Fading Fastballs: Where’s the velocity?

We’re into the first week of May, and the Pirates have been a total flop. At 12-19, they sit at the bottom of the NL Central standings and hold the third worst record in Major League Baseball.

Right now, the root of the team’s problems lies within the pitching staff – from top to bottom, they simply haven’t produced at the same level as last season. For a team with an erratic offense, the pitching needs to be a consistent force… But it’s not. This tweet from David Todd about the team’s starters summed it up pretty well:

One noticeable difference for almost every pitcher this year: a change in fastball velocity. For whatever reason, a number of these guys seem to have lost a tick or two on their heaters… Check out the Pitch f/x data:

2013
2014
Difference
Stolmy Pimentel
96.07
91.99
-4.08
Vin Mazzaro
93.90
92.11
-1.79
Wandy Rodriguez
90.50
88.96
-1.54
Francisco Liriano
93.83
92.61
-1.22
Jeanmar Gomez
91.62
90.91
-0.71
Charlie Morton
93.14
92.43
-0.71
Mark Melancon
92.88
92.17
-0.71
Edinson Volquez
93.58
93.13
-0.45
Gerrit Cole
97.01
96.58
-0.43
Tony Watson
94.68
94.33
-0.35
Jared Hughes
92.84
92.57
-0.27
Justin Wilson
96.57
96.41
-0.16
Jason Grilli
94.18
94.39
0.21
Brandon Cumpton
92.48
93.88
1.40
Bryan Morris
94.78
96.36
1.58

Note: If a pitcher throws multiple hard pitches (four seam, two seam, sinker, cutter, etc.), whichever one he uses most frequently was applied.

There is more to the pitching concerns than just velocity, but it’s certainly not enlightening to see so much decline. Some of the largest drop-offs are among the team’s biggest worries:

- Stolmy Pimentel was advertised as a young gun with good stuff and a potential wild card in the bullpen. However, he’s landed on the DL with right shoulder inflammation after just six appearances and weak velocity.

- Wandy Rodriguez, back after missing the majority of 2013, was throwing what appeared to be batting practice fastballs before limping back onto the disabled list. The 35-year-old southpaw touches 90 mph on a good day anymore… In his rehab outing last Thursday, he topped out at 87.

- Through seven outings, Francisco Liriano isn’t looking much like the ace he was a year ago. Velocity, strikeouts, ground ball rate are down; walks, home runs, and ERA are up.

- Mentioned Charlie Morton’s velo and other issues here last week. Another starter who hasn’t looked good at all.

While there are a few guys who haven’t shot their velocity (Cole, Watson, Wilson, etc.), you’ll notice just three with actual positive changes: Jason Grilli, Brandon Cumpton, and Bryan Morris. Grilli, also on the disabled list, is a bit of a surprise – his fastball was down upon returning from the DL last September. Cumpton is a pleasant surprise, and it’s good to see his stuff on the rise as the team counts on him from time to time. Morris’ added velocity was a talking point in spring training and earned him a spot in the bullpen.

Maybe it’s early and the arms will kick it up a notch, but the fastballs have been down across the board. The pitching as a whole has been disappointing, and if they don’t figure it out soon, they might just keep up this 63-win pace.

Go Bucs

Data courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

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  1. Pingback: Series Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals | From Forbes to Federal 9 May, 2014

    […] potential last season, but hasn’t performed since his Opening Day gem on March 31. Like many other Pirates, his velocity is down, the strikeouts are (slightly) down, and the walks are up. Let’s see if […]

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