Johan’s Velocity

On Sunday, the Yankees blistered Johan Santana for nine runs, the most he’s ever given up in a start. We’re not used to seeing Johan get beat like he stole something, so after the game, theories began to fly. Almost all of them centered on his decrease in velocity of late, which is usually a pretty good reason to be concerned. Take a look at Santana’s velocity chart.


As you can see, Santana’s velocity has been lower as of late, with a shift coming around the sixth start of the season. Let’s break Santana’s season into two parts, isolating his first five outings of the year and his most recent seven starts.

April 12th – May 6th.

Pitches of 87 MPH+ – 330 of 514 (64.2%)
Average of those pitches – 91.3 MPH
Pitches of 92 MPH+ – 94 of 514 (18.3%)
Average of those pitches – 92.7 MPH
Pitches of 93 MPH+ – 29 of 514 (5.6%)
Average of those pitches – 93.4 MPH

May 7th – June 14th.

Pitches of 87 MPH+ – 398 of 675 (58.9%)
Average of those pitches – 90.3 MPH
Pitches of 92 MPH+ – 40 of 675 (5.9%)
Average of those pitches – 92.6 MPH
Pitches of 93 MPH+ – 7 of 675 (1.0%)
Average of those pitches – 93.4 MPH

As you can see, the frequency with which he’s throwing higher velocity pitches is down, but the average of the pitches he throws at the top of his range hasn’t changed much. His top end velocity is basically still the same as it was at the start of the year – he’s just not getting the ball up to 93 as often.

This should be encouraging for Mets fans, I think. If the velocity drop was a sign of a serious arm problem, we’d see a bigger fall from top-end velocity. Instead, what we’re seeing is that he’s throwing more pitches in the 88-90 range that used to be in the 89-91 range, which is accounting for most of the 1 MPH dropoff he’s experienced in his overall fastball speed.

This data supports the blister theory that suggests he’s adjusted his grip to avoid popping the blister, and that the adjustment has caused his ball to cut a bit more with a bit less velocity. We’ll have to keep an eye on Santana’s velocity over the next few weeks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just a temporary problem.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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I’m constantly amazed at the amount of meaningful analysis you pump out Dave. It’s pretty ridiculous, keep it coming.