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Myth: Starting Pitcher Velocity

How many times and in how many ways have you heard the following comment? “He sits 91 to 93 with his fastball. That’s not hard enough.” “The Twins need more hard-throwing starters.” “Other teams have starters that average 95 mph or more with their fastballs.”

So, how do you feel about that? What value does extra velocity have for a pitcher, and do pitchers need to throw 95 to be successful? Do they need to average 94 of 95 with their fastball to be an “Ace?”
Image courtesy of Marilyn Indahl, USA Today
In my opinion, that is completely a myth and there are so many examples of that. Here are a few things we do know about 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.

TWINS VELOCITIES

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)
So, what does that mean? Well, four of the six Twins pitchers with 100 or more innings in 2015 pitched with above-average velocity. The Twins starting rotation was improved in 2015 (starter ERA improved by nearly a run), but they were still 10th in the American League. However, struggles of the staff should not be attributed to lack of velocity.

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).
There are some long-time, very successful starting pitchers in that group. They are rare, and you’ll note just how pinpoint their control has been over the years. It has to be. I’m not saying that Tommy Milone will turn into the next Mark Buehrle, but I also refuse to say that he can’t be. His fastball may be just 87.6 mph, but he has a slow curve ball and a very good change-up. That three-pitch mix can be success (with command) at any level.

PLAYOFF ROTATIONS

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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64 Comments

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Willihammer
Oct 12 2015 09:19 PM

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    • Parker Hageman, birdwatcher, Jerr and 3 others like this
Really nice work Seth. And we are all guilty in getting too wrapped up in pure speed. If velocity was that big of a determining factor, Boyer would have been a top set-up man the past few years in the pen, and we'd already be talking about what Meyer could do next year in a full ML season.

And, HOF'er Greg Maddux would be 1st cousins with Bob Tewksbury instead of enshrined in Cooperstown.
Median is the central number in a sequence, mode is the most recurring, and mean is the sum of the values divided by number of values.

I would agree that velocity for a starter isn't the only measure, nor is it the best, but if is important. Tough to be a top line starter without that minimum 94+

 

Median is the central number in a sequence, mode is the most recurring, and mean is the sum of the values divided by number of values.

I would agree that velocity for a starter isn't the only measure, nor is it the best, but if is important. Tough to be a top line starter without that minimum 94+

 

Well, then I guess I meant Median... Changed.

    • Jerr likes this

This is very good article about pitching and was something I emailed john Bonnes about in there blog on the Twins. They ( Gleeman and Geek) have been so critical of Twins pitching but as avid followers of the Twins we always see there short comings as players and players for other teams we don't always see there short comings because of only see them couple times a year. I truly believe if the Twins pitchers were healthy down the stretch here we would have been one of the teams in the playoffs. We would have had very good bull pen set up with May, Jepsen, and Perkins with high velocity and nasty stuff to hit. Hughes,Gibson, and Duffy would have given us quality starters to go into series with compete. Hughes is quality solid number two starter when healthy, Gibson is solid number 3 starter, and Duffy would have been number one starter with his curve ball and nobody having faced him before would have put teams at great disadvantage.This coming year I believe the Twins will have a lot of talent choose from to build good rotation from with signed players and kids coming up through farm system. I believe they could use some help in bull pen if right pickup can be found they could upgrade on the bull pen.

    • Broker likes this
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launchingthrees
Oct 13 2015 02:07 AM

Velocity is a readily available stat to find. How many elite pitchers top out at 91? How many really good but not elite pitchers top out at 91? Velocity is king. The Twins clearly don't agree and that's why their K/9 #s have been a laughingstock for 5 years.

    • ShouldaCouldaWoulda likes this
Thanks for the great work.
    • Jerr likes this

In how many of those post-season rotations would Milone be?

    • twinssouth and Platoon like this
"Velocity allows a greater margin for error..."

So it's not a "myth" then.
    • Hosken Bombo Disco and Platoon like this
Nice article. And very informative. And you are correct in that velocity is not as important as location, changing speeds and ball movement. But every tick on the radar makes all of the preceding that much more effective. The upside to velocity is K/9 rate. The BABIP avg is .000 on a K. So the ability to be able to increase your velocity for a couple batters, stress pitches thrown, is important. Further, a Tommy Milone lives and dies with the size of the strike zone that day. Give him a big outside corner and he's Cy Young. Squeeze him and he's Cy Done. While this is true to some extent for all pitchers, a lack of velocity reduces your ability to overcome that small zone. As to the Twins, their low K/9 rates over the years are not due to poor scouting, bad luck, or a statistical fluke. It's an orginisational philosophy, and has been for years.
    • nicksaviking likes this

As for teams in the playoffs... The Astros, Cubs, Blue Jays and Rangers all rank between 24th and 30th in starters' fastball velocity. The Royals starters throw hard, but their fWAR and RA9-WAR (what really happened) was lower than the Twins starters.

