by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
There were six pitchers who threw at least 120 innings in both 2017 and 2018 and saw their fastball velocity improve by more than 1 mph (Kyle Gibson just missed the cut, as his velocity rose by exactly 1 mph). Let’s take a look at all six pitchers to see the impact and the overall outlook for 2019:
Blake Snell – +1.5 mph
2017 – 94.3 // 2018 – 95.8
Snell was one of the biggest breakout performers in 2018, with the gain in velocity just being one part of the breakout. It likely help to get him swings and misses against all of his pitches, as they played up even better. Just look at the Whiff%:
- Fourseam Fastball – 10.25% (up from 5.51% in ’17)
- Changeup – 15.51%
- Slider – 26.32%
- Curveball – 25.17%
At the same time there was also a lot of luck behind the numbers, with a .241 BABIP and 88.0% strand rate, so even with the improved strikeout rate there’s a good chance he regresses significantly. That’s something we’ll have to take a look at as the postseason progresses, as Snell has the potential to fall on our “Potential Overdraft” list heading into the season.
Lance Lynn – +1.4 mph
2017 – 91.8 // 2018 – 93.2
We have to remember that Lynn missed all of 2016, so seeing the velocity improve shouldn’t come as complete surprise. He also had used his sinker significantly more in ’17 (42.14%), and throwing his fourseam fastball more is obviously going to help to bolster the overall velocity number (38.80% to 44.81%). It’s a sign that he’s healthy again, though he also struggled with his control (4.37 BB/9) and was hit harder than ever before (35.4% Hard% vs. career mark of 29.7%). There’s something to be said about increased velocity, but it’s not always a positive.
Kyle Hendricks – +1.1 mph
2017 – 85.8 // 2018 – 86.9
At this “limited” of a velocity, does it really matter?
Mike Foltynewicz – +1.1 mph
2017 – 95.3 // 2018 – 96.4
The increased velocity helped lead to an improved strikeout rate (9.93 K/9), though at least part of the number is skewed by an increased usage in his fourseam fastball (33.74% to 40.49%). It came at the expense of his sinker, though with opponents hitting .322 against the pitch over the course of his career it’s a notable change that holds a lot of weight.
At the same time there are also obvious concerns that he can’t maintain the strikeout rate (10.3% SwStr%) and his .251 BABIP and 35.1% Hard% leave room for an overall regression. There’s something to his “breakout”, but the risk may outweigh the potential reward.
Mike Clevinger – +1.1 mph
2017 – 92.5 // 2018 – 93.6
He was able to maintain a solid SwStr% (12.0% in ’18), as the discrepancy in his fastball and changeup velocity grew while complementing them with a pair of swing and miss pitches (slider/curveball). Couple that with the improved control and there’s an awful lot to like, though he may see a regression in his home run rate (0.95 HR/9 despite a 40.5% groundball rate). That offers a little bit of risk, but with increased velocity and his combination of strikeouts/control there’s an awful lot to like.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
Make sure to check out all of our 2019 projections: