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Velocity Is (Still) a Problem for the Minnesota Twins


Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over a Minnesota Twins team that averaged 92.5 mph on four-seam fastballs. In their fifth year at the helm of the organization, the pitching staff averaged … 92.2 mph on four-seam fastballs. What gives? 

Before we dig into some of the numbers, here’s a quick video on a handful of harder-throwing starting pitchers who could be value targets for the Twins this offseason:

Here is a team-by-team breakdown sorted by average four-seam fastball velocity. It’s color coded, so green is good and red is bad. The information below was gathered from FanGraphs.

Team vFA ERA FIP xFIP WAR
CHW 95.5 3.73 3.74 3.85 27.1
NYY 94.9 3.76 3.90 4.00 22.3
BOS 94.8 4.27 3.95 4.07 19.2
NYM 94.5 3.90 4.04 3.99 16.4
COL 94.5 4.83 4.47 4.38 13.4
SDP 94.4 4.10 4.18 4.08 12.8
CIN 94.3 4.41 4.34 4.18 16.2
ATL 94.3 3.89 4.08 4.09 15.9
LAD 94.1 3.03 3.54 3.75 26.9
TBR 94.1 3.67 3.79 3.97 18.7
PHI 94.1 4.39 4.15 4.02 17.9
DET 94.1 4.32 4.60 4.65 10.2
KCR 94.0 4.65 4.39 4.52 12.5
CLE 93.9 4.34 4.43 4.27 10.2
MIA 93.8 3.96 4.01 4.21 15.1
SFG 93.7 3.25 3.55 3.87 21.9
TEX 93.6 4.80 4.76 4.57 4.5
TOR 93.5 3.91 4.18 4.06 14.6
STL 93.4 4.00 4.30 4.66 12.1
PIT 93.4 5.08 4.74 4.70 5.0
WSN 93.3 4.82 4.87 4.53 6.5
MIL 93.2 3.50 3.72 3.75 23.5
HOU 93.2 3.78 4.12 4.12 16.9
OAK 93.2 4.02 4.10 4.35 15.1
SEA 93.2 4.30 4.26 4.47 14.3
CHC 93.0 4.88 4.88 4.43 4.9
LAA 92.9 4.68 4.25 4.26 15.4
BAL 92.9 5.85 5.15 4.91 7.9
MIN 92.2 4.83 4.66 4.44 8.2
ARI 92.2 5.15 4.88 4.85 4.0

 

As you can see, there’s a fairly strong correlation between teams that throw harder and success. Not only are the Twins near the bottom, there’s also a significant gap between them and the Orioles. That 0.7 mph gap is the same as what separates the fourth-place team from the 15th.

Let’s switch things up a bit and look at pitches in excess of 95.0 mph instead of average fastball velocity. The information below was gathered from Baseball Savant. The color-coded column is percent of pitches thrown at least 95.0 mph.

CWS 27.9 6626 23713
NYY 21.5 5112 23761
BOS 20.8 5033 24193
MIL 20.7 4966 23967
NYM 21.4 4799 22405
PHI 20.0 4745 23739
MIA 20.5 4704 22990
COL 20.0 4603 22960
DET 18.1 4339 23914
CIN 17.6 4316 24548
ATL 18.5 4294 23228
LAD 18.3 4187 22927
TB 17.4 4027 23169
KC 16.5 4017 24307
TOR 16.6 3911 23549
SD 14.0 3386 24196
OAK 14.4 3325 23102
STL 14.1 3299 23419
WSH 13.2 3125 23732
SEA 13.0 3111 23859
CLE 13.0 3057 23459
BAL 10.6 2598 24474
SF 10.4 2386 22859
HOU 9.9 2368 23917
CHC 9.4 2238 23877
PIT 9.3 2225 24045
TEX 8.3 1967 23586
LAA 7.6 1847 24415
MIN 6.4 1516 23714
ARI 5.0 1188 23827

Being 29th is bad enough, but even if the Twins were to double the number of pitches that were 95+ mph they’d still only rank 22nd. The Kansas City Royals threw 2,501 more pitches 95+ mph than the Twins — or 15 more per game played — and they barely rank in the top half of the league themselves.

