by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Obviously no one is going to draw definitive conclusions off of one or two starts, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pinpoint things that could indicate improvement. For instance anyone can carry an elevated velocity for one start and it doesn’t mean it’s going to continue, but that also doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good sign. Let’s take a look at a few of the noteworthy velocity increases over the first week and see if we think they mean anything:
Brandon Finnegan – Cincinnati Reds
2017 Fastball Velocity – 94.1 mph
2016 Fastball Velocity – 91.7 mph
His 2017 mark is based on just two starts, though it’s still a promising sign. It’s especially more important since the velocity of his changeup (84.9 mph) remained virtually unchanged, and that increased discrepancy between the two pitches could go a long way. His changeup was his primary put away pitch last season (18.66% Whiff%), and it’s possible that it becomes even more effective now. His strikeout upside was never in question, though this development doesn’t hurt.
Of course he had issues with his control (4.40 BB/9) and home runs (14.9% HR/FB) in 2016, and fastball velocity doesn’t necessarily change those (as evidenced by his poor second start). If he can rectify those, along with the increased velocity, there is a lot to like.
There are going to be bumps along the way, but for now view him as a potential breakout candidate late on this season.
Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies
2017 Fastball Velocity – 92.1 mph
2016 Fastball Velocity – 90.1 mph
Nola primarily throws a sinker, which helped him to a 55.2% groundball rate in ’16 (and 53.3% mark over his first two starts of ’17). Throwing that pitch harder should make it even more effective, and on his sinker alone he’s averaged 92.07 mph in ’17 (90.59 in ’16). That has helped to make his changeup more effective, and in the early going it’s generated a lot of swings and misses (though his strikeouts have been coming from his curveball).
We knew coming in he had the potential to bring the total package, with the biggest question being his strikeout rate. As we said in our 2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide:
“His 9.6% SwStr% doesn’t match the actually strikeout rate, though he’s going to generate plenty of swings and misses with his curveball (19.57% Whiff%). With his sinker being heavily utilized (43.23%) the groundballs should continue and his .334 BABIP and 60.6% strand rate (28.7% Hard%) screams for an improvement. He’s one of the best breakout candidates in the league and a must own.”
The velocity increase should help him maintain the strikeout rate, and the other numbers aren’t disappearing. Over the first week, all signs point in the right direction.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball