Fastball Gains

The introduction of splits here on FanGraphs offers us a wealth of new information as my fellow writers have been expanding upon today. I do not have a post centered around splits today, but instead focused on an area that I continually find incredibly useful here somewhat related to splits: pitch-type breakdowns.

I love pitching and love dissecting its fluctuations from year to year. Tonight, I looked at changes in fastball velocity, both in terms of absolute change and in terms of a percentage over 2008 averages. Changes in average fastball speed do not tell an entire story by themselves, but I think they present several interesting points of fact.

I took a look at all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched in both 2008 and 2009 and compiled lists of the biggest gains and losses in both fastball speed and fastball frequency. One thing that I found interesting was the seeming lack of relationship between the two. I would have expected pitchers that gained speed in their fastballs to be throwing them more often, but there was little to no correlation between changes in fastball speed and changes in how often pitchers threw fastballs.

Among pitchers with the biggest increases in average speed was Justin Masterson (+2.8 mph), Nick Masset (+2.6), a host of other relievers in the 2.0 range and a few starters mixed in as well, notably Justin Verlander (+2) and, surprisingly, Barry Zito at +1.6. Zito however, had a 5% reduction in percentage of fastballs thrown. Nick Masset was even more dramatic, throwing 15% fewer fastballs.

A top twenty list of increases in fastball speed follows and later tonight, a list of fastball speed drops.

Justin Masterson, 2.8
Nick Masset, 2.6
Matt Capps, 2.1
Ryan Madson, 2.1
Kevin Correia, 2
Justin Verlander, 2
Mark Lowe, 2
Huston Street, 1.7
Barry Zito, 1.6
Brad Penny, 1.6
Josh Johnson, 1.6
Jose Contreras, 1.5
Jon Lester, 1.5
Jonathan Broxton, 1.4
Wandy Rodriguez, 1.3
Luke Hochevar, 1.3
Miguel Batista, 1.3
Chris Volstad, 1.2
Bob Howry, 1.2
Ubaldo Jimenez, 1.2

Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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14 years ago

This is a very interesting topic. I’d love to see a list of guys who had increased velocity from ’07 to ’08 and then a follow-up as to if they were able to sustain it (Ervin Santana comes to mind anecdotally). I am very curious to see if Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson, Wandy Rodriguez and Jon Lester are able to maintain their upped velo in 2010 because I believe that extra velocity had a lot to do with their rousing success last year.

Basically, I’d love to see what percentage of starting pitchers who have an increase in velocity of 1.0mph or greater are able to sustain it the following year. It would also be informative to label these velocity upticks as career spikes or a return to a career norm (i.e. perhaps we can account for injury that way).

Tobias F.
14 years ago
Reply to  Bodhizefa

I’m fairly confident Verlander can because in 06 he was 95.1 and in 07 he was 94.8 and this past year he was 95.6 so that’s not a major difference. His peak speed was about the same too.(100mph+) It was just 08 where he went through some mechanical issues where it dropped.