Fastball Speed Bounce Back Candidates

Here at Fangraphs, we have been writing quite a few articles on the fastball speeds (here and here and here and here). The main reason for the articles is that fastball speeds stabilize fairly quickly. They can be used to understand how a pitcher may perform in the future because fastball speed is directly related to both strikeout rates and runs allowed. With this knowledge, I am going to look at how a few pitchers, that saw their velocity drop in 2011, are doing in 2012.

Just because a pitcher loses velocity doesn’t mean that can’t bounce back. An example of a bounce back was Justin Verlander in 2008. Here is his fastball velocity (MPH), ERA and K% from 2007 to 2009

2007: 94.8 MPH, 3.66, 21.1%
2008: 93.6 MPH, 4.84, 18.5 %
2009: 95.6 MPH, 3.45, 27.4%

Pitchers can bounce back, so I wanted to see if any pitchers were able to bounce back. Before the 2012 season started, I asked my fellow Fangraph writers if they could give me a list of players that had a large drop in velocity from 2010 to 2011 (if any readers know of any more pitchers, please let me know and I will add them to the list). The pitches were Brett Myers, Bronson Arroyo, Jon Rauch, Jair Jurrjens, Francisco Cordero, Francisco Liriano, Chris Tillman and Matt Capps. All except Capps and Tillman have thrown so far this season. Here is each pitcher and their 2010 to 2012 FB speeds, when available, and their 2010 and 2011 K%:

Name 2010 FB Speed 2010 K% 2011 FB Speed 2011 K% 2012 FB Speed
Brett Myers 89.3 19.2% 88.1 17.5% 89.0
Bronson Arroyo 87.8 13.8% 86.7 12.6% 85.9
Jon Rauch 90.8 18.8% 89.4 16.0% 88.6
Jair Jurrjens 91.1 17.2% 89.1 14.4% 87.5
Francisco Cordero 94.5 18.7% 93.0 15.3% 92.1
Francisco Liriano 94.2 24.9% 91.8 19.0% 90.2
Chris Tillman 90.5 13.1% 89.5 16.0% -
Matt Capps 94.1 19.3% 93.0 12.4% -

From 2010 to 2011, this group of pitchers saw their FB velocity drop by an average of 1.5 MPH. Over the same 2 years, their K% dropped by 2.7% on average or a 1.9% drop in K% for each drop in 1 MPH.

So far in 2012, only one from the group has seen their fastballs have jumped back up in velocity, Brett Myers. Myers was likely to see some level of fastball speed increase since he was going from being a starter to being a closer. On average, the group has seem their fastball velocity drop another 0.8 MPH in 2012 from 2011.

This continued drop in velocity is interesting and raises a few questions. Does a pitcher stay at one speed and once they start to drop in speed, they just continue a long slide downward (see Tim Lincecum)? Is the continued drop only for pitchers that see large drops instead of smaller drops in velocity? It seems that I have a little more work ahead of me this week.

Fastball velocity can tell quite a bit about a pitcher with just a small sample of data. For pitchers that saw a drop in velocity from 2010 to 2011, there has not been much good news in 2012. There is possibly some more work to be done to see if pitchers can actually recover from such a large drop in velocity.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

23 Responses to “Fastball Speed Bounce Back Candidates”

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  1. dudley says:

    how worried should one be about Felix’s and Lincecum’s velocity drops?

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  2. phoenix2042 says:

    how about ubaldo jimenez? he was clocked around 89-91 during his start this year…

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  3. Troy says:

    Phil Hughes…he had a significant drop in velocity and seems to have regained some of it this year.

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  4. But says:

    “It seems that I have a little more work ahead of me this week.”

    Good luck with that. You can analyze the nuances of these pitching stats forever, as you probably know.

    I wouldn’t base much on this wee sample size for 2012 velocity. Some guys haven’t geared it up yet.

    Also, there is the unseen battle between speed vs. control. Do they throw it harder with less control of the ball, or put it where they want to. Coach isn’t worried about fantasy strikeouts.

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  5. Feeding the Abscess says:

    Tommy Hanson lost nearly two MPH on his fastball from 2010 to 2011.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Brian Matusz is back in the 90s after averaging 88 last year. Now he just needs to find where his command went.

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  7. andye says:

    in a 12 team category league, is me giving up ricky weeks for shaun marcum and chris sale worth it?

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  8. evan says:

    heads up: you wrote “canidates” in the title.

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  9. Sam says:

    What are Canidates?

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  10. Daniel says:

    Maybe we should give those pitchers a couple more starts (or appearances) before we start analyzing this too carefully…

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  11. ohumduh says:

    Canid =’s wolves, coyotes, jackals, dogs and foxes

    -ate =’s ranking

    So, someone that threw 95 and now throws 90 is a sheep in wolves’ clothing.

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  12. Telo2 says:

    What about Adam Wainwright. We need to do an analysis on him soon. Also Adrolis Chapman saw his velocity drop too

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  13. jon says:

    FYI I think Liriano’s velocity is wrong on his fangraphs page. It has his FA-v at 90.2 and his FT-v at 90.9, which I’m sure must be reversed.

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  14. Pirahnaman says:

    it’s only early April. we could see ‘The Real’ about a month later.

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  15. etrain says:

    Ubaldo Jimenez lost velo last year. I think it is on it’s way back this year.

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  16. Dave says:

    Brett Myers’ FB velocity gain this season is due to the fact that he’s a closer (reliever) now… pitchers experience a velocity uptick when going from starter to reliever because now they’re only pitching 1-2 innings at a time

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  17. MP says:

    Would love to see an aging curve for fastball velocity — both avg. and max. I have a feeling they peak in the pitcher’s rookie season. Only reason to look at both avg. and max. is that you might be able to tell how much of the velocity drop is by design and how much due to physical wear.

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