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July 17, 2013

Pitcher Profile

Speeding Up at the Break

by Harry Pavlidis

Pitching ruled the All-Star break. The Futures Game featured a gaggle of power arms and a grand total of six runs. And that was twice the output of the main event, where the National League's best failed to score a run. Mariano Rivera made an emotional appearance. And, in the Home Run Derby, Ron Harper showed off a cutter of his own.

I have a confession to make: I think the Futures Game is the best part of the All-Star break.

Technically, it's part of the festivities and not the break, but I think you can lend me a few hours of Sunday afternoon for its inclusion. The opportunity to see so many top prospects is enough, but it also marks the first exposure to PITCHf/x for many of the arms on display.

Setting aside the possible awkwardness of coming out of the bullpen, pitching plays up in these types of games. Starters come out for an inning with a bit of adrenaline and give it their best shot before the buzz even burns off.

The upshot of this is folks get their first gander at their favorite prospect and walk away with an extra two miles per hour in their minds. On average, that is. If this year's All-Star Game is any indication, you won't see guys go over their top speeds.

Unless, that is, you count Max Scherzer, who hit 99.7 MPH at Citi Field, besting his 99.5 max fastball speed for the 2013 regular season. That difference is not meaningful—the PITCHf/x data isn't precise enough to make hay out of 0.2 mph on a single pitch—but it is a neat curiosity nonetheless.

Scherzer, who threw the opening frame for the AL, was the most pumped guy of the night on average, too. He averaged 96.6 mph on his fastballs and came into the night averaging 94.0 MPH for the season. Patrick Corbin was just as juiced, coming as close to his top speed as anyone else (within 0.7 MPH) and averaging 95.2, besting his season average of 92.7 with ease.

Matt Harvey threw one pitch over 100 in the All-Star Game (as close to his top speed as Corbin's best offering was) and averaged nearly two miles per hour above his season mark of 96.5 with a tidy 98.1.

All of the starting pitchers who worked in the All-Star Game threw harder than their averages, except Felix Hernandez. King Felix cruised along at his normal speed, averaging 94.2 compared to his season average of 94.6. Granted, that "average" is just one pitch, as he mostly threw two-seam fastballs, and I'm not including those. Call him King Outlier.

The relievers were just themselves. None of them got within 1 MPH of their 2013 max speed (most more than 3 MPH away), and only Craig Kimbrel and Joe Nathan had an average speed near 1 MPH above their norm. Steve Delabar was down 1.7 MPH, easily the most of any pitcher in the big-league game.

All of which takes us back to the Futures Game.

Yordano Ventura threw a single fastball, at 100.3 MPH. That’s the same tally as Harvey's, and we should believe that he legitimately has it in his arsenal. Eddie Butler hit 99 and averaged nearly 98. We can accept that top speed and think more along the lines of 96 for his average speed. Butler also threw an 88 MPH slider and a 90 MPH changeup, which were probably the nastiest pitches unfurled in the Futures Game.

Back to the big leaguers, and speaking of sliders, Matt Harvey spun a pair over 93 MPH, but that didn't beat his season best of 93.7. Yes, I'm talking about sliders.

Here are all the four-seam-fastball numbers for the 2013 Futures Game.

First

Last

Avg

Max

Yordano

Ventura

100.3

100.3

Eddie

Butler

97.7

99.3

Archie

Bradley

96.7

98.6

Taijuan

Walker

96.5

97.7

Kyle

Crick

96.5

98.2

Enny

Romero

96.4

97.4

Noah

Syndergaard

96.1

97.0

A.J.

Cole

95.9

97.8

Michael

Ynoa

95.0

96.2

Rafael

Montero

94.7

95.7

Jose

De Paula

94.5

96.4

Miguel

Almonte

94.2

95.3

Eduardo

Rodriguez

93.8

94.3

Anthony

Ranaudo

93.7

94.5

Carlos

Contreras

93.5

96.1

Charles

Riefenhauser

92.2

93.1

Jesse

Biddle

91.5

94.2

Andre

Rienzo

91.2

92.2


And now the big boys. These are ordered by "Diff Avg"—how much faster they were on average in the All-Star Game--but also by starter (first) and reliever (last).

First

Last

ASG Avg

ASG Max

Reg Avg

Reg Max

Diff Avg

Diff Max

Max

Scherzer

96.6

99.7

94.0

99.5

2.6

0.2

Patrick

Corbin

95.2

96.0

92.7

96.6

2.5

-0.7

Chris

Sale

96.1

96.6

94.3

98.8

1.8

-2.2

Matt

Harvey

98.1

100.3

96.5

101.0

1.7

-0.7

Jose

Fernandez

97.2

98.8

95.7

99.8

1.5

-0.9

Clayton

Kershaw

93.9

95.1

93.2

96.0

0.7

-0.9

Matt

Moore

93.4

94.8

93.3

96.1

0.1

-1.4

Felix

Hernandez

92.4

92.4

92.7

96.5

-0.3

-4.1

Craig

Kimbrel

98.4

99.2

97.4

100.3

1.0

-1.1

Joe

Nathan

93.5

94.4

92.7

96.1

0.8

-1.7

Greg

Holland

96.7

97.3

96.3

101.0

0.4

-3.7

Jason

Grilli

94.5

95.7

94.3

96.9

0.3

-1.1

Grant

Balfour

94.1

95.5

93.9

96.9

0.2

-1.5

Brett

Cecil

93.2

93.4

93.3

95.7

-0.1

-2.3

Aroldis

Chapman

98.2

101.6

98.4

104.8

-0.2

-3.2

Steve

Delabar

94.0

94.5

95.7

98.7

-1.7

-4.2


So, what have we learned? Relievers and starters both tend to dial it up, but, with what may be an exception, they don't break their velocity ceiling. You can look over those prospects and get a sense of their high-end velocities, but their average velocities may be misleading. Since the only starter in the MLB game who had an apparent drop was renowned command artist Felix Hernandez, two MPH may be a useful rule of thumb for adjusting the Futures Game velocities to each pitcher’s actual future speed.

Harry Pavlidis is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Harry's other articles. You can contact Harry by clicking here

1 comment has been left for this article.

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