Fastball Velocity

Perhaps adding to the hot, swinky, (sweaty and stinky?? No…? I tried…) dog days of summer it seems like every pitcher to step up to the rubber is a “flameballer”. How many guys do you see coming out of the bullpen who doesn’t throw 95 mph? That used to be an asset, now it’s a necessity in today’s MLB. But I don’t want to talk about relievers right now.

You don’t have to have a good fastball to be a successful starter in the MLB. Cardinal fans, just look at Kyle Lohse, or even R.A Dickey. This brings me to an interesting point… Just how fast is R.A Dickey throwing right now? Here’s his AVG fastball velocity in the last few years, courtesy of FanGraphs…4726-baseball-flame-vector-material-1

2011- 84 MPH

2012- 83 MPH

2013- 82.2 MPH

That’s an alarming fall. But Dickey doesn’t rely on his fastball right? Actually pitchers are becoming less and less reliant on their fastball for “saving runs”. But what about pitchers who DO rely on their fastball? Here are 3 ERA’s for 2013

4.78

4.70

4.20

Whose are these? How about Price, Gallardo, and Gonzalez. Are these due to diminished fastball velocity? No, maybe not, but the point is there are a lot of aces around the league who got off to a slow start and just don’t have the same fastball they used to. I keep hearing over various broadcasts, “Well he just can’t throw his fastball like that anymore, he’ll have to adjust”. So how is fastball velocity showing up around the league for starting pitchers? Here’s some numbers courtesy of FanGraphs…

AVG FAv=

2009- 91.6

2010- 91.4

2011- 91.4

2012- 91.4

2013- 91.0

It looks like it’s in danger of slipping below 91 MPH for the 1st time in a long time.  0.4 MPH may not seem like much but this is LEAGUE wide. That’s a lot of fastballs. I only see this number going down as the year goes on and pitchers get hurt and they are replaced by minor league journeymen.  But it seems to me like it’s happening more often this year than most. Even Justin Verlander is down to 93 MPH from 94 in 2012. It’s interesting to think about as the MLB becomes increasingly passive with its power arms.

As I was looking at some reliever stats I came across something VERY interesting. Relievers are throwing harder than ever before, but they aren’t necessarily relying on it for outs or for saving runs. Below is the average number of runs a pitcher saves using his fastball on a “per 100 fastballs”  thrown basis since 2008, once again courtesy of FanGraphs…

2008- 0.51

2009- 0.40

2010- 0.30

2011- 0.41

2012- 0.34

2013- 0.17

Interesting right? Relievers are becoming less reliant on that fastball, as the number of power pitchers goes up. In a stat like this what goes up must come down, here is the same stat only for changeups…

Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google

 2008- -0.38

2009- 0.17

2010- 0.25

2011- 0.53

2012- 0.38

2013- 0.39

I have a feeling that as the fastball becomes MORE effective then it greatly increases the effectiveness of its counterpart, the changeup. There are young arms everywhere, and teams are protecting them. Steven Strasburg scares me every time he throws the ball. No matter what the Nationals do, his velocity will regress. We’ve seen this before. Question is, does that greatly impede on one’s performance? How fast can one adjust? As pitchers throw harder, it will only become more dangerous for them.

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