Pitching by the Numbers: Speed demons

Michael Salfino

Throwing a fastball with more velocity than about 85 percent of pitchers is a clear sign of elite ability. With more than half a season of data at our backs now, let's re-examine the top guns on the major league map and see how their results track the radar gun by looking at fastball value per 100 fastballs.

Here are the 2011 speed demons (stats through the All-Star break):

Name Team FB% FBv FBrun/100 Y! owned%
Justin Verlander(notes) Det 55.3% 95.2 1.77 98%
Michael Pineda(notes) Sea 63.8% 95 1.11 89%
David Price(notes) TB 70.8% 94.8 1.11 98%
Alexi Ogando(notes) Tex 66.8% 94.7 0.95 84%
Edwin Jackson(notes) ChW 53.5% 94.4 0.36 36%
Derek Holland(notes) Tex 62.7% 93.6 -0.26 25%
Felix Hernandez(notes) Sea 54.6% 93.5 -0.01 98%
Matt Garza(notes) ChC 53.5% 93.5 0.49 73%
Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) Col 59.8% 93.4 0.2 95%
CC Sabathia(notes) NYY 60.5% 93.3 0.78 98%
Daniel Hudson(notes) Ari 60.9% 93.3 0.03 86%
Clayton Kershaw(notes) LAD 66.6% 93.2 0.7 99%
Jordan Zimmermann(notes) Was 59.4% 93.2 1.5 75%
Matt Harrison(notes) Tex 64.6% 93 1.11 37%
Tyler Chatwood(notes) LAA 75.6% 93 0.16 2%

But let's start with more big picture stuff. Last year, there were 17 pitchers who threw 93 mph or better. This year, 15. Here are the repeaters with last year's velocity in parentheses: Verlander (95.4), Price (94.6), Jackson (94.4), Hernandez (94.1), Garza (93.3), Jimenez (96.1), Sabathia (93.5).

Dropping off the leader board from 2010 (2011 fastball velocity in parentheses) are Josh Johnson(notes) (injury, does not qualify in innings), Clay Buchholz(notes) (94.1 to 92.6), Mat Latos(notes) (93.7 to 92.5), Francisco Liriano(notes) (93.7 to 92), Zack Greinke (93.5 to 92.5), Jon Lester(notes) (93.3 to 92.6), A.J. Burnett(notes) (93.2 to 92.6), Johnny Cueto(notes) (does not qualify in innings), Max Scherzer(notes) (93.1 to 92.6) and Jason Hammel(notes) (93.1 to 92.7).

Velocity is very stable. Earlier this year on my SNYWhyGuys blog, I quantified Bartolo Colon's(notes) increase in velocity from the last time he pitched in 2009. The key point that his year-to-year increase in velocity of 3.5 miles per hour (as of early June) was the biggest jump since STATS started tracking velocity in 2003. And only 10 starters have jumped more than two miles per hour in the 2003-2010 period.

So it stands to reason that a similar decline is very alarming. And that's what we have with Jimenez. Liriano, interestingly, had the 10th biggest jump in that chart linked above from 2009 to 2010 and pretty much gave back all those gains this year.

Anything over 1 mph down is a problem and as you get closer to 2 mph, the alarm bells really start ringing loudly.

I'd be a seller of Jimenez for sure. His performance in no way justifies that level of ownership and the fastball, year-to-year data suggests that there is nothing fluky about that decline. Note that last year, his fastball value per 100 fastballs was plus-1.39 runs. So velocity is everything with him.

What about the guys available in most Yahoo! leagues – Jackson, Holland, Harrison and Chatwood?

Jackson has such elite ability but consistently underperforms it. We should reach the point with him where we realize it's not bad luck. There are intangibles involved in this craft and it's quite clear that Jackson does not have them. He's the new A.J. Burnett.

Holland and Harrison are more interesting to me. Both throw hard as lefties. But both have substandard K-rates, especially Harrison.

Harrison is not young – he'll be 26 in September – but he hasn't pitched as much as most his age due to injuries. I remain optimistic that he can make a significant jump in K/9 at some point within the next year or two, health permitting. Why can't it be in the second half? Everything else is just about there.

Holland seems less lucky given his worse than average rate of allowing hits on balls in play. But his line-drive rate is way too high at 19.7 percent. His peripherals are better, but having watched them, I think Harrison has more upside though injuries are a far greater concern with Harrison, too. Holland has been white-hot lately with back-to-back, complete-game shutouts (15 Ks). But he's given up five or more runs six times versus just two for Harrison. If forced to pick one for the remainder of the year, I'd go Harrison and hope the Ks come as the velocity says they should. In a keeper format, Holland because Harrison has had too many injury issues.

Chatwood is an undersized righty. But the fastball is not small. The K/BB was one-to-one and the K/9 was under 5.0 when he was sent to the minors for a start over the break; he'll be back. Chatwood is okay in AL-only formats but only worth watching in shallow formats. Maybe he's a poor man's Rick Porcello(notes) (turns 22 in December).

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.