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Starting Pitchers on the Upswing

Which starters have improved their velocity and whiff rates the most since the All-Star Break?

New York Mets v Detroit Tigers
This guy has had a resurgent season so far. Has he picked it up even more in the second half?
Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

There are many ways to tell if a pitcher has really improved or is just on a lucky streak. Generally, things like ERA and WHIP don’t tell us enough to determine if a pitcher is lucky or has made real changes that will stick around. We have to dig deeper. If a pitcher can increase his BB%, GB%, pop-up %, velocity, or swinging strikeout rate, those are real improvements that will eventually show up in ERA or WHIP.

So, today I’m going to look at which starters have most improved in two of those key factors in the past month compared to earlier in the season. Why am I focusing on just fastball velocity and swinging strike rate? For one, they stabilize much faster than all the others I mentioned, so small samples of only a few starts are still meaningful. Second, doing them all would make this post unreasonably long and I don’t want bore you or myself with that long of a post. Who doesn’t want to save time and still get some useful results?

Ok, so I’m going to show you a table of starters with their 1st half fastball velocity and their post-All-Star Break velocity. It is sorted by the velocity increase, with the biggest jumps at the top of the list. The second table, to no one’s surprise, will contain the same layout for swinging strike rate instead of velocity. The goal of both these tables is to highlight pitchers that have most improved their skill in the past month or so, in hopes of validating pitchers on hot streaks or finding sneaky pickups off the wire.

Name 1st Half FBv 2nd Half FBv Change
Justin Verlander 92.8 94.2 1.4
CC Sabathia 89.5 90.9 1.4
Yovani Gallardo 88.6 89.9 1.3
Lance McCullers 93.5 94.8 1.3
Kyle Hendricks 87.5 88.6 1.1
Tyler Chatwood 91.7 92.7 1
Cole Hamels 92.3 93.2 0.9
Robbie Ray 93.6 94.5 0.9
Sean Manaea 92.2 93.1 0.9
Dallas Keuchel 88.4 89.3 0.9
David Price 92.7 93.6 0.9
Francisco Liriano 92.4 93.3 0.9
Jered Weaver 82.6 83.4 0.8
Kendall Graveman 92.1 92.9 0.8
Doug Fister 86.7 87.5 0.8
Jose Fernandez 94.9 95.7 0.8
Michael Pineda 93.9 94.7 0.8
Felix Hernandez 90 90.8 0.8
Drew Pomeranz 90 90.8 0.8
R.A. Dickey 82 82.8 0.8
Jeff Samardzija 94.1 94.8 0.7
Gio Gonzalez 90.4 91 0.6
Andrew Cashner 93.5 94.1 0.6
Jake Odorizzi 91.4 91.9 0.5
Ivan Nova 92.4 92.9 0.5
Matt Garza 91.9 92.4 0.5
Masahiro Tanaka 90.2 90.7 0.5
Tom Koehler 92 92.4 0.4
Matt Moore 92.8 93.2 0.4
Chris Archer 94.1 94.5 0.4
Yordano Ventura 95.4 95.8 0.4
Wade Miley 90.2 90.6 0.4
Corey Kluber 92.3 92.6 0.3
Jacob deGrom 93.2 93.5 0.3
Blake Snell 93.3 93.6 0.3
Max Scherzer 94.3 94.6 0.3
Tyler Anderson 90.5 90.8 0.3
Johnny Cueto 91.4 91.7 0.3
Jason Hammel 92.1 92.3 0.2
Jose Quintana 92.1 92.3 0.2
Jon Lester 92.1 92.3 0.2
Michael Fulmer 94.8 95 0.2
Chris Tillman 91.8 92 0.2
James Paxton 97.2 97.4 0.2
Marcus Stroman 92.2 92.4 0.2
Miguel Gonzalez 91.4 91.6 0.2
Zach Davies 89.3 89.4 0.1
Rick Porcello 90.1 90.2 0.1
John Lackey 91.8 91.9 0.1
Gerrit Cole 95.2 95.3 0.1
Matt Shoemaker 91.4 91.5 0.1
Chase Anderson 91 91.1 0.1
Jimmy Nelson 93 93.1 0.1

Here’s the swinging strike table:

