Is velocity really everything?

Yanks approaching home run milestones
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Over the past two seasons we’ve come to see sub-par, by their standards, velocity from two Yankees young pitchers, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Hughes was up first in 2008. He was throwing around 91, when minor league scouting reports had him up around 93, hitting 94 and 95 on occasion. When he dropped down in 2008, we at RAB said not to worry. Velocity isn’t everything, after all. Then came Joba this year. Up around 95 as a starter last year, he’s been in the 92 mph range for most of this year. Again, we said don’t panic, he has other offerings which can help him excel at the major league level.

As it turns out, we might have overstated the “velocity isn’t everything” argument. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (sorry, subscription required) takes a look at a pitcher’s velocity as it relates to his major league success. While both Joba and Phil could survive with 91, 92 mph heat and a couple of quality secondary pitches, any lower and they might be in some trouble. Velocity, it would seem, is the best predictor of whether a pitcher can hack it at the major league level.

Yes, there’s plenty more that goes into it, but as the data shows, 92 percent of major league pitchers this season (who have thrown more than 300 fastballs) throw at 89 or higher. For those throwing softer, it takes a bit of deception to bridge the divide. Sidewinders like Brad Ziegler and Cla Meredith, and deception artists like Chris Young and Yusmeiro Petit can survive by hiding the ball from batters. But for your run-of-the-mill pitcher tossing 88, 89? That’s probably not going to hack it.

So, to answer the question of the headline, velocity isn’t everything. But it does appear to be the best single predictor of a pitcher’s ability to hang in the majors. Of course, it can’t be done without some semblance of command — see Jason Neighborgall — or secondary pitches, but without velocity it might not be attainable at all. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Yankees declined to trade for Brian Bannister.

Yanks approaching home run milestones
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  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    Yeah, I figured that. Which is why the velocity drop with Joba worried, and still worries me.

    Hopefully he has a good offseason and gets it back up there.

  • Dela G

    cole hamels and marky B are good proof that velo isnt everything

    Kyle Farnsworth and brandon league are even more proof that 98-99mph means jack sheet if its hittable

    • Bo

      Hamels is a lefty who throws 92mph. How is that not good velocity?

      You may have wanted to say Moyer.

      • Dela G

        right, thats my point

        you dont have to throw 95 do be elite

        you can do just fine with 89-92, you just have to know how to use it

      • Mike Pop

        Bo, you amaze me.

  • Ed

    Whatever works at 92 mph works better at 95 mph.

    Joba can certainly succeed with lower velocity, but he’ll need to work harder. Mistakes you could get away with at 95 are harder to get away with at 92.

  • dan

    This article has been taken to task behind the scenes at THT. I wouldn’t read too much (anything, actually) into what Goldstein says.

    The article isn’t any kind of study, I’d call it merely an observation. It also highlights the incorrectness of the current scouting scale used.

  • Goldmember

    I guess this explains the whole Brackman season. Basically, if he can’t get his velocity up, he’s toast. Let’s hope he can get back to normal.

    • Ed

      I think Brackman’s issue is related to arm strength.

      He started off strong and then just fell off a cliff. Some of the first hand stories about his starts had tales of his pitches not reaching the plate.

      His career innings totals:

      Year / Level / Age / Innings
      2005 – College – 19 – 43
      2006 – College – 20 – 28.1
      2007 – College – 21 – 78
      2008 – None – 22 – 0
      2009 – A – 23 – 103.2

      The one year before this that he pitched any significant amount of innings, he blew out his elbow.

      This is the most extreme example you’re ever going to see of why a young pitcher needs innings limits.

  • Bo

    The Joba velocity drop off has to be a worry. Whether it be mechanical or arm/injury related has to be found out.

    As we all can see hes a much different pitcher at high 90’s. A much better pitcher. Hitters actually swing at his slider when he has that fastball.

    • Mike Pop

      Completely agree. I know we are told not to worry about it, but he used to be clocked 96 consistently in the minors.

      If he doesn’t get that velo back, I’ll be upset.

  • Nickel

    When I attended baseball camps in my pre- to mid-teens years, I was coached by a guy who was the manager/coach for a college baseball team. He outlined the three components a pitcher needs to be successful, and he listed them in order of importance:

    1. location
    2. movement
    3. velocity

    He stated that it’s possible to be successful with only #1 and #2 and not #3 (Greg Maddux comes to mind), but if you only have one of the components, you won’t be successful.

    • vin

      Just look at Mo. He’s no longer throwing mid 90’s, but his location is just as impeccable as ever… and his movement seems to be more pronounced.

      His cutter is behaving more like a slider than a fb. Just wait until he busts out that changeup. He could be dominant until his mid 40s.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        I know where you’re coming from on this one, but you really can’t talk about Mo in this kind of conversation. The guy is 39 years old and throws one pitch, I’d call him an outlier but I’m not sure that term is strong enough for how truly ridiculously unique he is.

  • pc

    pitching is like real estate, location, location, location along with change of speeds, velocity is third on this list. throwing at the same speed is a license to failure, no matter how fast, plus flame throwers generally never learn how to pitch and are normally just throwers.

  • Rob in CT

    Goldstein has a point, but what his data really shows it that velocity gets you into the show nowadays (and maybe helps keep you there). That could be an indication that velocity is necessary, or it could be an indication that teams/scouts love velocity as much as Goldstein does. I figure it’s both.

    There are always exceptions, including the twighlights of good pitcher’s careers (Mussina, for instance, was topping out around 90mph at the end, but he used to throw 94. He also had fantasic command and an excellent curveball).

    I am concerned about Joba losing some velocity (as compared to pre-injury 2008 starting). Mildly concerned at this point, but concerned nonetheless.

    • Ed

      I remember Glavine saying something not that long ago about velocity being overvalued nowadays. He said if he was just starting out today, he’d never be given a shot because he didn’t throw hard enough.

    • yankees1977

      I’m in the velocity is everything camp. Remember last year with Verlander? There were questions with what happend to his velocity, people were wondering if he was playing hurt. His lowered velocity is a reflection to his ERA of 4.84. (worst in verlanders career as a full starter) This year he has it all going and is a cy candidate. Velocity is everything especially to a power pitcher. Remember Joba is still learning the ropes and he is learning it in the Majors in the best division in baseball. He only had maybe 6 months in the minors before being thrown into the fire in the majors. Be patient with Joba and give him time to development. He wil be special and will be paying divedends for the yankees for years to come.

  • yankees1977

    Forgot to mention. Heres hopeing his velocity returns next year when the training wheels comes off.

  • misterd

    Are you sure this is a good yardstick? Couldn’t it be that the reason there are so many hard throwers in the majors be that general managers are more likely to give the chance to a guy that has a 94mph fastball than one who tosses 90 but with good control and movement? It is much easier to measure velocity than control or movement, and that means velocity is most often the “flag” that pops up when drafting players, promoting them, or giving them second, third and fourth chances.

    • Bronx Cheer

      Not necessarily. There are plenty of guys with short fastballs in the minors, and they don’t make their way up to the bigs strongly because they can’t maintain the necessary swing and miss ratios to generate Ks as they are promoted up the organization. Remember Clippard? Kei Igawa? Rasner? “AAAA” soft tossing righty pitchers are a dime a dozen.