Last night — while I had the pleasure of chatting with not one but two Royals fans — Luke Hochevar pitched seven and two thirds shutout innings. One game’s worth of data is, of course, of limited interest and Hochevar only struck out two Tigers, but one very encouraging sign was the speed on Hochevar’s fastballs. In the first inning he was throwing gas: his four-seamer worked around 96 mph and topped 97 mph three times. He was clearly excited to start the season as the speed dropped down after that, but his four-seamer still averaged over 95 mph and his two-seamer averaged over 94 mph. Even his last pitch — a 94 mph two-seam fastball — was up there.
Last year his four-seam fastball averaged 92.5 mph and his two-seam, 91.5mph. So it looks like he was about 2.5 mph faster, not an insignificant difference. Last year his fastest four-seam fastball was 95.8 (compared to 97.2 last night) and fastest two-seamer was 94.8 (compared to 96.2 last night). Here is how last night’s four-seam fastball speed compared with his past starts:
The difference could be because of the pitchf/x system running hot, but the system is very good now with very slight day-to-day and park-to-park differences. Looking at the other pitchers in the game: Max Scherzer’s fastballs were right were they were last year; and most of the game’s relievers’ pitch speeds seemed in line with their past, the exceptions being Joakim Soria and Phil Coke who were just one mph faster. So it looks like Hochevar really was throwing that fast.
Although the relationship is not perfect, generally a faster fastball is a better fastball. Last night Hochevar didn’t have many strikeouts, but generally pitchers who throw faster fastballs strike out more batters and on a per-pitch basis faster fastballs are missed more often when they are swung at. If Hochevar works around 95 to 94 mph rather than 92.5 to 91.5 mph with his fastballs he might be in line for a breakout season.