they helped promulgate, if not create, not sneaking in.

Per the chart above, the Giants had a higher velocity than the majors in 7 out of 8 years from 2003-2010, before the league finally caught up with them in 2011. They had a variety of high velocity pitchers during that period, in Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Casilla. And the majors did not catch up with the Giants peak until 2013.

As the other commenter noted, Lincecum was losing velocity steadily during that down period, plus we lost Wilson out of the bullpen. Also, the Giants pitching staff was remarkably stable during that period 2011-2015, as 8 pitchers out of 12 roster spots. And you know what comes with age: loss in velocity.

And 4 of 5 rotation spots, had the same player in 2011 as 2015 in there at some points. Plus nearly a 9th pitcher, Zito, who was in there from 2011-2014, was a big contributor to the drop, along with Lincecum.

Furthermore, guys added in recent years – Petit, Hudson, Peavy, Heston – did not have a lot of velocity, and was older to boot, which means lower velocity as a starting point as well.

I view this more as a result of the focus in the recent period on position players, as ignited with the addition of John Barr to the Front Office. They had the pitching coming to fruition, so they started drafting a lot of position players after he joined the team. That focus meant less top bullets (first pick for over a decade under Sabean/Tidrow was spent on pitching) spent on pitching, more on hitting. And that forced a reliance on free agents for replacing pitching, which contributed to the velocity drop, as most free agents are old and don’t have much velocity (Samardzija notwithstanding).

But look at the top ranked pitchers added to the system once the 2010 decade began: Crick, Beede, Bickford, Strickland, Osich, Black. And they picked up Casilla to boot (for free!). These are all guys with velocity to burn, along with other high velocity prospects who are making some noise in the system. If you run through some of the first 10 rounds picks in the recent drafts, you will find higher velocity (95 MPH+) to be a commonality with them, along with the guys who they also value, who have a lot of average tools but no stuff.

I believe that this is part of their M.O., with the recent drop related more to circumstance than strategic intent. Perusing a list of guys with homers off pitches that are 95 MPH and higher, I found a good number of Giants on that list – Pence, Belt, Posey, Crawford, Morse when he was on the team, Sandoval – so it led me to wonder if the Giants were countering the trend towards strikeouts and higher velocity by focusing on guys who make good contact (i.e. strike out less) and can cause damage even with high velocity offerings (high high velocity pitches for power). Add on top of that all the pitchers that they have drafted high with high velocity, and that seems to be a pattern to me, a plan to counter the rising tide of strikeouts and velocity.

thestatbook
Member
thestatbook
3 months 10 days ago

And if Ray Black finds his way to the majors in 2016, there’s even more fire coming…

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants
3 months 9 days ago

I would generally agree that the slowing-down of the Giants’ pitching staff is more the result of the way that things developed rather than a plan to go in that direction. They built a good young staff, stuck with it, did quite well, and people just got older and slower (except Bumgarner, because he started SO young). As long as they were winning World Series every two years, there wasn’t too much incentive to call for an overhaul. The only moves which might suggest a plan in the slow-balling direction was getting Hudson and Peavy. This was done at a time when the staff was looking pretty depleted, so some changes were suggested, but maybe they could have looked for more power pitching if they’d really wanted to. But who exactly was available at the time?

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Member
3 months 9 days ago

I think the Hudson and Peavy additions were more filling a short-term need, in a short-term contract, so that they don’t hold a spot and prevent SP prospects from advancing to the majors, as Bumgarner and Cain have long-term contracts.

The Giants under Sabean has usually filled starting roles with veteran placeholders when there are young prospects who are getting near the show. That gives the Giants a base level of expected production, but not so high a hurdle that the young prospect can’t produce and push out the veteran, like Posey with Molina, and Duffy with McGehee. But it’s not hard and fast, which is why Sabean has usually picked up guys who can play multiple positions well enough, so when Belt had a great spring and an injury opened up a spot, they inserted him in at 1B and pushed Huff to the OF, where the injury happened.

I think ultimately, there was an inversion to what they were planning for, that they were hoping that Cain and Lincecum could still be 2/3 on the staff, but it ended up with Hudson and Peavy being 2/3 instead, because of the injuries to Cain and Lincecum.

I should also add that most references to Tidrow, who has been the Giants main guru on pitching internally (he was the one sent to fix Bumgarner when he started off one season horribly), talks about how he loves the standard model for pitchers, tall and strong hurlers (i.e. high velocity pitching gods), which suggests that the Giants have loved size and speed under Tidrow, but as he has shown with Lincecum and others, he recognizes excellence in pitching no matter the size. He was actually anticipating that Lincecum might fall to the Giants, even though he was in the conversation for the first pick overall, telling Sabean to not attend any of Lincecum’s college games so as not to telegraph to other teams of the Giants interest in him.

Even Bumgarner was viewed as a non-Giants interesting pitcher, and Tidrow hid their interest. A report noted that another team’s scout saw Tidrow leave a Bumgarner start very early, and asked the Giants scout, “He didn’t like the cross-arm action, did he?” but when the Giants scout met with Tidrow later, Tidrow’s scouting report was simply, “I love him.”

Another trend I would note, in terms of the Giants preference for pitchers, is that I have noticed that in recent years, I see a lot of pitchers who not only strikeout more, but also walk less, leading to huge K/BB ratios, starting as far back as Bumgarner. Strickland, Osich, Okert, Law, Bickford, Suarez, Johnson, Smith, Agosta, Gardeck, Coonrod, all have at least pretty ratios above 3, many above 5.

channelclemente
Member
3 months 9 days ago

Most either don’t know/recall that Bumgarner has reachback velocity of 98 + MPH, but finds pitching more profitable than throwing.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants
3 months 8 days ago

This is interesting but doesn’t address the question of who the Giants might have gotten instead of Hudson and Peavy when they got them. If you have this information at hand…

TWTW
Member
3 months 9 days ago

Who cares about velocity? Give me W’s. Giants need to get Timmy back if they want to contend.
http://twtwsports.blogspot.com/2016/02/take-chance-on-me-why-lincecum-and.html

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