There’s not a whole lot to analyze at the beginning of the season aside from playing time, but there is one metric that stabilizes rather quickly and gives us extremely useful information – pitch velocity. I always monitor velocities during spring training and then early in the season to potentially get a leg up and find breakouts before they occur. So let’s review six velocity surgers after one start. To make data comparisons easier for me, I used Baseball Savant’s search tool and lumped all three fastball types (four-seam, two-seam, sinker) together and compared the average velocities of all three pitches for each pitcher to last season. Note that these velocities differ from the two velocity tables we have on FanGraphs. The absolute velocity is far less important than the increase in velocity, so the fact that the velocities do not match isn’t an issue.
According to Statcast, Luis Severino’s four-seam fastball velocity during his first start was higher than his average velocities in any previous season. Returning from TJ surgery, that’s the best news we could have ever hoped for. In the past, we’ve seen pitchers increase their velocity when returning, but that phenomenon doesn’t always occur. Seeing this gives me more confidence that Severino should perform just like his pre-surgery days. The only question is about his control, which sometimes takes longer to return after recovery. We’ll have to wait and see if he has any issues there. Given underwhelming first start results, I would be buying everywhere.
Mitch Keller was one of three pitchers I told you to buy based on spring training velocity increases. While his first start velocity wasn’t quite as high as what he averaged when I posted the article, it was still well above anything he has done before. Of course, the results in that first start weren’t there, but he did manage to post a 12.9% SwStk%, which would mark a career high, and a 32.9% CSW%, which represents a massive spike from previous seasons. It was just one start, but every single pitch he threw generated a double digit SwStk%. Over his career, just one pitch, his slider, has averaged a double digit SwStk%. Clearly, control continues to be an issue, and aside from a fortunate 21.2 innings in 2020, he still can’t seem to get his BABIP into acceptable territory, as it remains wildly above the league average. But if he can’t improve dramatically with this extra velocity, then sadly all hope may be lost.
My gosh, Shohei Ohtani just keeps throwing harder. Is that fair? Ohtani isn’t going to throw the number of innings expected from a top tier starter, but he may very well post the ratios and per inning totals you would expect. It makes him more valuable in daily transaction leagues since two-start weeks will be limited, if they occur at all. And how are the Angels not better when they potentially have the two best players in baseball?
Carlos Rodón laughs at your caution due to last year’s shoulder issues. It wasn’t enough for his velocity to spike last year, as he apparently had yet another gear to push that velocity up to. Any injury concerns for the time being have been alleviated in my mind, though that doesn’t mean they won’t crop up in the future. I was skeptical of a repeat, and I still don’t expect another sub-3.00 ERA, but man, I was definitely too pessimistic in my projection.
Zach Davies is the surprise name on this list, but he makes it as more of a rebounder than carving out new territory. From 2016-2018, he was right at this velocity, but then he lost more than a mile per hour through 2021, which is a major issue when you’re already below 90 MPH. It’s good to see him back to peak velocity, for him at least, though it didn’t help much in the swinging strike or strikeout department during his first start. Since his skills are so poor, it would take more than this velocity rebound to get me interested.
Tylor Megill might be the name I’ll most regret not rostering this year. I loved his surprise skills last season that were hidden behind an inflated HR / FB rate. But, I was a bit skeptical that he could repeat, as I believe he had enjoyed a velocity spike, and it’s always dangerous to buy into skills breakouts after a velocity spike, in case that spike doesn’t last. Welp, not only did he maintain the velocity spike, he’s throwing even harder now. What I had liked about him last year was that he threw three pitches that recorded above average SwStk% marks. The added velocity should help ensure he continues featuring a strong trio of pitches. Obviously, the question is whether he’ll keep a rotation spot once Jacob deGrom returns. First, it’s anyone’s guess when deGrom returns, so Megill could have a rotation spot to himself for the next two months at the very least. Next, if he’s sitting with a sub-4.00 ERA and lots of strikeouts when deGrom doesn’t finally return, there’s little chance he moves to the bullpen. Odds are that someone else got injured or perhaps the Mets move to a six-man rotation. Without any name value, I would be buying here.