In last week's episode of Raising Aces, we looked at those pitchers who have increased fastball velocity over the last three seasons. The article was inspired by the general tendency for pitchers to lose velocity as they age, and with this premise in mind, I decided to flip the switch and go digging for those pitchers who have lost some speed over the past three years.

For the purposes of this analysis, I chose to utilize the same threshold as with the pitchers who were over the radar: to qualify for the study, a starting pitcher had to have thrown at least 500 fastballs (or sinkers in select cases) in both the 2012 and 2011 seasons, and the average velocity of those pitches in 2012 had to be at least 0.50 mph lower than in each of the previous two seasons. The purpose of these boundaries is to capture a sustained loss in velocity across multiple seasons.

The first item that stands out is that twice as many pitchers qualified under the conditions for velocity loss than the number within last week's sample of velo gainers, with 24 pitchers in the sample. The other glaring trend was the magnitude of velocity loss, which reached more extreme one-year and two-year changes than those seen in last week's study. The 24-pitcher sample breaks down into three separate groups, based on the magnitude and shape of the velocity trend, and each of those groups is conveniently represented by exactly eight pitchers.

I chose to organize the groups based on the multi-year trends, which are bold within the charts. The first group consists of players whose velocity drop is less severe when considering previously-established baselines, with some having a zig-zag pattern of decline and others experiencing a flat-line between 2010 and 2011. Group two consists of pitchers who have experienced a steadier decline in velocity, with noticeable dips from 2010-2011 and again from 2011-2012. The final group is the more extreme version of group two, with a steeper slope of deteriorating velocity that triggers fears of K-13 proportions.

Group 1 – Zig-zags and Flat lines


MPH Difference, 2011-'12

MPH Difference, 2010-'12




J. McDonald






M. Minor






E. Santana






Y. Gallardo






J. Chacin






E. Jackson






T. Lincecum






C. Sabathia






The most glaring examples of the switch-back pitchers include former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia, whose single-year drops in velocity were the first- and third-largest speed bumps in baseball, respectively. Lincecum was the only qualifying pitcher who’s lost two full ticks from his fastball since 2011, and the power outages of 2010 and 2012 were both rooted in conditioning; he lacked the athleticism necessary to consistently coordinate the 80-grade momentum that has become his trademark, while a lack of timing sapped the efficiency of his torque.

A handful of these pitchers maintained their velocities from 2010 to 2011 before suffering the speed decline in 2012, including Jhoulys Chacin (age 25), Yovani Gallardo (27), and Edwin Jackson (29). These pitchers may be experiencing a single-year blip on the radar gun, or perhaps their 2012 numbers from PITCHf/x are just the beginning of a down-sloping trend, like that of the following group of pitchers.

Group 2 – Down Slope


MPH Difference, 2011-'12

MPH Difference, 2010-'12




J. Verlander






M. Buehrle






R. Nolasco






R. Dempster*






J. Sanchez






J. Garcia*






B. Norris






C. Lewis






* = sinker velocity

Justin Verlander can add or subtract velocity at will. He has developed a devastating penchant for saving his hardest throws for late in the game—he is basically his own late-inning, power reliever—and the decline in average speed could be a reflection of altered strategy as opposed to a decline in power. The guy still hits triple digits in the ninth inning, so I'm not too worried.  

Mark Buehrle is not fooling anyone with his velocity, and his game has actually improved as he’s fallen further into the Jamie Moyer zone of radar-gun readings. The decline is more worrisome for those pitchers who are steadily slipping down the wrong side of the bell curve, crossing the 90-mph hard deck, including the quartet of Ricky Nolasco, Ryan Dempster, Jonathan Sanchez, and Jaime Garcia.

Nolasco catches too much plate on a regular basis to survive long with a more hittable fastball, while Sanchez's career is on the brink as his stuff fails to compensate for a dearth of command. Dempster is at an age (35) where physical decline is inevitable, but any talk of the 26-year-old Garcia's velocity has to start with the condition of his left shoulder—three surgeons suggested off-season surgery for his labrum tear, but Orthopedic guru Dr. James Andrews suggested rehab—and the southpaw's over-the-top arm-slot fires additional warning flares. The Cardinals are fortunate to have a stable of upper-tier pitching prospects to buffer the rotation in case Garcia is unavailable.

The loss of zip on the fastball of Colby Lewis is likely linked to a bum elbow that cost him more than half of last season, an injury that will keep him sidelined into the summer months of 2013. Bud Norris doesn't have a known arm injury on which to pin his declining velocity, but his two-year trends are worrisome, and the Astros might be looking to unload their highest-paid player while his pitch-speed still has a plus reputation.

