Google ‘velocity and baseball’ and you might get something that looks like your spam folder. “Increase your velocity!” “Velocity mechanics workshop!” “How to get more velocity on your fastball!” So, yeah, velocity is important. (But so is the motion of the ocean?)
It’s not like you it’s the only thing you need to pitch well — Jamie Moyer has found some way to succeed without gas, and Felipe Paulino has managed to avoid success with a 95+ MPH fastball — but the more gas you’ve got in your arm, the more likely you are to succeed. Mike Fast found about a year ago that for every tick above 89 on the gun, a starting pitcher can lose around 0.2 runs allowed per game.
Look at the leaderboard for fastball velocity among qualified starting pitchers, though, and you’ll notice that it’s not super easy to find a value. These are the kings of the game, ranked by fastball velocity: Justin Verlander, Michael Pineda, David Price, Alexi Ogando, Edwin Jackson, Derek Holland, Felix Hernandez, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and C.C. Sabathia round out the top ten. Sure, Derek Holland is a sneaky play away from home, but these are high-priced ace-types for the most part. Not many values.
So how can we use our knowledge of velocity to our advantage? Well, a recent piece by Jeff Zimmerman can help us out. Zimmerman ran the numbers and found that a change in fastball velocity becomes reliable after only three games. It’s even more stark then that. He found that after one game, 68% of a pitcher’s future velocity will be within 0.8 MPH of his initial recorded velocity. Three games is safer, but one game tells us a lot about a pitcher’s future velocity.
Now we’ve got a chance to find some values. Let’s say a player has complained of a lack of velocity, went on the disabled list to find what he lost, and has recently come back to start a game. Does that sound familiar?
Yeah, we’re talking about Phil Hughes.
He’s back from the minor leagues after his fastball velocity dropped from 92-93 last year to a square, and much less exciting, 89 this year. After cortisone shots and vague arm maladies and a long rehab process, he’s come up and pitched in one game so far this month. He averaged 91.5 MPH on his fastball. That’s high enough to say that it’s 68% likely that he’s improved his fastball velocity over earlier in the year. Take a look at picture from FanGraphs that might help you visual learners.
You may not want to come out and add him right away if you’d rather have the three-game sample and be more sure that he can average over 91 MPH on his fastball. His next start is against the powerful Toronto Blue Jays, as well. But should he show similar numbers on the radar gun in that start, it might be all systems go for the start after that. In all likelihood, he’ll be up against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that’s below-average offensively in the American League. Call him a sneaky play for that start.
Other pitchers that have seen a velocity increase recently have been Wade Davis, Doug Fister and Chris Volstad. Though all come with flaws of their own, they might be value starts as well. At the very least, we know they will be better than they have been in the past, and in the right matchup they can be useful. Brian Matusz lost a lot of velocity and is on a Hughes-ian search right now in the minors. What the gun read might the most important question to ask when he returns.
Velocity is relative after all. It just steadies remarkably quickly and has a lot to do with a pitcher’s success. Take advantage if you see a change in the radar gun.
Eno Sarris will have a little fun on Fridays while using sabermetric research to try to help you better your FanDuel choices. He also writes for all three blogs at FanGraphs and recommends them heartily. In his free time, he does his best at Bloomberg Sports, RotoWorld, RotoHardball and the best Mets site out there, AmazinAvenue. He does what he wants to at EnoSarris.com and hopes you don’t mind. If you do, tell him what you think of him on twitter.