Starting Pitcher Velocity Surgers

Every April, we worry about starting pitchers who have been showing diminished velocity. Most of the time it turns out to be nothing, as the pitcher either enjoys a rebound over the remainder of the year or he is able to succeed just as well without as good a fastball. But we sometimes ignore those starters showing increased velocity. Since fastball speed generally rises throughout the season, a starter already showing better velocity than his average for all of last season is quite intriguing. We know that velocity correlates highly with strikeout rate, so some of these names could be your early strikeout rate surgers, and perhaps breakout candidates (well, this was typed before actually checking the names, and now after identifying them, breakout might not be the most appropriate term!). Through Saturday’s games, these are some of the surgers according to the PITCHf/x data.

Caveat: For most of these pitchers, it’s been just one game, and although velocity does stabilize quickly, it is obviously a small sample.

Brandon Morrow
2013 vFA: 95.4
2012 vFA: 93.1

This is big. As a full-time starter, Morrow’s fastball velocity dipped into the 93 mph range, after hovering at the 95 mph level as a reliever. Last season, his strikeout rate and SwStk% both tumbled, while his average velocity hit a career low. With his velocity now up, it would give Morrow a much better chance to enjoy a rebound in strikeout rate. Though on the surface it might appear that Morrow finally had the breakout last year in an injury shortened season, SIERA suggests he actually pitched worse than his two previous seasons. If a jump in velocity is sustained, his strikeout rate should follow, and he may finally be able to post a legitimate low-to-mid 3.00 ERA without the benefit of any good fortune.

Ian Kennedy
2013 vFA, vFT: 90.7, 90.7
2012 vFA, vFT: 89.2, 89.8

This would be the highest velocity Kennedy has shown in a season and the first time since the three starts he made during his 2007 debut that he averaged over 90 mph. That extra oomph might make his change-up even more difficult to make contact with.

Yu Darvish
2013 vFA, vFC: 94.1, 91.0
2012 vFA, vFC: 92.6, 89.7

Darvish’s preseason hype was deafening as his auction/draft cost was much higher than one might expect from a guy who posted a 3.90 ERA last year. He was also quite the trendy Cy Young choice as he garnered just one less vote than Justin Verlander by our staff. But then in his first start against the hapless Astros, he came out firing. Dave Cameron gave us an overview of the velocity gains he enjoyed after that outing. If he can maintain those gains, he should have no problem at least breaking even for his fantasy owners and being in the discussion for the Cy Young after all.

Patrick Corbin
2013 vFA, vFT: 91.8, 92.1
2012 vFA, vFT: 90.6, 90.9

I watched Corbin’s first outing since I own him in a couple of leagues (I practice what I preach!) and immediately had to check his 2012 velocity on his FanGraphs page because I didn’t think he threw as hard as he was. Sure enough, I was right. Corbin already possesses good control and should induce ground balls at a level a bit better than the league average. So a jump in velocity could push his strikeout rate up and really make him an interesting choice in shallower leagues. And if he is somehow still available in deeper leagues or something like 15 team mixed, grab him immediately.

Homer Bailey
2013 vFA, vFT: 93.5, 93.1
2012 vFA, vFT: 92.4, 92.4

Last year, Bailey finally had that long awaited breakout, though by SIERA, he had been pitching at this level for several seasons. In his first start, his velocity jumped and he hasn’t averaged above 93.0 mph since 2009, when he sat above 94.0. If that increased velocity sticks and he could avoid some of the bad fortune that has inflated his ERA in seasons prior to 2012, he may actually be even better this year.

James Shields
2013 vFA, vFT: 92.8, 92.9
2012 vFA, vFT: 92.0, 92.1

James Shields is remarkable. In his first full season with the Rays in 2007 when we first have PITCHf/x data for, Shields averaged 90.6 with his fastball. Through 2011, his velocity bounced around the 90.5-91.0 mph level, hitting 91.5 in 2010. With his awesome change-up, the velocity was acceptable. But then something changed last year, and his velocity suddenly jumped to 92.0 mph. Clearly, that just wasn’t enough, as it has jumped again during his first start, as he was hitting 95.0 mph with regularity. If the fastball could become a weapon itself to go along with the fantastic assortment of off-speed stuff he flashes, another big year should be in store.

Adam Wainwright
2013 vFC, vSI: 88.2, 91.0
2012 vFC, vSI: 86.6, 90.1

In his first season back from TJ surgery, Wainwright’s peripherals remained as strong as ever, but the velocity of his sinker was down nearly a mile per hour from 2010. In his first start, he was back up to what he averaged in 2010, which is a great sign. Last year he was bitten by poor defensive support, which contributed to a low LOB%. Assuming his luck is better this season, he should return to being a top NL starter.




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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.


12 Responses to “Starting Pitcher Velocity Surgers”

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  1. Bbboston says:

    Mike,

    Off topic….

    Bet your liking cobb more n more

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Not sure why you say that. His velocity was about the same and none of his peripherals or advanced metrics were too exciting. Obviously, the results were good with the 0 earned runs, but I don’t pay attention to that.

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  2. Bryan says:

    John Lackey is sad.

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  3. Fish says:

    I’m waiting and seeing on Darvish as he already might be fatigued after that first start and dealing with blister issues.

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  4. momomoses7 says:

    Why should we assume Wainwright’s defensive support will be any better this year? He’s a sinkerballer pitching in front of a terrible defensive infield.

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    • Johnny Come Lately says:

      He got traded to Detroit? How’d I miss that?!?

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    • Defenders don’t perform exactly the same way for every pitcher. Tom Tango I believe demonstrated that last year Verlander got much better defense than Scherzer did behind him. So the percentage play is that Wainwright’s BABIP declines.

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  5. neuter your dogma says:

    Is there a standard error for these guns and do these first game differences fall within standard error?

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  6. Tom says:

    How does standard deviation play into some of these differences?

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  7. Brownie says:

    Morrow was really amp’d up in the first few innings of his start – which probably pushed his avg fastball velocity higher than it should be. He was throwing 98-99 in the first few innings and couldn’t throw a strike. One he settled down, he was back to his norm and throwing it for strikes again.

    I would suggest comparing his second start vs. last year’s numbers for a more accurate assessment.

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