If you’ve been playing fantasy baseball or following the game, you are probably aware that throwing harder is usually better. There are always exceptions like Greg Maddux, Dallas Keuchel, and many others, but the general trend is true. It makes sense that throwing harder gives hitters less time to react and gives pitchers more room for error (such as poor location). For some statistical proof that more velocity leads to better results (in terms of ERA, FIP, K%, and more), check out this article. Also, this one.
So, we know that increased velocity improves the chance for success. Another thing that “we” know, “we” being the collective group of baseball writers and researchers, among which I am just a tiny sailboat among freighters, is that velocity changes stabilize very quickly. What does that mean? It means it doesn’t take more than a start or two to find out if a pitcher has truly lost or gained velocity compared to their previous history. That new velocity is likely to be their velocity going forward for the foreseeable future and their past velocity is gone.
Given all of the above stuff, I thought I would look at a list of the biggest velocity gainers in 2017, now that we have collected more than enough data. Keep in mind that I had to adjust all the 2017 velocities across the board by 1 mph, due to changes in how velocity is measured (see this article for more). Basically, the new Statcast velocity measurements are taken at the release point instead of 5 feet later, so all the 2017 values were about 1 mph higher than in 2016, holding all else constant. I have subtracted 1 mph from all 2017 readings for this list.
Oh, and I’m only including starters because relievers are already covered in my weekly Coffee’s for Closers post (check it out if you haven’t already) and their velocity changes aren’t as interesting or impactful for fantasy, in general.
Ok, enough explanation, on to the list!
Once you make the corrections to the 2017 data, it is a short list. I will get to those in decline next week. This week, I just want to focus on some of the interesting names on this list.
Charlie Morton is interesting. On the one hand, he has added significant velocity. On the other hand, despite being 3 mph slower in 2016, his results this year have been about the same. He was under the radar in 2016, but was a popular sleeper this year due to the velocity gain. So far, he has a bad 4.5 ERA but has maintained his great strikeout rate from 2016 (just under 10 K/9) and even cut his walk rate. It’s weird that his FIP and xFIP this year, while both still very good, are worse than in 2016. Regardless, there are better days ahead for Morton this season and that ERA should get much closer to his FIP and xFIP, settling in the mid-3s. I like the velocity boost, but the real improvements happened last season.
Tyler Chatwood was recovering from Tommy John last year, so you would expect his velocity to be down. Well, it is back up this year, but the results haven’t been good. Or even poor. A 5.4 ERA with a 6.1 FIP will do that. I see nothing of interest here.
Moving on, Nick Martinez is very intriguing. I just picked him up in a 14-team deep league after reading this post. Jeff Zimmerman likes him and I’m on board. I would like to see more Ks, but those should be coming with the way his fastball and cutter are working right now. He has clearly changed, with velocity increases on all his pitches. But his slider/cutter has seen a 5 mph boost up to 90 mph, which makes it deadly. He is not the same pitcher he used to be. This is one instance where the velocity gains, especially to his breaking ball, should translate into improved results. I’m buying in deep leagues.
Brandon Finnegan is having shoulder issues and there is no timetable for his return. It’s too bad, because other than some bad walks, he looked much better this year in his 10 innings than last year. If Syndergaard, Bumgarner, and the other top DL stashes are taken, Finnegan’s not a bad idea. I would like to see some more innings before committing fully, but there’s something here. The strikeouts are way up.
Finnegan’s former teammate, Dan Straily has also seen a strikeout jump with his new velocity. Unfortunately, he’s allowed too much hard contact and too many fly balls to turn that into success. His 4.22 xFIP matches his 4.15 ERA. At 10 K/9 (up from 7.6!) in 2016, he is certainly intriguing but I don’t see enough contact management here to warrant a look in shallow leagues. In K/9 leagues and deep (14+ teams) leagues, he should probably be owned at this point, though. The swinging strike rate backs up the overall K%.
Jimmy Nelson remains about the same, despite the uptick in velocity. Everything else still looks like a below-average starter and he has no fantasy value.
Aaron Nola is one of my favorite pitchers, so I’m excited to see him on this list, but disappointed that he is on the DL with no timetable. I still remain very optimistic about him for 2017, whenever he can get healthy. He’s another great DL stash.
The rest of the list are either household names already (deGrom, Sale, etc.), or injured and expected to miss a lot of time (Miller, MadBum, etc.).
Next time I’ll cover the big velocity decliners and see who might be less of a pitcher than they used to be. Tschus!