Early-season baseball evaluation can pose challenges. Whereas it’s enjoyable to think about a world during which Yermín Mercedes is the very best participant in baseball, we all know that this stage of efficiency is not going to stick in the long term. That may make early-season analyses of gamers untimely, as we want information to start stabilizing earlier than drawing agency, player-specific conclusions. Fortunately, nonetheless, league-wide information stabilizes a lot quicker, particularly once we put league information in its correct month-to-month context — acknowledging that April baseball and July baseball are, in truth, completely different. That’s why it’s fascinating to investigate early season league-wide fastball velocity.
Given how a lot we at FanGraphs have mentioned fastballs these days, it could be time to start out calling us FastballGraphs. In all seriousness, there was some glorious dialogue concerning the fastball right here on the location, with each Tess Taruskin and Kevin Goldstein overlaying the pitch. Taruskin made word of younger prospects who threw more durable in spring coaching, whereas Goldstein underscored the significance of the pitch’s form. At this time although, I’ll be specializing in velocity within the season’s early going.
Thus far, in 2021, pitchers are throwing exhausting. By means of video games on April 7, greater than 15,000 fastballs — four-seamers, two-seamers, sinkers, and cutters — have been thrown, with a median velocity of 92.7 mph. On the floor, that may not be eye-popping, but when that holds, it could signify an April document within the Statcast Period. In actual fact, since 2015, no April or Could has ever featured a league-average fastball velocity over 92.5 mph:
Fastball Velocity by Month, 2015-19
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Additional, 92.7 mph is uncommon for a league-wide fastball velocity studying even later into the season. As velocities have elevated over time, we’ve seen extra months of 92.7-plus, nevertheless it’s price noting that not as soon as through the 2017 or ’18 seasons did main league pitchers throw as exhausting in a single month as they’re throwing now. Solely seven of the 30 months within the above desk noticed the league-wide fastball velocity hit 92.7 mph.
After all, if league-wide fastball velocity is rising, then it should be rising on a person stage as nicely. And it’s. Take into account: Simply over a full week into the season, 85 completely different pitchers have thrown a fastball more durable in 2021 than they did through the entirety of the 2020 season. Listed here are the hurlers with the most important distinction in most fastball velocity year-over-year:
Largest Max FB Velo Will increase
This checklist is stuffed with attention-grabbing names. On the prime, we see gamers who’re returning to full well being, like Foltynewicz, Holmes, Ohtani, and Doolittle. Additional down the checklist are gamers like Bundy, who was throwing noticeably more durable even throughout spring coaching. And, in fact, there are guys like Davis, who has struggled with declining velocity in recent times however may need discovered one thing left within the tank.
However the sheer proven fact that we have now 85 completely different pitchers who’ve already surpassed their max pitch velocity from 2020 is fairly fascinating. And it’s not like we’re coping with a small pattern phenomenon, both. It might be fairly straightforward to surpass your most fastball velocity in 2021 in the event you solely threw one fastball in 2020, however of the 85 pitchers to interrupt their 2020 highs, 68 threw a minimum of 100 fastballs final yr. Proper out of the gate, pitchers are throwing a lot more durable this season, and that’s one thing we’ve been in a position to observe at each the league-average in addition to the person stage.
This may not be completely shocking, provided that we’re coming off of what was the weirdest yr for
baseball everybody in current reminiscence. For pitchers specifically, their preparation was thrown off, with MLB halting play because of the pandemic in the midst of spring coaching, earlier than returning for a short summer time camp and a 60-game dash to an expanded postseason. What a whirlwind it was.
However, among the many some ways during which the 2020 season impacted the sport, what it additionally did was throw off the ramp-up interval for pitchers. Even after a month of spring coaching, fastball velocities don’t peak till the center of the season, the place they then sometimes plateau by the remainder of the yr. That is represented fairly nicely once we consider the change in league-wide fastball velocity relative to April from 2015 to 2019:
By Could, pitchers sometimes throw fastballs 0.2 mph quicker than they do in April, and by June, they sometimes throw 0.4 mph quicker. Issues settle in after that, because the month-to-month fluctuations from June by the remainder of the season are by not more than 0.1 mph.
On account of the shutdown, pitchers didn’t have the chance to ramp up. That’s why, in 2020, velocities have been really down a contact. From Opening Day by the top of August, pitchers averaged 92.5 mph on the fastball, whereas in September, they averaged 92.6, each of which have been down year-over-year in comparison with the identical month in 2019. Somewhat than ramping up through the course of a season, pitchers spent April by most of July throwing on their very own. (There’s additionally Alvarado (notably close to the highest of the desk), who advised Matt Gelb of The Athletic that, as a substitute of throwing, he ate an excessive amount of of his mom’s cooking.)
Maybe it’s not a shock, then, that fastball velocities are up in comparison with 2020. However they’re up even in comparison with 2019, and with additional ramp up, we very a lot might see the typical fastball velocity for a month hit 93.0 mph for the primary time. Pitchers are throwing more durable than ever earlier than, and though we’re analyzing all the opposite methods pitchers can idiot hitters with the fastball, it’s essential to do not forget that velocity continues to be king.