SOUTH HILLS – I hope some of you espace dwellers had a chance to take a look at our paper product on Sunday, which included our MLB Preview. Not to be nostalgic, but there’s still something to be said about actually holding a paper in your hand. It’s still the best way to present a story. I think the Trib team as a whole was pretty pleased with how the MLB section turned out and a lot of folks had a hand in producing it. I hope those that had a chance to read it enjoyed it. The cover story centered on what I think is one of the more interesting trends in the game: pitchers are throwing faster than ever before. And this has consequences. From 2008 to 2013, major league fastball velocity has increased every year. (And we can feel pretty confident about these numbers as PITCHf/x has given us an industry-wide standard with which to measure velocity).
VELOCITY ON THE UP AND UP
2013 – 92.0 mph (Remember when 90 mph was considered an average fastball?)
2012 – 91.8
2011 – 91.7
2010 – 91.5
2009 – 91.4
2008 – 90.9
Now the difference between 2013’s average fastball velocity of 92.0 mph and 2008’s average velocity of 90.9 mph might not seem significant. But it is.This study covers an enormous sample size of pitches, hundreds of thousands, and every mph gained erodes precious hundredths of seconds with which hitters have to make a swing-or-take decision.
This increase has consequences. The fundamental nature of the pitcher vs. batter contest is tilting toward the pitcher.
Run scoring is on the decline and pitchers’ increasing timing advantage and explains a part of it in addition to shifts and PED testing, etc. Runs have decreased every year since 2008. Batters cannot more quickly process pitches. The brain has processing limits. Velo also in part explains why strikeouts are up. Maybe in 10 years, baseball runs will be equal in value to Premier League goals. The velocity increase also creating separation between the Velocity Haves and the Velocity Have Nots.
VELOCITY HAVES AND HAVE NOTS
Top 10 velocity teams: 85.6 wins per season 22 postseason berths
Middle 10 velo teams: 80.6 wins per season 15 postseason berths
Bottom 10 velo teams: 76.6 wins per season 7 postseason berths Velocity isn’t everything but velocity is margin for error . The top 10 velocity teams won nine more games per season and were 300 percent more likely to advance to the postseason than bottom 10 velocity teams. And isn’t this interesting …
PIRATES’ FASTBALL VELO BY YEAR AND MLB RANK
2013 – 92.5 (10th)
2012 – 92.1 (11th)
2011 – 92.0 (8th)
2010 – 91.3 (18th)
2009- 91.1 (17th)
2008 – 90.8 (18th)
2007 – 90.4 (24th)
What happened when the Pirates broke into the top 10 rank in baseball? They were competitive in three straight seasons and finally broke through in 2013 when they reached a velocity-best under Huntington, averaging 92.5 mph as a staff. Velocity is one reason to believe in the Pirates in 2014. And with Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham in the pipeline, it’s a reason to believe in the Pirates’ future.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. Why is velocity up? Perhaps we should no further than the Velocity Plus program Bryan Morris used to strengthen his shoulder this offseason. Shoulder programs have really changed over the last decade in baseball in hopes of promoting better injury prevention (See: Tampa Bay). But a side effect is better velocity. Morris averaged 93 mph last season. His two-seamer was touching 96 mph this spring. He went from on the bubble to a potential end-game relief option later this season.
8. I think Doug Thorborn does tremendous working analyzing pitching mechanics and I was grateful he spoke with me for the story. One fun observation made: “We’ve never seen a bad-armed surfer” speaking to the important of building back-side shoulder strength, which the Velocity Plus Program is designed to do. Surfers do a lot of paddling to catch waves, building up those back-side shoulder muscles. Look no further than surfer and pitcher Gerrit Cole.
7. Now what does all this velocity mean for elbow ligaments? Can the body handle the extra force? An unintended consequence could be a spike in elbow injuries. OK, moving on from velocity .. it’s Opening Day!
6. It’s foolish to take too much from one game of 162, but I am curious to see if Francisco Liriano can get off to a quick start. He’s never in his career put together back-to-back quality seasons.
5. One thing that concerns me about Liriano? 36 percent of his pitches were sliders last year, the second highest rate of his career and highest since he blew out his elbow in 2006.
4. Liriano has said this spring he is focused on throwing more fastballs in 2014. Only four out of 10 pitches from Liriano last season were fastballs. That’s not a sustainable model for most starting pitchers.
3. The other thing I’ll be keeping my eye on is the first base situation. But I think we’ve covered that ground. It’s not going to be a pure platoon. Gaby Sanchez will begin the season with the lion’s share of at bats. (UPDATE: Travis Ishikawa will get the start today at first base. It will be interesting to see how this split works).
2. Can the Pirates get anything for Vin Mazzaro?
1. How do you feel about Barry Bonds being in town?
STAT OF THE WEEK: 43,750,000 Dollars guaranteed to Bonds when he signed the then richest deal in baseball history after the 1992 season. Adjusted for inflation that would be worth $73,000,000 today…. or a quarter of Cabrera’s deal.
CLUBHOUSE LEADER FOR QUOTE OF THE YEAR: From DK’s season preview column … Jeff Locke on A.J. Burnett: “Look, there’s A.J. and there’s J.A., as I always tell him. The J.A. was for jackass. He could be that, and we all knew it. But he’s A.J. That man did so much for this team and city, and no one can deny that.” Life after A.J./J.A. begins in earnest today.
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: I made my third trip to Gettysburg over the weekend en route to Philly for the final spring training games, four-hour pit stop. (No, I’m not an reenactor). If you haven’t been, I recommend you do so. It’s some of our most historically important real estate and Gettysburg is a neat small town. Well worth the trip.
Grateful these guys didn't run at Little Round Top pic.twitter.com/rfUl2iojVT
— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) March 29, 2014
McCUTCHEN STARS IN ESPN COMMERCIAL
SONG OF THE WEEK
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPipMQvKgKk Your Pirates are coming home today.
That should be reason enough to put a smile on the old mug, eh? That and 60 degrees.