Group 3 – The K-13


MPH Difference, 2011-'12

MPH Difference, 2010-'12




F. Hernandez






J. Weaver






J. Johnson






R. Halladay*






T. Hudson*






D. Haren*






J. Beckett






U. Jimenez






* = sinker velocity

The list of the most dramatic velocity drops is littered with All-Stars in various stages of decline, as well as a couple of arms who have learned how to adapt to life with a lesser fastball. Many of these pitchers are climbing down from a high perch of max velocity, so it makes sense that they would suffer a steeper fall, but there is a glaring year-over-year trend of losing a tick from 2011, which pushes their two-year losses over the two-mph mark.

Felix Hernandez turns 27 on April 8, and his age is an outlier on the above list of the steepest declines in fastball velocity. Hernandez has tallied a massive innings count despite his relative youth, including an average of 219 innings per year over his seven full seasons in the majors, and the heavy workloads could be producing signs of wear.


 Age on 4/1/13

Career IP

F. Hernandez



J. Weaver



J. Johnson



R. Halladay



T. Hudson



D. Haren



J. Beckett



U. Jimenez



Jered Weaver has pitched 300 fewer innings in the majors than Hernandez despite being three-and-half years older, and Weaver's pitch speed dropped far below the 90-mph line in 2012. More of his pitches registered as sinkers via PITCHf/x, yet the velocity  drop was even more pronounced on his sinking fastball that it was for his four-seamer (-1.43 mph / -2.18 mph).

Injuries have dogged Josh Johnson throughout his career, limiting him to fewer than 1000 innings pitched. Trips to the disabled list nearly knocked Johnson out of the sample, as he barely qualified with 523 fastballs in 2011, and his continued downturn of velocity is a disturbing piece of evidence with respect to his future health.

Roy Halladay actually throws more cutters than sinkers, and I am cheating by the smallest possible margin with his inclusion, as the right-hander threw 499 sinkers in 2011. He and Tim Hudson are at an age of expected physical decline, getting further from their physical peaks while carrying the mileage of more than 2600 innings pitched in the big leagues.

Dan Haren and Josh Beckett find themselves in a similar situation, in which they need to make mechanical adjustments in order to compensate for the deterioration of physical skills as they advance into their mid-30s and attempt to cross into 2000-inning territory. Beckett has already begun the adaptation process, with a quieter delivery that requires less athleticism to properly execute, but Haren continues to carry the stop-n-go momentum and the postural instability that have weighed down his delivery for years.

The story of Ubaldo Jimenez deserves its own category, or at least its own article. His steepest fall came in 2011, when he dropped 2.36 mph from the previous season, and the downward trend continued in 2012. Jimenez has devolved in every category since his 2010 peak with Colorado, showing rapidly deteriorating stuff, mechanics, and performance. At this rate, Jimenez is sprinting down the Jonathan Sanchez path to oblivion.


Raising Aces has been conspicuously lacking in evaluations of pitching mechanics lately due to the temporary focus on PITCHf/x, but there was a glaring pattern that cropped up among this particular group of pitchers, one that is so pervasive that it deserves mention.

I often rail against over-the-top pitching motions, as pitchers sacrifice posture by tilting the spine in the effort to achieve a high arm slot. Not only does the aggressive spine-tilt cost a pitcher release distance  (and often command), but it has also been identified as a precursor to injury, specifically to the shoulder. Shoulder injuries are also related to drops in velocity, as the front-side shoulder muscles are responsible for accelerating the throwing arm and the back-side shoulder muscles perform the task of putting on the brakes. Therefore, it is logically consistent that pitchers with poor posture will have a tendency toward declining velocity due to wear and tear on the throwing shoulder, but I did not expect such an overwhelming trend of poor posture to emerge among the pitchers in this group.

The list of pitchers with a steep decline in velocity was basically a who's who of pitchers that I have taken to task for their poor posture, including Weaver, Jimenez, and especially Gallardo, who received a bottom-feeding score of 20 in the Making the Grade series. The number of pitchers in this group who possess particularly poor posture is striking.


James McDonald                               Jaime Garcia                                       Mike Minor

Jered Weaver                       Yovani Gallardo                       Tim Lincecum

Dan Haren                       Ubaldo Jimenez

Jimenez exemplifies the most erratic of release-point strategies, with a motion that is directed wide of the left-hand batter's box in addition to the severe spine-tilt that typifies this particular group of pitchers.

Somewhere in the distance, Justin Verlander is rolling his eyes with A-grade mechanics.

