Myth: Starting Pitcher Velocity
1) Velocity allows a greater margin for error for any pitcher. The faster the ball comes in toward the plate, the quicker the batter’s brain needs to process whether to swing at it and then try to hit it. There’s no question about that.
2) Control and – more important – command are much more important than velocity alone in a pitcher’s success. Alex Meyer can hit 98 with his fastball with frequency. When he is on, he can dominate. When he lacks control, gets behind and then lacks command in the strike zone, he – like every other pitcher – is going to struggle.
3) MLB hitters can hit straight fastballs, even if they come in near triple digits. MLB hitters are good and have great hand-eye coordination. Making the fastball move – in, out or down – is very important to sustained success. Having a good four-seam fastball is great, but a two-seam fastball with movement is usually a better pitcher’s pitch, even though it comes in a couple of miles per hour slower.
4) Having quality second and third and maybe even fourth pitches is also important for a starter. Having control of a change-up that comes in eight to twelve mph slower than the fastball with the same delivery can be the most difficult pitch to hit because it messes with your timing. It can also make the fastball look a couple of mph faster. I always thought that the change-up and the cutter were the two most difficult pitches to hit. That said, a curve ball like Tyler Duffey showed in his big league debut is also difficult because it changes the batter’s eye level.
This is not a knock on velocity. In fact, if a pitcher has 1-4 above and throws 98, he's going to be great. Velocity is not a bad thing.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. For a starter, being able to mix and match three or four pitches with good control is immensely important, and I would argue it is far more important than velocity.
Now, maybe the Twins Geek will want to run a Correlation Analysis to show what makes a starting pitcher successful. My hypothesis for such a study would be that velocity wouldn’t be in the Top 5 factors for pitcher success.
But again, I thought it would be interesting to see how Twins pitchers compared in terms of fastball velocity to other starters around baseball. In 2015, 141 pitchers threw at least 100 innings. Going back to my days as a math minor, I believe that “median” is the number in the middle of a group, a number in which half of the data comes in higher and half are lower. The “Median” Average Fastball Velocity for the 141 starters is 91.8 mph.
Two pitchers (Yankees Nathan Eovaldi, and Mets Noah Syndergaard) averaged 96.0+ on their fastballs. Just 11 of the 141 pitchers averaged 95.0 with their fastball. 25 averaged 94.0+ with the fastball. In other words, when you hear someone say that a pitcher sits between 91 and 93 mph, that isn’t a knock. It just is what it is. That’s what 60% of pitchers throw, with more big leaguers below that range rather than higher.
The Twins had six pitchers throw at least 100 innings, and here is how they ranked by Average Fastball Velocity.
- Trevor May – 93.2 (was tied with Justin Verlander for 36th in MLB, though clearly that number was improved by his time in the bullpen)
- Mike Pelfrey – 93.0 (was tied for 38th on the list – Tied with Jordan Zimmerman and Sonny Gray)
- Ervin Santana – 92.5 (was tied for 49th on the list)
- Kyle Gibson – 92.0 (was tied for 61st on the list. Tied with the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, Madison Bumgarner and Jon Lester.)
- Phil Hughes – 90.7 (was tied for 98th on the list – he as at 92.1 in 2014)
- Tommy Milone – 87.6 (was tied for 131st on the list)
THE CASE OF TOMMY MILONE
Tommy Milone is an interesting case. Many believe he is not a guy to build around because of his lack of velocity. However, a quick look at the pitchers in MLB whose average velocity is even lower than Milone’s proves interesting.
- Dodgers RHP Mike Bolsinger (87.2), Rockies RHP Kyle Kendrick (86.7), Nationals RHP Doug Fister (86.4), Royals RHP Chris Young (86.4), Cubs RHP Dan Haren (86.0), Diamondbacks RHP Josh Collmenter (85.9), Angels RHP Jered Weaver (84.9), Blue Jays LHP Mark Buehrle (83.9), Blue Jays RHP RA Dickey (81.4).
You will also often hear that the Twins need some flame-throwers in order to make a run in the playoffs. Again, that wouldn’t hurt, but velocity isn’t necessarily the key to success for starters to get a team to the playoffs. Just for fun (and because I’m curious), I looked at the 10 playoff teams and considered their playoff rotations as well as other starters who helped a team to the playoffs (for instance, the injured Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals, or CC Sabathia of the Yankees). What you will find is a mixed bag of pitchers in the rotations.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole (95.5), Francisco Liriano (92.1), Charlie Morton (92.1), Jeff Locke (91.8), AJ Burnett (91.1)
New York Yankees: Nathan Eovaldi (96.6), Ivan Nova (93.0), Adam Warren (92.8), Michael Pineda (92.5), Masahiro Tanaka (92.0), CC Sabathia (90.3)
Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta (94.4), Jason Hammel (92.2), Jon Lester (92.0), Kyle Hendricks (89.9), Dan Haren (86.0)
St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Martinez (95.2), Michael Wacha (93.9), Lance Lynn (91.7), John Lackey (91.6), Jaime Garcia (90.0)
New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard (96.5), Matt Harvey (95.2), Jacob De Grom (94.9), Stephen Matz (94.3), Bartolo Colon (90.3), Jon Niese (89.2)
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw (93.6), Zach Greinke (91.8), Brett Anderson (91.0), Alex Wood (89.3).
Houston Astros: Lance McCullers (94.2), Scott Kazmir (91.5), Collin McHugh (90.3), Scott Feldman (90.0), Dallas Kuechel (89.6), Mike Fiers (89.4)
Kansas City Royals: Yordano Ventura (95.6), Edinson Volquez (93.8), Danny Duffy (93.6), Johnny Cueto (92.2), Jeremy Guthrie (92.0), Chris Young (86.4)
Toronto Blue Jays: David Price (94.0), Marcus Stroman (92.9), Drew Hutchinson (92.4), Marco Estrada (89.1), Mark Buehrle (83.9), RA Dickey (81.4)
Texas Rangers: Derek Holland (92.9), Cole Hamels (92.1), Martin Perez (91.8), Yovani Gallardo (90.5), Nick Martinez (89.7), Colby Lewis (88.2)
The Mets clearly are all about youth and velocity and that’s a good strategy when the pitchers are as talented as that young quartet. Jake Arrieta and David Price are aces who throw hard. But look at the Astros pitching after McCullers. Dallas Kuechel, the likely AL Cy Young Award winner, doesn’t average 90 mph on his fastball.
Great pitching comes in all shapes and sizes. Some develop by 21 or 22, and others don’t reach their potential until they’re 25 or 26. Most are somewhere in between. There have been great pitchers who are 6-0 tall and others at 6-11, and everywhere in-between. Likewise, there have been aces who throw 97, and there have been aces that top out at 89 or 90. And, everywhere in between.
Velocity can be a good thing for a starting pitcher for several reasons. However, it is a myth if someone tells you that one must have great velocity to become an ace.
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