AL Starting Pitcher Velocity Changes

We’re only a week and a half into the season and therefore no American League starting pitchers have started more than two games. With such a tiny sample size to work with, there simply isn’t enough data to analyze that would yield any sort of insight. However, we know that velocity stabilizes very quickly and so it would therefore be worthwhile to check in on the biggest velocity surgers and decliners. Velocity gradually increases as the season wears on, so it would be most accurate to compare current velocities with last April. However, too many pitchers came up later in the year and had no velocity readings to compare to. So to make things easier, I am comparing to the full season.

Name 2014 FBv 2013 FBv Diff
Tyler Skaggs 92.1 89.2 2.9
Garrett Richards 95.9 94.6 1.3
Joe Saunders 90.2 89.6 0.6
Dallas Keuchel 90.1 89.5 0.6
Chris Sale 93.6 93.1 0.5

Yup, what we heard about Tyler Skaggs‘ velocity during spring training was the truth. The harder fastball didn’t lead to more swings and misses over his first start, but getting over the 90 mph hump is huge. You would think it would make his curve ball even more difficult to hit. He’s now in a better ball park to hold his fly balls and I’m optimistic that a big breakout is coming.

Garrett Richards is another interesting Angels breakout candidate, though his premium velocity has yet to translate into even an average strikeout rate. He throws his fastball a little too often to enjoy a major strikeout rate spike, but you never know what will happen when you throw 95 mph.

It’s surprising to see Dallas Keuchel‘s name here as his velocity was down significantly at one point during spring training. Now that his velocity is fine, and actually up, he’s got serious profit potential in AL-Only leagues given his ground ball ways.

In his first season as a starter, Chris Sale experienced a significant velocity dip, much more so than the typical reliever to starter experiences. Last year, he recovered some of that lost velocity and so far this year, he’s ticked up once again. He’s good.

Name 2014 FBv 2013 FBv Diff
Justin Masterson 88.3 91.6 -3.3
Erik Johnson 88.8 92 -3.2
Carlos Carrasco 92.1 94.6 -2.5
Danny Salazar 93.8 96.2 -2.4
Sonny Gray 90.7 93 -2.3

The first thing you’ll notice is that three of the five pitchers are on the Indians. Corey Kluber‘s velocity was also down in his first start. I thought there must be something going on in Cleveland, perhaps the gun was cold or maybe it’s just been unusually cold where these pitchers have pitched.

Justin Masterson‘s velocity was down significantly in both of his first two starts. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway doesn’t seem too concerned, thinking it’s just a mechanical thing. If this is the case, then Masterson’s velocity should rebound quickly. If it doesn’t, there might be a bigger problem.

Erik Johnson pitched yesterday as well, but his velocity isn’t reflected here. I’m not sure where he sat, so it’s possible that he was improved. If not, then he’s droppable in all but perhaps AL-Only leagues.

Oy vey, Carlos Carrasco. I’m hoping there’s some Indians-related answer here because reports from spring training were that he was consistently hitting the mid-90s like last season. But he only peaked at 94.7 mph in his first start, compared to 98.1 last year. Part of my excitement was due to the high octane fastball, so I’m crossing my fingers that his velocity returns. It’s clear that his stuff is fantastic, but he left way too many balls in the heart of the zone, which might suggest that he needs to improve his command.

And your third Indians starter is everyone’s favorite sleeper who isn’t, Danny Salazar. At this point, he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, complementing his fastball with a ridiculous changeup. But if he’s no longer throwing in the upper-90s, that changeup is going to lose effectiveness fast. His fantasy owners, who likely paid a pretty penny despite his limited experience, will need his fastball to reappear just to break even for them. Jeff Zimmerman looked at Salazar in the most recent MASH report, sharing with us that Salazar is already displaying a few injury characteristics.

Also included in that same MASH report is Sonny Gray, another highly skilled sophomore who has fantasy owners excited. Gray’s velocity did improve in his second start, but it was still his second lowest average velocity while in the Majors. I love his combination of ground balls and strikeouts, but I’d be a little less optimistic if this decreased velocity is here to stay.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

29 Responses to “AL Starting Pitcher Velocity Changes”

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  1. quinceleather says:

    useful stuff. thanks.
    is it ok to say that I miss you on the TSATB podcast?

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  2. gabriel says:

    Perhaps of interest, Brandon Morrow showed his best velocity last night, and is now 1.0 mph above his velocity last year. That puts him right behind Garrett Richards for third on your list of surgers.

