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Recent Velocity Decliners - Arms To Abandon

We are about to turn the calendar to September, which means that a lot of the league's starting pitchers have gone through a five-month slog putting a ton of work on their throwing arms. This was possibly even a tougher challenge in 2021 after the shortened 2020 season severely reduced the requested workloads that these pitchers had.

If you're still reading this right now, you are probably headed for the fantasy baseball playoffs. That means every week from here on out will be the most important week of the year. We want to look for any advantage we can find.

In this piece, I looked at every pitcher's fastball velocity month-by-month to try to pick up on the guys that have been losing (and gaining) velocity as of late. Let's highlight some names.

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Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers

We'll knock this one off the list quickly because this is what we would call a "known issue." Prior to this month, Peralta's four-seam fastball averaged right around 93.5 miles per hour. During his first start in August, he threw the pitch at 94.4 miles per hour on average - no problems there. Last time out, however, that pitch came down to 92.2 miles per hour. The righty left that start after just 43 pitches thrown and hit the IL the next day - clearly, there's an injury affecting him here.

He is currently ramping back up to rejoin the rotation soon, so there's a good chance he will pitch for your fantasy team in the playoffs. If the Brewers management thinks he's healthy, then I'm fine with just plugging him right back in the lineup when he returns - but it will definitely be pertinent to check on that fastball velocity when he does return.

 

Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays

The young names are sure to sting a little bit more when they show up on this list, and that's true with the young Rays' lefty here. McClanahan has been electric this year, posting some really solid numbers and flashing triple-digits on the radar gun. However, in August, he has lost significant fastball velocity:

The first thing your mind goes to is innings count. This guy threw exactly zero professional innings in 2020, and prior to that his career-high in a single year is 120.2 (2019). He has thrown 94.1 innings this year, so he is fast approaching that mark. Not only is the average velocity down, but his maximum values have also been down substantially as well. He hasn't touched 100 miles per hour since June 20th and hasn't touched 99 since July 20th.

The good news is that the results have been fine. His swinging-strike rates have remained pretty steady with the four-seamer, and they've remained really strong overall (meaning looking at all pitch types). His slider is still an elite weapon, and averaging 95 miles per hour is more than enough to be successful with.

I would be lying if I said I don't think there's any reason for concern because the Rays have asked for a lot from this guy and this is a serious drop in velocity. You're not going to want to give up McClanahan in a dynasty format, but in a re-draft league, it might be a pretty nice time to see what you can get from him.

 

Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers

In his first start of the year, Mize opened some eyes by touching 97.9 miles per hour on his four-seamer. That made a lot of fantasy managers excited to give him another shot after he was really disappointing in his short 2020 stint. The velocity has not remained that high, however, here's the plot.

I would imagine the high velocity in April was just a result of some early season jitters and excitement, and then he calmed it down and settled into the 94 miles per hour range in the middle months. However, in August that has come down below 93 now - not a great situation.

In his four August starts, he's averaged 93.9, 92.3, 92.6, and 92.5 on his fastball (chronologically). He has also seen diminishing swinging-strike rates to boot:

Mize hasn't been a guy to feel great about relying on at any point this year, but I would certainly not be wanting to put many chips on him as the 2021 season wraps up.

 

Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners

It was a really fun time to roster Kikuchi through May and June. He posted a strong 3.38 ERA and a .183 opponent's batting average in May, and then was really great in June with a 1.90 ERA and a .181 batting average against. Things went awry in July with marks of 6.11 and .302, and August didn't start off well either as he sat with marks of 5.50 and .293 before his start on August 26th (I wrote this before that start).

Some of this reduced performance may have to do with the velocity, which has been down since June.

He is not a guy that really relies on his four-seamer as much as some of the other guys on the list, with his cutter being his most-used pitch and also throwing a lot of sliders and some changeups. Velocity isn't as important on the cutter, but it's down a little bit too. More positive news in all of this is that his ground-ball rates have stayed high, which is really where he generates most of his success from. He has also went through a brutal July and August schedule, which could also be playing into the numbers.

I'm not giving up on Kikuchi yet, but any time you see the ERA climb while the velocity dips you have to be a little bit less confident.

 

Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays

I'll make this quick. Robbie Ray has lost a mile per hour on his fastball velocity, but it hasn't mattered whatsoever. He did have two somewhat non-elite starts at the beginning of the month, striking out just 9 batters over 12 innings, but he only gave up two runs in those starts. In his last two starts he's struck out 25 batters over 15 innings while giving up two earned runs. So yeah, nothing to worry about with Ray here, he will remain a top-ten starter throughout the rest of the year as long as he's on the mound.

Other (less consequential velocity losers): Jack Flaherty (on IL, his season may be over), Dylan Bundy, Brett Anderson, Patrick Sandoval (IL), Drew Smyly, Trevor Williams, Mike Foltynewicz, Rich Hill, Madison Bumgarner

 

Velocity Gainers

Not many pitchers have gained velocity in August (unsurprising), and the ones that have aren't really all that fantasy-relevant right now. Let's just hit them quickly.

Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals

His sinker has averaged 93.6 miles per hour in August, his highest mark of the year by nearly a full mile per hour. He still hasn't pitched well, however, and he can be safely left on the waiver wire.

Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Indians

Things were getting really exciting for McKenzie there as he had ripped off four really strong starts in a row. However, he surprisingly hit the IL this week, so fantasy managers will be without his services for at least two weeks if not more here. That's a real shame because he had found his 2020 stride again. His four-seamer was averaging 92.8 miles per hour, a solid 1.4 miles per hour better than his season average from the prior months.

Garrett Richards, Boston Red Sox

Another guy that's added a mile per hour to his fastball, but hasn't done much this year to prove his fantasy worth. Leave him alone.

Taijuan Walker, New York Mets

Things are looking up again for Taijuan after he had a really brutal July. Over his last four starts, he's given up ten runs in 24.2 innings, which isn't that exciting but he has faced the Dodgers twice and the Giants once over that time. He was definitely a guy we worried about the workload on, as he has notoriously been a guy that just can't stay healthy. He's already thrown significantly more innings than he has in any season since 2017, so the worry about the arm breaking down was real.

For now, he seems okay and maybe this improved velocity will give some added validation to your decision to continue to plug him in your lineup, especially as that schedule gets a little easier.



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