Do the Twins have an aversion to high-velocity pitchers? That seems like a crazy question to ask, but let’s take a look at some former Twins prospects who were shipped out in trades.

2021 % of Pitches 95.0+ mph
66.0 Brusdar Graterol
44.2 Luis Gil
38.4 Huascar Ynoa
15.1 MLB Average
6.4 Minnesota Twins

Graterol (Kenta Maeda trade), Gil (Jake Cave trade) and Ynoa (Jaime Garcia trade) all have well above average velo, all were traded away. They also just lost Edwar Colina and his triple-digit heat to waivers. Are the Twins actively avoiding high-octane pitchers? At the very least it sure doesn't feel like they’re making them a priority.

This seems like a great time to revisit the Twins carpool commercial from 2007 featuring Johan Santana and Joe Nathan.

That’s how you win Cy Youngs, baby! While this ia a velocity-obsessed article, pitching in the big leagues is obviously about more than just throwing hard. It sure does seem to help, though.

While the lack of velo is nothing new for the Twins, to be fair, it didn’t prevent them from having successful pitching staffs the previous couple years. Here’s a look at some the numbers throughout the Falvey-era:

Minnesota Twins Four-Seam Fastball Velo
2021: 29th, 92.2 mph (26th in ERA)
2020: 30th, 92.0 mph (4th in ERA)
2019: 24th, 93.0 mph (9th in ERA)
2018: 21st, 92.7 mph (22nd in ERA)
2017: 30th, 92.4 mph (19th in ERA)

Still, any pitcher who tells you he wouldn’t like to throw harder is either a liar or in denial.


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A while back I was talking with a former big league pitcher.  When someone else asked about why he was successful without throwing all that hard his response was basically that how hard you threw didn't mean squat.  Rather, you needed to be a pitcher.

Considering he was an old leftie who I believe won more big league games than any lefty ever, enough said about the subject in mine....err, his opinion.

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4 minutes ago, roger said:

A while back I was talking with a former big league pitcher.  When someone else asked about why he was successful without throwing all that hard his response was basically that how hard you threw didn't mean squat.  Rather, you needed to be a pitcher.

Considering he was an old leftie who I believe won more big league games than any lefty ever, enough said about the subject in mine....err, his opinion.

Must be Warren Spahn - greatest left hander ever, Milwaukee Brave and my favorite, but never got ranked the best, just won 20 games in each of 13 seasons.  If it was you were a lucky guy.

 

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There are many guys who have succeeded without throwing 95+.   On Baseball Savant I see the speeds of Tyler Rogers, Kyle Hendricks, and Zach Grienke with 4 seam speeds well below 90, yet they are very successful.   What I see at the top is an amazing change in velocity from fastball to curve - DeGrom 99.2 to 83.3,, Cole 97.7 -  83.4.    

To my amazement Griffin Jax had and average 4 seamer at 92.6 and curveball at 79.9 - which should be really good.   Is that what the team sees in him?  John Gant has 92 - 74.7.   Michael Pineda had a 90.6 4 seam and no curve ball, but an 81.2 slider.   Bailey Ober was 92.3 with a 75 mph curveball.    Joe Ryan is the slowest of all these pitchers - 91.2 and had 72.7 curveball for contrast.  Lots of stats, but the results say Pineda Ryan  and Ober were our top pitchers last year.

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In terms of trading away high velo pitchers, doesn’t it take two to tango? You need to give value to get value.

With the number of pitchers the FO needs to acquire this off-season, I hope we see significant evidence to the contrary that the FO is velo-averse.

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21 minutes ago, Dave The Dastardly said:

In order of priority isn't location, movement, velocity the old pitching refrain?

Yup.  The most memorable short performance by a reliever I can recall offhand was marveling at Tyler Duffey in his first appearance since he got a little heated in New York. The movement on these pitches is mind blowing for not having 'sticky stuff'.

On the flip side, there was Duran early in the year throwing straight gas:

 

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This specific FO doesn't hunt velo. I don't think they're averse to it, but it's not what they're looking for. They're looking for elite pitches. Spin rate and what not. Maeda's splitter. Wisler's slider. Ryan's fastball. Their approach to pitching is that if you already have an elite pitch they can get you to use it more effectively (usage rate, location, etc) and teach you to throw more efficiently, which hopefully helps with location (repeatable delivery) and velo.

