Twitter was apoplectic. Drug tests were demanded. Old suspensions were being brought up. Hands were wrung. Edinson Volquez? Throwing 96s and 97s deep into his start? Where is this velocity coming from? This can’t possibly be right.
Turns out, Volquez hasn’t even added the most velocity this postseason. He’s fourth or fifth among starters, depending on your definition, and he’s not too far from the the norm that we should be bugging out. The postseason, like the debut, comes with adrenaline, and that adrenaline leads to a bump in velocity. Baseball is that simple sometimes.
Here are the pitchers that have thrown at least 70 pitches this postseason, with their postseason and regular seasons velocities, sorted by the difference between those numbers. Fastball velocity stabilizes after three starts and is statistically meaningful after one start.
|Pitcher||count(*)||Postseason Velo||Reg Season Velo||Diff|
This list is made up mostly of starters, but the postseason is a different beast. Did Chris Young know that he wouldn’t go deep? Trevor Cahill was a reliever, Aaron Sanchez also, despite having thrown as many as most postseason starters.
That leaves Edinson Volquez with the third-biggest velocity bump this postseason. Seems a lot less sinister in context.
And there’s two ways to look at how he fits in with the list. Yes, his 1.32 mph bump is three the weighted average of this group (0.43 mph), but it’s also lower than the bump Chris Young saw. Nobody accused Young or John Lackey of anything untoward when they were lighting up the radar guns.
Of course, they weren’t throwing 96. But look to a man just below Edinson Volquez on the list — Noah Syndergaard — and you’ll find a guy throwing harder and showing about as much of an increase. Maybe it’s just that going from 93/94 to 95/96 is an increase that catches all of our collective attention. And it does appear as though 96 mph represents a threshold at which swinging strikes increase and home runs on contacted balls decrease, so it’s not surprising that Volquez has had a good run while throwing harder.
Ben Lindbergh showed us that the proportion of harder fastballs in the postseason is rising faster than the same proportion in the regular season, and though this may have selection bias in it (better pitchers throw harder), there’s something else going on, too: starters are relieving. Relievers are in for one batter instead of an entire inning.
If you weight the entire sample of postseason pitchers (minus Cliff Pennington, despite his excellence) by the number of pitches thrown and then look at the difference between their velocities in the regular season and the postseason, you get .47 mph. So the reliever velocity bump is even bigger than the starter’s one.
But there isn’t the same scrutiny on relievers. Did anyone notice that Clayton Richard, owner of a 92 mph regular season fastball, was humping them in there at 95.7? Nah, that guy, he’s just another pitcher enjoying the postseason velocity bump.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.