Last week I took a look at players who've experienced a marked decline in fastball velocity between this season and the last. Today I'll be doing the reverse, breaking down which players have opened the year throwing harder than in seasons past, and examining the fantasy implications of this change if any.
Velocity Gain Impact for Fantasy Baseball
Velocity is only one part of a pitcher's game of course, so I'll be taking a look at these guys holistically, examining what the new overall package that they offer means for fantasy owners going forward and if we can maybe uncover some sleepers off the waiver wire depending on league format. Unsurprisingly there are far fewer players with velocity gains than losses, but there are still a handful of players worth looking at, players who are throwing the ball more than half a mile faster this year than last. I've limited my search to the admittedly somewhat arbitrary 0.5 mph mark because beneath that I don't see any evidence that there's an appreciable link between the minute velocity gain and performance.
Pitchers With Velocity Gains in 2014
2013/2014 Velocity: 89.5/91.8 (gain of 2.3 mph)
2013/2014 BB%, K%, LD%: 8.8/6.2, 21.2/15.6, 19.8/17.5
2013/2014 ERA, FIP: 5.12/4.53, 4.86/3.87
Skaggs is a great example of why velocity readings don't tell you the whole story about a pitcher. On one hand, I'm very confident that the boost to his fastball has been instrumental to the rebirth of his career as a starter with the Angels. There's a huge difference between a sub 90 mph fastball and one bordering on 92 mph. Hitters have a harder time making solid contact against faster fastballs, and sure enough with Skaggs we see a decrease in solid contact allowed through the lens of his LD rate.
What's holding him back however from being anything more than just a guy to round out a rotation with is his strikeouts. Despite his good stuff, he's seen his strikeout rate plummet this season, and until he shows signs of getting back those swings and misses his game has been missing this season, he's not capable of being more than a spot starter against bottom 10 offenses for fantasy purposes. Keep an eye on this guy tho, he's just a handful of strikeouts away from a big jump forward.
2013/2014 Velocity: 90.1/91.7 (gain of 1.6 mph)
2013/2014 BB%, K%, LD%: 9.2/5.3, 20.5/26.4, 23.3/21.3
2013/2014 ERA, FIP: 4.91/3.60, 4.59/2.55
I'll be the first to say that you need to take the FIP statistic with a large grain of salt, but it is very useful for getting a broad look at a guy's performance, and the improvement in Kennedy's performance has been staggering this season. To put what a 2.55 FIP means into context, this season Johnny Cueto has a 2.98 FIP, Max Scherzer has a 2.77 FIP, and Yu Darvish has a 2.40 FIP. Now that doesn't mean Kennedy is a better pitcher than any of those guys, but it should give you some sense of just how many things Kennedy has been doing right this year. That success honestly shouldn't surprise you that much. This is a pitcher who threw 222.0 innings with a 2.88 ERA as recently as 2011 after all. The improved fastball has been a big part of Kennedy's improvement this season.
Going from being in danger of dropping beneath 90 mph to comfortably throwing 91-92 mph is a big, big couple miles per hour for a pitcher. He's taken full advantage of the extra weapon his velocity has given him, driving up his strikeout rate, improving his command, and limiting hard contact by opposing batters. Considering what Kennedy has accomplished so far, he's been downright unlucky from the perspective of ERA. When you factor in the bit about him pitching half his games at PETCO, I'd look to Ian Kennedy as a sneaky stash if you need pitching help. There are real reasons to think this guy could have a big year this year if he can keep up what he's currently doing.
2013/2014 Velocity: 94.5/96.0 (gain of 1.5 mph)
2013/2014 BB%, K%, LD%: 7.1/9.6, 16.3/25.8, 19.1/22.6
2013/2014 ERA, FIP: 4.16/2.42, 3.66/2.46
Garret Richards has been an absolute revelation for the for the Angel's pitching staff this season. 39 of his 52 innings so far this season have come on the road and in them he's pitched to a 1.38 ERA with 40 strikeouts and only 16 walks. For a pitcher with an ERA north of 4.00 last season that's incredible. When you take into account the fact that Richards has made these improvements while adjusting to his conversion from a reliever into a starter, a process that usually decreases fastball velocity and increases ERA, it's downright remarkable.
He's challenging hitters better this year, using his slider and curveball more effectively, and I truly do believe that his improved fastball is a big part of this. The fastball is the foundation of a pitcher's game. It sets up the rest of a pitcher's pitches and an improvement to it has a cascading affect to all the rest of a guy's stuff. In Richard's case it's been a very positive one. With the way he's been pitching I'd start him on a road game at Coors. He's earned that trust.
2013/2014 Velocity: 91.2/92.3 (gain of 1.1 mph)
2013/2014 BB%, K%, LD%: 8.7/9.6, 15.7/19.6, 25.1/15.1
2013/2014 ERA, FIP: 3.49/4.14, 3.76/4.38
De La Rosa's home park will always hold him back, but especially for a pitcher at Coors I do like to see the strikeouts going up. If the added velocity he's shown this season is helping him sustain that in addition to the weaker contact he's been allowing so far, then he could be a very good matchup play going forward when he's pitching on the road.
2013/2014 Velocity: 90.4/91.3 (gain of 0.9 mph)
2013/2014 BB%, K%, LD%: 6.0/4.8, 15.2/14.9, 21.5/19.1
2013/2014 ERA, FIP: 3.37/3.09, 4.04/4.02
I find it hard to get excited about a pitcher who's strikeout rate sits just under 15%. Maybe the velocity increase will help Leake sustain some of his gains, but a full point difference between a players ERA and FIP should give you a sense he's been pitching a little over his head. I'd use him for now, while the going's good, but he's still a matchup guy for me in the long run.
2013/2014 Velocity: 94.6/95.2 (gain of 0.6 mph)
2013/2014 BB%, K%, LD%: 9.1/4.6, 16.1/18.1, 21.3/19.6
2013/2014 ERA, FIP: 4.37/2.05, 4.30/3.71
Wily Peralta's ERA is going to have to go up at some point, unless you think that he really is capable of sustaining a Clayton Kershaw-like ERA with less than Clayton Kershaw-like peripherals. What that ERA climbs to though is still a very fantasy friendly number.
The velocity increase he has experienced this season isn't anything dramatic, but coupled with the across the board improvements he's made to his strikeout, walk, and contact rates, and the fact that he was already starting with a very impressive fastball before the improvement, he presents the kind of pitcher I'd be comfortable starting against virtually any team right now.
2013/2014 Velocity: 92.4/93.0 (gain of 0.6 mph)
2013/2014 BB%, K%, LD%: 19.0/16.1, 8.7/6.8, 21.5/20.5
2013/2014 ERA, FIP: 4.18/3.58, 3.86/4.51
Norris' velocity may be a tick up but he doesn't have much to show for it at this point. Especially with his strikeout rate down from last season, I'm gonna need to see a lot more from him before he's anything more than a matchup guy for me.