Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bullpen arms and anti-regression velocity

In a post yesterday, I pondered relief pitchers like Chad QuallsMatt Albers and Jake McGee who have unexpectedly increased their fastball velocity with age. Their careers piqued my curiosity. And so I took a look at pitchers who have pitched in relief since 2010 and if their velocity has regressed or not. Let me share what I have discovered.
First, let me disclaim a few things. As always the disclaimer that I am not a math guy with a great handle on how to figure these things out. I am more like Joe Posnanski in knowing enough to be dangerous but not nearly as good at him at writing about my feeble discoveries and calculations.
Secondly, I am using's Pitch Type tool which lumps all fastball types together (4-seam, 2-seam, sinker). While that is inconvenient, it does make it easier than tracking three different pitch types.
And lastly, I am not talking about success rates, movement, the value of the fastball or anything but velocity. As most of us know, velocity has a lot to do with success (ahem, Mr. Sabathia) but not everything (ahem, Sabathia critics). Location and command are just as important.
The first thing I did was look at league averages. Each year since 2010, there has been a fairly consistent total of 135 to 137 qualifying relief pitchers and the averages have been constant. They are as follows:
Year, Ave Fastball for All, Ave Fastball for top 50
  • 2010 - 92.45, 95.00
  • 2011 - 92.50, 94.97
  • 2012 - 92.51, 94.84
  • 2013 - 92.65, 94.94
  • 2014 - 92.47, 94.52 (SSS)
Two things pop up for me looking at those numbers. First, they are remarkably consistent from year to year, so it gives us a framework. And secondly, it is unbelievable that 37% of all relief pitchers throw some pretty serious cheese.
What I am now interested in is those relief pitchers that have pitched in all five of these seasons (or at least four of the five) and how many have had their velocity decrease (regress), increase (progress) and remain constant. And I am only interested in pitchers who have only relieved in that time period.
Going through all five years (that took hours!) I came up with 54 pitchers who pitched either all five or four of the five seasons. I may have missed a name or two, but the idea was to get a decent sample size. The raw numbers do not include factors like injuries, climate changes, etc. Nor does it take into account that in some cases, the fastball is not the relief pitcher's main weapon (think Luke GregersonKoji Uehara).
I considered a significant change anywhere over .5 MPH plus or minus. As you will see from my list below, fifteen saw significant increases in velocity over the time period. Twenty-three pitchers saw significant drops in velocity, which is what you would normally expect. That leaves us with 16 that haven't changed significantly either way, which is a story in and of itself.
The conclusions left still do not answer my question. How are guys like Jake McGee beating the time machine? McGee has added significant velocity in each season! How is Chad Qualls doing what he is doing? How about Matt Albers and his 6.3 K/9 rate suddenly blowing people out with fastballs?
Please don't think I am stirring up controversy. I am not making accusations in this day and age. Gosh, no. It's not that at all. It's just that to me, velocity is age relevant and somehow, fifteen pitchers are resisting arrest...arrested development that is and it sort of messes up my head.
Name20102011201220132014 (SSS)1st to 20132014 age
Jake McGee93.594.895.796.396.92.828
Chad Qualls92.192.693.194941.936
J.P. Howell85.686.58687.484.71.831
Junichi Tazawa91.893.793.592.81.728
Craig Kimbrel95.496.296.896.996.51.526
Logan Ondrusek92.692.993.593.992.81.329
Jeremy Jeffress95.496.894.796.795.41.327
Koji Uehara88.188.888.989.21.139
Matt Albers92.493.693.793.495.1131
Tom Wilhelmsen95.296.396.294.5130
Jason Grilli92.493.693.494.4135
Fernando Rodney95.695.596.196.5930.934
Pedro Strop94.994.396.995.895.50.929
Steve Delabar9494.694.792.60.730
John Axford94.995.696.295.493.10.531
Francisco Rodriguez91.190.391.891.4900.332
Juan Gutierrez94.7949594.70.331
James Russell88.888.189.189.1860.328
Mark Melancon92.892.793.392.9930.129
Joaquin Benoit9493.993.794.195.30.134
Dale Thayer92.992.893.992.992.2033
Joe Nathan92.39492.290.3-0.139
David Robertson91.993.192.291.7-0.229
Jim Johnson9495.194.393.893.4-0.231
Tyler Clippard92.392.792.892.192.4-0.229
Steve Cishek92.592.792.292.390.1-0.228
Jason Frasor92.893.19392.591.4-0.334
Carlos Marmol94.191.89493.794.4-0.432
Aaron Crow9594.594.691.8-0.428
Ronald Belisario94.993.59494.494-0.531
Casey Fien91.592.89192.3-0.531
Drew Storen94.49594.693.992.2-0.527
Matt Lindstrom95.79694.89594.8-0.734
Heath Bell949493.693.290.3-0.837
Wilton Lopez92.391.792.491.590.6-0.830
Cesar Ramos91.992.391.691.189.6-0.830
Fernando Salas91.391.291.890.493-0.929
Sergio Romo88.689.497.787.788.6-0.931
Al Alburquerque95.494.594.393.3-1.128
Joakim Soria91.991.490.889.5-1.130
Aroldis Chapman99.697.997.798.3-1.3
Sergio Santos95.995.394.894.693.7-1.331
Kenley Jansen93.993.391.992.494.9-1.527
Bobby Parnell96.597.295.79592.3-1.530
Antonio Bastardo93.592.591.891.791.4-1.829
Matt Thornton96.195.89594.2-1.938
Chris Perez94.693.49492.793-1.929
Rex Brothers95.395.393.491.8-1.927
Huston Street91.390.18989.488.6-1.931
Addison Reed94.994.692.893.4-2.126
Luke Gregerson90.689.789.288.287-2.430
Jose Valverde95.293.993.492.892-2.436
Jonathan Papelbon94.99593.89291.6-2.933
Santiago Casilla96.693.693.993.494.2-3.234

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