An early look at pitchers' fastball velocity

One of the hot topics every spring is improved or falling velocity among pitchers. While small sample size caveats apply at this stage, there are a handful of interesting storylines developing on the topic.

Stephen Strasburg Fastball Velocity
MLB Career

Stephen Strasburg

Through two starts this season, the trend of Stephen Strasburg's velocity dipping has continued. When he first came up, he succeeded off of fastballs approaching 100, with a changeup around 90.

However, since his return from Tommy John surgery, he seems to be evolving into more of a pitcher.

His fastball velocity is down more than 2 miles per hour, but his changeup is also down nearly the exact same amount, keeping the separation between the two pitches at 7.0 miles per hour. That's right around his career average.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo Jimenez Fastball Velocity
Past 4 Seasons

Much has been made of how Ubaldo Jimenez is not the same pitcher he once was. There’s no question he’s pitching with a different arsenal than 2009 or 2010, as his average and maximum velocities are well down.

However, after a multi-year increase in the use of his diminished fastball, he has decreased the frequency with which he’s throwing it early in 2012.

That formula has worked -- his strike rate with the pitch has increased from less than 61 percent to nearly 64 percent from 2009-11.

Tim Lincecum Fastball Issues

Tim Lincecum

What's plaguing Tim Lincecum? It could be his fastball. He’s down several miles per hour from last season -- both in terms of average and maximum velocity -- and the results have been opponents having much greater success against said fastball.

Unfortunately, Lincecum hasn’t compensated the diminished velocity with improved command. His strike rate with his fastball has declined each season since 2009, with a huge drop so far in 2012 -- going from 63 percent last season to less than 54 percent this season.

Brian Wilson

WilsonBrian Wilson

Over the past few seasons, Brian Wilson has been among the best closers in baseball. However, there’s a disturbing trend developing, with both his average fastball velocity (92.4 MPH, down from 96.5 in 2009) and his maximum fastball velocity (95.1 MPH, down from 102.2 in 2009) having dropped each season since 2009. This season has continued that downward trend.

Plenty of pitchers are able to get by with diminished velocity. Unfortunately, it appears that Wilson has had trouble surviving the dip in velocity so far. His overall strikeout and walk rates are headed the wrong way, corresponding with the velocity drop.

Over the past three years, his strikeout rate has been cut almost in half and his walk rate has nearly doubled.

League Average Fastball Velo
By Month Last Season

Starting Pitching Overview

The one potential saving grace for these pitchers is the tendency for pitcher velocities to increase after we exit April. In each of the previous two seasons, the number of starting pitchers who averaged 93 MPH or more on their fastballs in April increased by the end of the season.

As you can see, while the league average fastball velocity peaked in July at last season, the single largest month-to-month increase was from April to May.