Name 1st Half SwStr% 2nd Half SwStr% Change
Blake Snell 7.1% 13.2% 6.1%
Tom Koehler 8.7% 13.3% 4.6%
Yordano Ventura 7.8% 12.0% 4.2%
Matt Garza 5.4% 9.4% 4.0%
Andrew Cashner 6.2% 9.8% 3.6%
R.A. Dickey 9.8% 13.4% 3.6%
Robbie Ray 10.5% 14.1% 3.6%
Jameson Taillon 6.7% 10.2% 3.5%
Jake Odorizzi 9.0% 12.4% 3.4%
Mike Leake 6.5% 9.9% 3.4%
Sean Manaea 10.9% 14.0% 3.1%
Francisco Liriano 10.3% 13.1% 2.8%
Corey Kluber 11.7% 14.5% 2.8%
Ivan Nova 8.7% 11.3% 2.6%
Eduardo Rodriguez 8.0% 10.6% 2.6%
Matt Boyd 7.3% 9.7% 2.4%
Chris Archer 11.4% 13.7% 2.3%
Josh Tomlin 6.7% 9.0% 2.3%
Nathan Eovaldi 8.7% 10.8% 2.1%
John Lackey 11.2% 13.3% 2.1%
Cole Hamels 12.0% 14.1% 2.1%
Martin Perez 6.9% 9.0% 2.1%
Chad Bettis 8.7% 10.5% 1.8%
Justin Verlander 11.5% 13.1% 1.6%
Jose Fernandez 14.6% 16.1% 1.5%
Kyle Hendricks 9.1% 10.6% 1.5%
Gerrit Cole 8.0% 9.5% 1.5%
Michael Pineda 13.9% 15.4% 1.5%
Kyle Gibson 9.3% 10.6% 1.3%
Doug Fister 5.8% 7.1% 1.3%
Danny Duffy 12.9% 14.2% 1.3%
Lance McCullers 12.7% 13.9% 1.2%
Max Scherzer 15.0% 16.2% 1.2%
Jimmy Nelson 6.8% 8.0% 1.2%
Logan Verrett 7.8% 9.0% 1.2%
Yovani Gallardo 5.9% 6.9% 1.0%
J.A. Happ 9.6% 10.6% 1.0%
Tanner Roark 8.6% 9.4% 0.8%
Patrick Corbin 8.9% 9.7% 0.8%
Dallas Keuchel 9.6% 10.4% 0.8%
Felix Hernandez 8.5% 9.3% 0.8%
Sonny Gray 7.8% 8.6% 0.8%
Dan Straily 9.1% 9.7% 0.6%
Jon Lester 10.2% 10.8% 0.6%
Adam Conley 9.7% 10.3% 0.6%
Jacob deGrom 10.3% 10.8% 0.5%
Carlos Carrasco 11.5% 12.0% 0.5%
Ian Kennedy 10.1% 10.5% 0.4%
Jason Hammel 9.8% 10.0% 0.2%
Zach Davies 7.8% 8.0% 0.2%
Steven Matz 9.6% 9.8% 0.2%
Mike Foltynewicz 10.0% 10.2% 0.2%
Chase Anderson 8.1% 8.2% 0.1%
James Paxton 11.3% 11.4% 0.1%
Tyler Chatwood 7.1% 7.2% 0.1%

At the top of the velocity gainers list, you see a surging Justin Verlander. He’s looked much better lately and looks more like the 2013 version of himself (not the 2011 version, unfortunately, but still much better than recent years). This velocity increase seems to indicate that this improvement is real.

Even with more velocity, I’m staying away from CC Sabathia, Yovani Gallardo, Kendall Graveman, Jered Weaver, and Doug Fister. It’s nice to see struggling aces Keuchel, Price, and King Felix up there, though. Maybe they are bouncing back. Keuchel has looked much better in July and August, so it might be time to go back to trusting him fully. Price is a different story because, while his velocity is up, his swinging strike rate is down 5%, so I’m not ready to trust him fully as an ace yet. He should still be started every time, but I remain a little concerned. King Felix is on the swinging strike increase list and being on both lists is very encouraging. That being said, his walk rate is still way too high for his current strikeout rate, so he needs to fix that before he can be consistent again.

Kyle Hendricks is on the list and looks to be getting better and better all the time. He should be used every time out without fear. Corey Kluber has been better lately and it’s nice to see him with better velocity. He’s an ace when he can throw near 93 mph. I’ve never been a Matt Moore fan, but I like him in San Francisco as a good pickup if he’s available. Robbie Ray already had good velocity for a lefty but has now added even more. He’s striking everyone out, but has no third pitch so hitters are still hitting him hard. He will be frustrating to own until he gets that third pitch. Blake Snell is already well known, but he has electric stuff and should be owned everywhere.

Jake Odorizzi is interesting. He’s on both lists and shows a big jump in swinging strikes. He might be due for a big second half. Just take a look at the top of both lists. Most of the same names are there. Verlander, Odorizzi, Hendricks, Hamels, Archer, Kluber, Liriano, Sean Manaea, Robbie Ray, Yordano Ventura, Jason Hammel, and Tom Kohler, to name a few. I think all of those guys have upside for big second halves except for the aforementioned Ray and Liriano (who’s in Toronto now). Those other guys are worth a pickup for sure. Their increased velocity and swinging strike rates are great recipes for success. Guys like Ventura, Manaea, Hammel, and Kohler are most likely available and could be very useful down the stretch.

Check back next time, when I look at the flip side: those who are getting fewer whiffs and lower velocities in the second half than the first. Tschus!