At this point, I think we all know that there is very little value to anything that happens in spring training. For fantasy purposes, the only thing we really need to pay attention to is injury news. There have been enough March superstars that turn into regular season duds to teach us to not get fooled again. With that being said, one thing we may be able to look into is spring training velocity. A few years ago, Mike Fast did a study for BP and found that there was some predictive value to velocity changes from the end of the previous season and the following spring. Now, there are usually some reasons for the changes that can’t be seen in the data, particularly with velocity decreases. Maybe the pitcher is hurt, or he’s a bit behind in schedule and is still building up his arm strength. It’s still a potential piece of information to seek out in a time where those instances are few and far between, so let’s take a look at a few pitchers who have seen some early spikes this year.
Richards is one of the more intriguing SP2s heading into the season this year. Two years ago he was one of the best pitchers in baseball before his season was prematurely ended by a knee injury. While he was solid once again in 2015, he watched his numbers dip across the board. Most notably, he went from nearly a strikeout-per-inning pitcher to a more average 7.6 K/9. Early on this spring, his velocity is higher than it’s ever been. It’s not as if he was a soft tosser heading into the 2016 season, as he averaged around 96 mph on both his fastball and sinker in 2015. However, he’s taken it to another level this spring, averaging 98 mph on both pitches in the Cactus League. In fact, there are reports he’s even touched 100 mph at times. Now, there is always the caveat that spring training radar guns are far less reliable than those in major-league parks. With that being said, any indication that Richards can get back to his 2014 strikeout level has to be exciting, and this kind of trend can make one think about bumping him up a few spots on the draft board.
This situation isn’t quite like Richards, but it’s just as promising given what Giles could be dealing with early in the season. Always a fireballer, the new Astro has averaged around 97 mph on his fastball throughout his short career. Last season, however, he took a bit longer to build up his arm strength, averaging fewer than 96 mph last April and not reaching the 97 mph mark until June. Things are different in Astros camp this year, as they are ramping him up early. According to reports, he’s hitting 98 mph already. It’s a good sign for Giles, who should be the clear-cut favorite for Houston’s closer job but will have some competition from Luke Gregerson. The latter is a veteran and the incumbent, but is also dealing with some early-season injuries. That should give Giles an early advantage in the competition, but also a shorter leash than someone of his talent level deserves. If his early velocity is any indication, there shouldn’t be any growing pains out of the gate. It certainly makes me a lot more willing to bet on him to hold onto the ninth inning through the season.
This one is more for long-term league players, as Bundy isn’t likely to play a big role in redraft leagues, particularly early in the year. Because of some strange roster management by the Orioles over the last few years, the former top prospect is already out of options and will start the year out of the bullpen. After recovering from elbow surgery, there were reports throughout Bundy’s minor-league season in 2014 that his velocity was down across the board. If he’s ever going to succeed at the highest level, he’ll need to get back to the mid-90s with his fastball. Luckily, that’s exactly where he is a few weeks into camp. Bundy is still an extremely risky player, but seeing this kind of stuff should make one more confident to keep him around in leagues with big enough rosters to stash someone of his standing. Even if he can’t get a starting role until 2017, his spring stuff makes it more likely he can make patient owners glad they held on.
I wanted to stick to velocity increases for the reasons I mentioned in the intro, but there’s just no way I could do an article like this without mentioning Weaver. The former All-Star has been watching his velocity decrease for the last few years, bottoming out at 83 mph at the end of last season. Fast-forwarding to present day, and things have somehow gotten worse. Last week, he was reported to have topped out at 80 mph. He wasn’t much of a factor in fantasy this spring to begin with, being drafted as the 89th SP according to Fantasy Pros, but now he’s untouchable in just about every league. Where there may have been some desire to squint and try to find some of his past magic with a late-round pick, I can’t imagine a league in which I’d take a chance on a version of Weaver that can’t break 80 mph on a consistent basis.
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