Justin Verlander


If I can make a shameless plug at the end of the show, then please allow me to endorse the 2013 Starting Pitcher Guide, which is available starting TODAY at This is the sixth season of the SP Guide, and the first time that I have contributed to Paul Sporer's incredible manual on pitchers. I encourage the readers to take a deeper look at the mechanics of Verlander, Weaver, Gallardo, and more than 100 other pitchers who received full mechanics report cards within the Guide.

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Regarding Jered Weaver's delivery, this should give Weaver owners some degree of optimism: "I am more of a three-quarter guy and the last couple years I went more over the top to go around the tightness," he [Weaver] said. "Now I can go back to my normal arm slot."
Thanks for the quote, digiderek - that's a good tidbit. Now we just have to watch to see if he makes the adjustment.
Great stuff, Doug.
"Raising Aces" just gets better and better. I look forward to each new episode and have already responded to the "shameless plug". Just wish I had all this when I was coaching Doug, if you ever get a chance, could you explain the role of the lead shoulder in determining arm angle. Conventional wisdom years ago was to "bury the front shoulder" in a downward motion in order to create "proper" arm angle and to keep the pitcher from "opening up" prematurely. I suspect this has changed but I am curious as to how this has impacted pitching mechanics
I disagree with the "burying" technique, but then again I tend to disagree with a lot of conventional wisdom. The proper arm angle is determined by posture (less spine tilt is more natural) as well as the pitchers biologically-driven angle of shoulder abduction. "Burying" the shoulder was a technique that was used to artificially raise arm slots, but research coming out of ASMI suggests that hyperabduction is an injury threat during the periods of high-speed rotation, so I prefer to stick with a pitcher's natural slot (which is different for each player). Coaching against biological signature is typically a losing battle that leaves the pitcher vulnerable, so I tend to focus on the controllable element of posture. I believe that the problem of "opening up" too early is related to the timing of trunk rotation, and guys who fly open with the lead shoulder are typically triggering the rotation of the shoulder axis before the lower body is in proper position. Rather than "bury" the lead shoulder, I encourage pitchers who "fly open" to close the starting angle on the rubber, or to quicken their pace so that the lower body is in position sooner, allowing for an easier transition into upper-body rotation. Often times a bigger load of the shoulder axis will also do the job of keeping the pitcher closed. Great question, Jim!
Doug, your explanation makes so much more sense to me than did the pitching dictates of the 60'and 70's. We were told that the elbow ALWAYS had to be above the shoulder in order to create the "necessary straight line" from lead shoulder to throwing hand fingertips. In theory, that reduces stress on the elbow. Or so we taught. But I guess I am also asking if the front shoulder does play a significant role in the creation of arm speed. The old adage was that the pitching hand (and therefore ball) could only go as fast as the front shoulder. Does that old theory have any current validity.
The front shoulder is involved with arm speed, but it is more of a spectator than a team captain. It can be an indicator of inefficiency, and from the batter's/catcher's point of view it is easier to see what the front shoulder is doing than the other dimensions of hip-shoulder separation (which plays the biggest role in velo). I think that the batter's/catcher's perspective has driven many of the theories about pitching, and though that perspective is integral to understanding the game, it is not necessarily ideal when it comes to evaluating how a pitcher does his job. But I disagree with the adage regarding the speed of the pitching hand being predicated on the front shoulder - the connection is not nearly so solid to make that claim, and it could lead to some funky methodologies for coaching.
Interesting article - thanks for sharing all the research. What's your rationale for saying Lincecum's problems "are rooted in lack of conditioning, didn't have the athleticsm..." The guy's so slightly built and has such a funky delivery, how can we tell where he is conditioning-wise? Verlander is this generation's Nolan Ryan with better control.
Lincecum requires tremendous lower-body strength to coordinate his high levels of kinetic energy, and when he is not at 100% speed to the plate then it throws off his timing. At peak form, Lincecum is the epitome of 80 momentum, with a tremendous burst to the plate that he is able to line up in order to extend his release point, but last season I gave him a 70-grade momentum for the first time since he was drafted. Timing is the underlying facet of pitch command, and poor timing will also function to decrease a pitcher's torque if the elements of hip rotation and shoulder rotation are not sequenced properly. The slower, inconsistent momentum is based on personal observation, and the background support is based on what happened in 2010. Lincecum was noticeably slow to the plate in August of '10, and Roy Oswalt (who has a similar high-speed delivery) called Lincecum out for poor conditioning. A day or two after Oswalt's public comments, the Giants acknowledged that Lincecum was not at full strength and they vowed to address it. Lincecum got better as he crossed over into September, and by the playoffs he was back to full speed. But the same problem cropped up in 2012, and he wasn't able to regain his peak athleticism until Lincecum was put in the bullpen where he could ramp up the momentum in shorter bursts. His posture has always been a weak link in Lincecum's delivery, but when not at full strength (or he gets fatigued) then his spine-tilt gets progressively worse.