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Truth be told there are coaches adverse to velocity, since it generally entails walks with the strike outs.

That said velocity is the third of the three legged pitching stool, but if you don’t have it the first two legs aren’t as effective. If you can’t get a hitting thinking about keeping up with your fastball, your change up just isn’t as effective despite the difference in velocity.

But the big difference maker here is matching consistently low velocity "pitch to contact" pitchers with mediocre defense. Yes we have Buxton, some of the time. But short of that the teams overall defense has been uninspiring for quite awhile. If you don’t have high SO rates by your staff, someone better be turning that contact into outs! 

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1 hour ago, mikelink45 said:

Must be Warren Spahn - greatest left hander ever, Milwaukee Brave and my favorite, but never got ranked the best, just won 20 games in each of 13 seasons.  If it was you were a lucky guy.

 

Yes, growing up on a Central Wisconsin farm in the 50's, was a huge fan.  Had to listen to games on radio and got to see one game a year, but remain a huge fan of Spahn, Henry, Eddie and the crew.

He spoke at my son's Legion banquet a few years before passing.  One of the most interesting people I have ever met.  I guess the best description would be a bit crusty, but what a life.  What most people don't know about is his service in WWII and the medal he won for what he did in combat.

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Watch the playoff teams' bullpens and then try to tell me velo isn't important.

 

Of COURSE velo is important. It's obviously not the only thing that matters, but a fastball on the corner at 98 is just better than the same fastball at 91. To argue otherwise is ridiculous. 

 

And yes, this front office has done a poor job of adding it, and keeping it, to the staff. Despite CLEAR evidence successful teams have seen velo as a weapon for years now.

 

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10 minutes ago, roger said:

Yes, growing up on a Central Wisconsin farm in the 50's, was a huge fan.  Had to listen to games on radio and got to see one game a year, but remain a huge fan of Spahn, Henry, Eddie and the crew.

He spoke at my son's Legion banquet a few years before passing.  One of the most interesting people I have ever met.  I guess the best description would be a bit crusty, but what a life.  What most people don't know about is his service in WWII and the medal he won for what he did in combat.

I was a Milwaukee Brave fan and my family journeyed to see them for one series every year.  Loved all those great players. 

You are right - he and Yogi Berra at the Battle of the Bulge.  What a career and what a life.  Without the war he might have won 400, but Koufax and others got their days of fame while he just annually did great.  So consistent that he was overlooked. 

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This was an interesting article. Thank you for writing this article, Tom. I believe you are on to something here. The Twins have traded away, given away, lost a lot of flame throwers over the past 5 years. The big question is "Why ?".  A flame throwing swing and miss gives the team and fans more energy than a swing and miss change-up, which fools the batter. I really think many of the the Twins pitchers lack energy on the mound. Gardy used to say, "It's a long season."  That is true, however I say, "It may be a long season, but you can only live one second  at a time. Do all you can to win now, whether it is a cold April day, a drizzly June night, a sweltering day game in Tampa, or the last games in September.. Go all out...every time...every bunt...every batter's ground out to the shortstop. Run to first base, damnit, run. Play with energy. Pump each other up.  Get excited and share the energy. Make every game a "playoff game" in actions and energy. 

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Chargois is a good example of the struggles of a pitcher with velocity. Injuries and command issues can lead to doubt and it is tough to pitch without confidence. Managers need to pick their spots in how they show faith in a player, which is complicated.

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When I was growing up playing the game our pitchers would get schooled in two primary things; throwing strikes, and changing speeds.  Just making up numbers here, a pitcher today that can throw a fastball at 92, a changeup or slider at 82 and a curve at 72, and throw them for strikes will keep a hitters timing off by mixing up the pitches, regardless of the count, as long as he can throw them for strikes.  But you do need a staff of pitchers who have different velo rates as well; when you change pitchers you also change velo rates and spin rates, which can also throw off the timing.  A good mix of pitches by each pitcher and a good mix of velo and spin rates in the staff as a whole is a good combination.  As much as I love the guys who throw 3 digits, IMO we don't need as many as we might think.  Go for control, velo variance and spin rates that compliment each other, and you have a good staff.  