 

Here are the top K/9 for starters in MLB: Indians, Cubs, Nationals, Padres, Rays, White Sox.

 

K/9 and velocity are not the most important factors for a rotation. Same holds true for bullpens (BB/9 seems to be a better indicator).

 

That said, it's great to have an elite starter who has everything working: velo, stuff and command. But you don't need all three to be at the top of the leaderboard. Greinke, Kuechel, King Felix, Hamels, Cueto... there are a lot of front-line pitchers who aren't throwing 94+  

 

 

    • birdwatcher, Dantes929 and howieramone2 like this
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nicksaviking
Oct 13 2015 07:08 AM

It's not the velocity that is missing from the Twins rotation, it's the strikeouts.Too often I tie the two together, and while there is a strong correlation with velocity and strikeouts, there are high velocity guys who don't miss bats and low velocity of guys who do.

 

So I'm fine refraining from asking this team to sign high velocity guys, just so long as they start getting high strikeout guys.

    • TheLeviathan, spycake and d-mac like this

Great work Seth! While velocity can help a pitcher, it is not the defining factor of a good pitcher. Despite what people might think. I wouldn't mind seeing the Twins have a flamethrower, but that one thing is not what's keeping this team from being great.

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clutterheart
Oct 13 2015 07:15 AM
However, it is a myth if someone tells you that one must have great velocity to become an ace.

 

 

Obviously true.  But good velocity can be an  equalizer if you are off. If you don't have velocity you have to have amazingly great control to be an ace.  Kevin Slowly had nice control and had a few good years, but when he wasn't on, or if he ran into a tight zone, he struggled. If he could kick it up to 95 he might be considered an ace.

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birdwatcher
Oct 13 2015 08:07 AM

 

 

 

 

 "As to the Twins, their low K/9 rates over the years are not due to poor scouting, bad luck, or a statistical fluke. It's an orginisational philosophy, and has been for years."

 

I'm not interested in creating a poopstorm, but I don't believe I've ever read anything from a Twins source

that supports the idea that the Twins have or even used to have an organizational philosophy that promoted low K/9 rates or even subpar velocity. I really wish someone would introduce some validated context to the theory that the Twins have been doing something intentionally that has led to their low team K/9 rates. I'm not of an opinion that there isn't an explanation for it. I just don't know what it is. Anyone? Buehler?

 

Is this taking the thread off course? If so, please disregard. ;)

    • nicksaviking, SwainZag, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this

Velocity isn't the issue and never has been the issue.

 

The issue has been and has remained the fact that the Twins don't strike anyone out, in the rotation or in the pen. Up until very recently they actually pretty much exclusively looked for guys who could "pitch to contact", now that they are going after strike out pitchers they are already well behind the 8 ball and it will take several years for the minor leagues/org to catch up.

 

How many guys have they passed in high rounds of the drafts over the years because "well he strikes a lot of guys out, but he walks too many" and gone with the Nick Blackburn type clones?

 

The rotation is going to take time to develop/sign/trade for guys with decent K rates, but when it comes to the bullpen there is no excuse to be signing Boyer and Duensing types with their 4.5 k/9 rates.

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Parker Hageman
Oct 13 2015 08:13 AM

While I understand your overall point (pitchers need more than just velocity to succeed), the connection between an "ace" (which is another conversation altogether) and velocity is much stronger than you think. The real claim should have been the myth of the below-average velocity "ace" as they are harder to find than the hard-throwing ones. 

 

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    • USAFChief, Thrylos, Mike Sixel and 7 others like this

 "As to the Twins, their low K/9 rates over the years are not due to poor scouting, bad luck, or a statistical fluke. It's an orginisational philosophy, and has been for years."
 
I'm not interested in creating a poopstorm, but I don't believe I've ever read anything from a Twins source
that supports the idea that the Twins have or even used to have an organizational philosophy that promoted low K/9 rates or even subpar velocity. I really wish someone would introduce some validated context to the theory that the Twins have been doing something intentionally that has led to their low team K/9 rates. I'm not of an opinion that there isn't an explanation for it. I just don't know what it is. Anyone? Buehler?
 