I love that I can use this stuff with my high school guys. Thanks, Doug!
painstaking work...valuable and appreciated
There's no better way to help explain the points you're trying to make than to have accompanying pictures and .gifs and that's what I love about BP.
Enjoyed the article very much. Wondering if there is past data on this that could be analyzed to see what predictive value comes from velocity loss? As a fantasy player, I presume this may increase the likelihood of loss of effectiveness or injury, I am just wondering how seriously I should hold back on some of these guys. It would be interesting to at least see anecdotally how similar losses of velocity affected pitchers in the past few years, or perhaps did not, and why.
Great call, DDriesen. We only have PITCHf/x data going back to 2007, but a deeper study of those years could certainly reveal some valuable insight. I am also interested in tracking the mechanical tendencies of those 2007-2010 pitchers to look for any other patterns that might emerge, similar to work that we did at the National Pitching Association. I also recommend that you take a look at this article by Bill Petti of FanGraphs (hyperlinked in the second sentence), which tracks some of the general pitcher trends over time -
Great article.
We see lots of referenes to the dreased "inverted W" arm position and its effect upons srm and shoulder stress. I have often wondered how much of a pitchers upper body mechanics are dependent upon lower body and "core" strength. I would think that a pitcher like Tim Lincecum (and the other Tiny Tim, Tim Collins of Kansas City need to have very strong (if not outright muscular legs) and a solid core to help maintain their velocity by driving through the delivery and maintaining support for their arms in their legs and cores. That is just conjecture on my part; would live to hear the opinion of a biometrics person on the subject. My other supposition is that guys who lose leg strength and who have no core support (i.e., guys who are flabby as opposed to muscular, even if large, in the waist/lower chest) are more prone to lose velocity or who are more prone to arm injury by having to throw the balls harder using their arm motion/ arm velocity to make up for what their legs and core are NOT giving them. Again, a good biommetrician or biomechanics stuent might have some interesting observations to make there.
Great observations, Scott. Your conjecture is certainly on the right track. Smaller pitchers can still produce big velocity, through a combination of torque (hip-shoulder separation), momentum (leg strength and consistency), proper timing and sequencing, core strength, and also pure arm strength. Lincecum relies more on upper-body load for his torque, in addition to the extreme momentum. Collins is more of a hip-driven example of hip-shoulder separation, as his stride begins at a closed angle but finishes open due to such extreme hip rotation. You are also correct that proper use of the legs, core, timing, etc. will effectively take kinetic toll off of the arm. A pitcher who is weak in these areas becomes more dependent on pure arm strength to produce velocity, and faces a greater risk for physical breakdown. That said, the inverted W has as much to do with scapular loading and a pitcher's natural signature than anything else, so it is not specifically related to the lower body so much. But it does reflect a combination of trained (scap load) and untrained (hyperabduction) techniques, which drives much of the confusion regarding the technique.
Articles like this one are why I happily pay to subscribe. Thanks.
Doug Thorburn is going to win my fantasy league for me.
Your list of pitchers that you have "taken to task for their poor posture" is also pretty interchangeable with the list of best pitchers over the past five years.Sounds like they are doing something right!
Weaver, Jimenez, and Gallardo are the best of the past 5 years? Those are the guys that I have "taken to task," and I think that you can make a case for Weaver as one of the best of the past 5, but not so much with the other two. Of the 8 pitchers with stills of poor posture, you can probably tack on Lincecum and Haren. Meanwhile, the pitchers with strong posture (60+) from the above lists include Verlander, CC, and Halladay - each of whom has had a better 5-year run than Weaver. Beckett is another guy who has had plus posture for the past several years (tho it was poor for his first few years in the league), and Felix's posture has been improving every year since his debut. Going away from the velocity-drop list to other top arms, you have guys like Kershaw and Price, each of whom has been improving his posture every year since his rookie season (Price is now plus, Kershaw is average). Then there are pitchers who have always had elite posture, like Cole Hamels and Matt Cain, as well as new arrivals such as Strasburg and Darvish. I will grant you Cliff Lee and his poor posture, though - that guy's a conundrum. The pitchers that I have "taken to task" are surely doing something right, but my point is that they could be doing something better. (Apologies if the task-list was unclear - I was not referring to the entire K-13 group, but a general trend among the 24 pitchers who dropped velo, hence the list of stills with guys from all 3 groups. I realize that the use of "steep decline in velocity" could be easily misconstrued.)