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15 minutes ago, tony&rodney said:

Chargois is a good example of the struggles of a pitcher with velocity. Injuries and command issues can lead to doubt and it is tough to pitch without confidence. Managers need to pick their spots in how they show faith in a player, which is complicated.

So true. Which is why managers are not simply someone who reads where some stat sheet tells him where to play his SS?  There are different personalities involved. Some can handle certain stresses and some can’t, despite seemingly identical talents. It’s the managers job to discern these differences and put the player in his best position to succeed. 

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It has seemed apparent to me for the last 3 years that the front office sees a market inefficiency in prioritizing deliveries, particularly deliveries with deception. They want pitchers like Cody Stashak, Kenta Maeda, etc. Joe Ryan's unremarkable velocity that's extremely difficult for hitters to pick up is, what I would assume, this front office's Holy Grail.

From there, after acquisition they can work on unlocking a couple extra MPH with Wes Johnson on his lower half biomechanical tutoring. It adds roster flexibility by cheaper to do it this way. Most other teams are understandably obsessed with velocity, so they're more willing to part with someone like Maeda or Ryan. It's a clever angle which worked well in 2019 and 2020.

Intuitively, focusing less on velocity would theoretically lessen injury risks, but 2021 certainly does NOT back that idea up. 

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55 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

Of COURSE velo is important. It's obviously not the only thing that matters, but a fastball on the corner at 98 is just better than the same fastball at 91. To argue otherwise is ridiculous. 

Missing velocity has been pretty evident in where the team is with closers. It seems we haven't had a really strong swing-and-miss closer for a long time.

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20 minutes ago, Harrison Greeley III said:

It has seemed apparent to me for the last 3 years that the front office sees a market inefficiency in prioritizing deliveries, particularly deliveries with deception. They want pitchers like Cody Stashak, Kenta Maeda, etc. Joe Ryan's unremarkable velocity that's extremely difficult for hitters to pick up is, what I would assume, this front office's Holy Grail.

Yeah, I think this is also why they love tall guys like Bailey Ober whose arms are so long that they add a couple of mph of "perceived velocity." I think they see that as basically a bargain when they can get a guy who gets the same results without the actual (presumably expensive?) mph stat.

I'm definitely attracted to this strategy because it feels cleverer and more sophisticated than just chasing the guys who can throw hard. No idea how well it actually bears out.

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I think the real question you have to ask is if fastballs even matter anymore. 

Most competitive teams have started to go away from fastballs. The Rays pitchers threw fastballs in just 43% of their mix. Twins were 49% (up from 43% from last year, thanks Joe Ryan). Dodgers, Yankees, Braves and Astros were all also under 50% fastballs thrown.

The future of this organization is not fastballs. 

 

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I’ve always been a big believer in velocity, admittedly too much even. That’s why I was sad to see us deal Robles at the deadline for nothing, get rid of Graterol(that ended up a good trade) and now lose Colina for nothing. I really do think signing high velo guys is the only way our bullpen is competent next year. Not saying we need everyone to throw 100+, but one other guy that can match Alcalas velocity would be great. Also, before Rogers injury he was consistently 96-97 with the sinker, and I remember very distinctly on opening day he hit 98. If that development continues for next year, I think it will turn out very good.

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1 hour ago, Parker Hageman said:

I think the real question you have to ask is if fastballs even matter anymore. 

Most competitive teams have started to go away from fastballs. The Rays pitchers threw fastballs in just 43% of their mix. Twins were 49% (up from 43% from last year, thanks Joe Ryan). Dodgers, Yankees, Braves and Astros were all also under 50% fastballs thrown.

The future of this organization is not fastballs. 

 

I would say the most-used pitch type matters, yes.

Was that at Brooks? Baseball Savant had the Rays at  55.3% fastballs and the Twins at 53.1%.

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12 minutes ago, Tom Froemming said:

That's true, but the Twins also had one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball last year. Doesn't seem like a great model to continue to strive for. 

Looks like the Twins were dead last in avg fastball velo in 2020 while having a top 5 staff and 24th in avg fastball velo in 2019 while having a top 10 staff. 2019-2020 Twins pitching staffs had more WAR (according to fangraphs) than any other AL team and only behind the Dodgers in all of baseball while being 26th in fastball velo. Not sure that shows a great correlation.

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