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    • Chicago Mark says:

      I saw this also. And he’s upped his strikeout rate from last year (sss be damned).

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  3. Dave-man says:

    Any data or cause of concern for Clay Buchholz? Heard his velocity was down quite a bit, also.

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  4. fothead says:

    Cleveland was super cold the first week. Damn windy too. Not good pitching weather at all. Think that’s your likely cause of the velocity drop this early in the season. Be interested to see what the visiting pitchers velocities looked like in those games.

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  5. Phil McCracken says:

    This is something to keep an eye on but it is a ridiculously small sample size to make something out of the data. The weather obviously plays a role as does the fact that some pitchers take a few starts into the season to be able to properly dial it up.

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  6. David says:

    Is there anything to the idea that, as mid-season callups, Gray and Salazar’s MLB velocities are currently inflated because they don’t feature the first half, when pitcher’s velocities tend to be lower?

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    • Yes this is possible, but that’s still a lot of velocity to make up. It’s not like they are down just 1 mph

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    • This Guy says:

      And how about the fact that the Indians have been so careful with Salazar that they’ve kept him to a combined 16 innings between Spring Training and his first MLB start this year? I’m wondering how much time the author thinks a pitcher needs to get into peak game shape.

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  7. Jeff says:

    It typically takes pitchers a while to get warmed up….the Indians gave Salazar very little work this spring to save him for later in the season. Could that be to blame?

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    • Brian says:

      I would say yes, but as an Indians fan, I would be worried if I owned Salazar in fantasy. He was throwing 98-100 consistently last year, and while I do expect his velocity to improve, I don’t think he will maintain that type heat for an entire season. His changeup is great, but almost has to much movement and he could have trouble locating it throughout the year making it easy for guys to sit on the fastball.

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  8. ncb says:

    Does anyone have any links for the statements “cold weather leads to slower pitches” or “it takes awhile for a pitcher to warm up”. I see how they could be true, but data would be nice.

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    • JMo37 says:

      You sound like Brian Kinney trying to measure the Will To Win.

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    • Andrew says:

      Yeah, agreed. People just saying it doesn’t make it true. Velocities actually are the quickest thing to stabilize I thought.

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  9. Mason says:

    With the exception of Bauer yesterday, all 13 of the Indians pitchers are throwing slower than last year (by about 2mph on average). Additionally of the 37 pitchers they have faced, 34 have been slower than last year. I’m guessing measurement error.

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  10. Greg says:

    What is the amount of pitches thrown or TBF seen as the threshold where velocity stabilizes?

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  11. Rylan says:

    RA Dickey?

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  12. @CaliforniaJag says:

    I’m an A’s fan, and I’m pretty familiar with our pitchers’ usual velocities. I went to the opening day game against Cleveland, and the gun seemed extremely cold. Not only were Gray and Masterson down, but Doolittle’s velocity was down for the first four games in Oakland only to spike back up in Minnesota this week.

    Could be they’re just getting cranked up; could be a cold gun. Could be nothing. Interesting that so many A’s/Indians seem slower, though.

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  13. AJ says:

    Watched Gray pitch tonight. It was probably a hot gun, but he was hitting 96 consistently on the broadcast.

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  14. Dave says:

    Being an Indians fan, and also one that pays attention to trends, I DO know for a fact that the Indians have a team of power arms that historically tend to pick up velocity as the season goes on, this including Carrasco, Salazar, Masterson and even McAllister, although he has come out of the gate strong. Even Kluber, although to a lesser extent. As for Masty…his velocity is WAY down, even for him in the early part of a season, so not sure what to think with him. Not worried about the rest of the guys at all.

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  15. Pump says:

    I would like to see someone study how starting pitcher velo changes throughout the year. Sonny Gray velo on may 3 is now 92.2, an increase of 1.5 from when this article was written. Indians manager stated recently Salazar velo is within a tenth mph of where it was last April but Salazar velo has not changed much since this article was written.. Maybe start by looking at starting velo,by month, just how much change in velo can we see in a year. If Indians manager is correct, Salazar velo increased by 3 mph during the season last year, is this true?

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  16. Pump says:

    Sonny Gray Velo as of June 25 is now 92.9 which is an additional .7 increase from may. That means his velo has now increased 2.2 mph since article was written. That seems significant to me. This site tracks starting pitcher velocity but it would be nice to see starting pitcher velo change from beginning of season and last 30 days and year over year.

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