An early look velocity trends for Yankees pitchers

Less than two weeks into the season, its still far too early to make any conclusions about performance, especially for pitchers who have only one or two games under their belts. Something that can be a little more telling, though, is fastball velocity. Unlike ERA or strikeout numbers, a pitcher can’t fluke his way into throwing harder. Sure, some pitchers may not yet be at full strength in early April, which could lead to slightly slower velocities, but there’s a limit to how fluky a pitcher’s velocity can be — it’s not like Hiroki Kuroda can randomly average 100 MPH over a week of games. Either a guy can throw hard or he can’t. So how hard have the Yankees’ pitchers been throwing so far compared to last season?

Pitcher Most Frequently Thrown Pitch 2014 Velocity Change from 2013 Change from April 2013
Adam Warren Fourseam 94.4 +0.3 +1.2
Vidal Nuno Fourseam 90.5 +1.7 +0.6
Shawn Kelley Fourseam 92.7 -0.3 +0.4
Hiroki Kuroda Sinker 91.9 -0.5 +0.2
Matt Thornton Fourseam 95.0 -0.2 +0.1
Dellin Betances Fourseam 96.2 -0.6 N/A
Cesar Cabral Slider 83.6 -0.9 N/A
David Phelps Fourseam 91.5 0.0 -0.1
David Robertson Cutter 93.1 0.5 -0.1
CC Sabathia Fourseam 90.5 -1.8 -0.7
Ivan Nova Fourseam 93.0 -1.3 -1.3
Michael Pineda Fourseam 93.2 -2.1 -3.7

The gainers:

Of all Yankee pitchers, Adam Warren saw the biggest velocity bump compared to last April, adding nearly a full MPH to his four-seam fastball. Warren’s looked very sharp out of the ‘pen so far and is positioning himself as one of Joe Girardi‘s go-to arms in the late innings.

Vidal Nuno has also thrown harder this year than he did in his five appearances from last season, likely because he’s worked exclusively out of the bullpen thus far. Although his velocity’s improved, the results haven’t followed — his ERA currently sits at 14.54 over three appearances.

The losers:

Its been well documented that CC Sabathia‘s fastball’s been slowing down. Both Sabathia’s velocity and performance have been trending in the wrong direction for years now, and so far, 2014’s been no exception. For the thrid year in a row CC’s lost over a MPH off of his fastball. If  CC’s velocity doesn’t bounce back, it’ll be interesting to see if he re-evaluates his approach — perhaps by relying more heavily on his newly-minted cutter.

With all the talk of Sabathia’s vanishing fastball, few have noticed that Ivan Nova‘s throwing his fastball 1.3 MPH slower than he did last season, which might be part of the reason why he’s struggled so far. Nova’s velocity had been on the rise since his rookie year, so maybe he was due for some regression. With any luck, this is just a blip on the radar and Nova’s able to resume sitting at 94 once the weather warms up.

Michael Pineda‘s fastball has lost nearly four MPH since April 2011. Pineda’s dealt with with shoulder issues for the better part of two year, so a velocity loss was to be expected. Given the severity of Pineda’s injury, the Yankees are probably thrilled he’s even able to break 90. Still, its not out of the question that his fastball could a little more oomph once he gets back into the swing of throwing on a regular basis.

We’re only a few games into the season, so a deviation in fastball velocity might represent nothing more than a bad game or two. Or, it could also be an early indicator of something more. Every MPH drop in a pitcher’s fastball velocity results in about a .33 increase in ERA, so even a slight change in velocity can make a significant difference. Velocity readings are something to monitor all year long — especially for guys like Nova and Sabathia who’s success is mission-critical to the Yankees’ 2014 season.

All velocity data courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

This post war originally written for Pinstripe Alley.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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