Is this taking the thread off course? If so, please disregard. ;)

The Twins have not, nor will they ever say anything like that. You may call this an opinion if you wish. I prefer it to be an observation from a long time viewer of Twins Baseball. They don't purposely go and tell their scouts, "hey, find me some guys that top out at 87". They don't take velocity into such esteem as other teams, and they do prefer polished control type pitchers. In young pitchers this by definition precludes velocity. It's akin to me getting ten speeding tickets in a year. I can deny that I drive any faster than anyone else, and assure you that the only times I did, I got caught. But the reality is I was likely a lead foot all the time, and my driving record reflects it!
    • rghrbek likes this

 

 "As to the Twins, their low K/9 rates over the years are not due to poor scouting, bad luck, or a statistical fluke. It's an orginisational philosophy, and has been for years."

 

I'm not interested in creating a poopstorm, but I don't believe I've ever read anything from a Twins source

that supports the idea that the Twins have or even used to have an organizational philosophy that promoted low K/9 rates or even subpar velocity. I really wish someone would introduce some validated context to the theory that the Twins have been doing something intentionally that has led to their low team K/9 rates. I'm not of an opinion that there isn't an explanation for it. I just don't know what it is. Anyone? Buehler?

 

Is this taking the thread off course? If so, please disregard. ;)

For years their strategy was to get "pitch to contact" guys, and continued to developed their pitchers in the org to do the same thing. It was actually quite hard to miss.

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birdwatcher
Oct 13 2015 08:38 AM

 

 

 

Up until very recently they actually pretty much exclusively looked for guys who could "pitch to contact"

 

How many guys have they passed in high rounds of the drafts over the years because "well he strikes a lot of guys out, but he walks too many" and gone with the Nick Blackburn type clones?

 

 

 

I'm not disputing this necessarily, and I'd tend to think there's something to the theory that the Twins emphasized command and control over velocity, especially when that extra velocity was packaged with a lack of command and control.

 

But I very much wonder about the second part, where you claim the Twins have repeatedly passed on prospects with high velocity who were more highly rated as prospects than a player that was taken. I'm skeptical that there's a pattern here.

 

 

 

But I very much wonder about the second part, where you claim the Twins have repeatedly passed on prospects with high velocity who were more highly rated as prospects than a player that was taken. I'm skeptical that there's a pattern here.

When was the last instances of the Twins taking a hard thrower in the first couple rounds of a draft? Stewart? Hunt? Anyone else?

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nicksaviking
Oct 13 2015 08:53 AM

 

When was the last instances of the Twins taking a hard thrower in the first couple rounds of a draft? Stewart? Hunt? Anyone else?

 

I agree that the Twins philosophy on over-emphasizing control was a huge issue, however I think that changed after the 2010 draft.Hudson Boyd was a high schooler who was supposed to have an electric arm, same with Stewart and Berrios has all kinds of ceiling.

 

I was never more disappointed in the draft as when the Twins picked Wimmers over a half dozen HS arms with tons of upside, but they've drafted 3 HS arms in the 1st round since and even if the philosophy hasn't paid off, they have been going after high velocity/strikeout guys in the past several drafts.

 

Now whether or not they know what they're doing with the high velocity arms is a different story. Their ability to scout and develop pitchers surely is fair game. 

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birdwatcher
Oct 13 2015 08:54 AM

 

When was the last instances of the Twins taking a hard thrower in the first couple rounds of a draft? Stewart? Hunt? Anyone else?

 

My skepticism gets heightened because Nick Blackburn seems to be the poster child for your argument that the Twins had been passing up high-velo guys repeatedly over the years. Blackburn was a 29th-rounder. Which high-velocity hotshots did we pass up in favor of Blackburn? Who incidentally was pretty decent for awhile (see 2008).

 

The Twins, probably like almost everyone else, has taken its share of high-velo guys in the early rounds, especialy more recently. A lot of those guys flame out, with the Twins and with other teams. Bullock, Chargois, Burdi, Bard, Jones, Reed, and Cedaroth all immediately come to mind in answer to your question. Most of those guys were early-round selections I think.

    • Jham likes this

 

It's not the velocity that is missing from the Twins rotation, it's the strikeouts.Too often I tie the two together, and while there is a strong correlation with velocity and strikeouts, there are high velocity guys who don't miss bats and low velocity of guys who do.

 

So I'm fine refraining from asking this team to sign high velocity guys, just so long as they start getting high strikeout guys.

 

I agree with this... 

    • birdwatcher likes this
Parker's chart seems to indicate a correlation between velocity and effectiveness.......

As for the Twins, we can only judge their philosophy based on their actions. Those seem to have changed some time in the last few years. We'll see if it works or not. One interesting study on FG a couple years ago tried to draw a correlation between "best tools lists" of prospects and MLB success. For pitchers, the most important tool was curve ball, not FB. I agree with the above, it is about strikeouts more than FB speed, but Parker's graph says you can't ignore speed.
    • birdwatcher, Dantes929, Jham and 2 others like this

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