The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.

Yankeemetrics: How sweep it is [May 19-22]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Supernova sinks the A’s
Given the massive hole the Yankees had dug themselves into during the first month of the season, and coupled with their recent struggles in the Bay Area, this weekend’s trip to Oakland was foreboding.

Entering the series, the Yankees were 2-8 at the Oakland Coliseum since 2013, their worst road record against any AL team in that span. They’d lost four straight series in Oakland, their longest such streak since dropping 12 series in a row at the ballpark from 1985-91.

Not ideal. The Yankees buried that trend from the get-go with a much-needed win in the series opener on Thursday night.

Ivan Nova was a model of efficiency on the mound, firing 62 pitches in six innings while giving up just one run on four hits. His sinker was in peak form, averaging its most horizontal movement and second-best downward movement of the season. The A’s went 2-for-14 when putting a two-seamer in play, as he pounded the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch.

Nova is now 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts this season and hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of those outings. The last Yankee to be unbeaten through his first three starts while giving up one run or fewer in each game was Kevin Brown in 2004.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Welcome back, Large Lefty
Breaking news: The Yankees finally put together a win streak of more than two games after beating the A’s, 8-3, on Friday night. The Astros are now the only team in baseball that hasn’t won at least three games in a row this season.

There were plenty of heroes for the Yankees, starting with their new (old) ace, Carsten Charles Sabathia. Pitching for the first time since going on the DL two weeks ago, Sabathia spun another gem with one run allowed and eight strikeouts in six strong innings. He’s now won back-to-back games, surrendering no more than one run in each outing, for the first time since 2011.

Sabathia wasn’t the only veteran that turned back the clock on Friday night. Thirty-nine-year-old Carlos Beltran went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBI to lead the Yankees’ latest offensive outburst.

Beltran is the oldest player in franchise history with three doubles in a game, and just the fifth guy in major-league history age 39 or older to hit three doubles and drive in three runs in a game. The four others are David Ortiz (2015), Tony Perez (1985), Pete Rose (1980), and Joe Judge (1933).

#TANAK
The Yankees continued their winning ways with a 5-1 victory on Saturday that gave them their first road series win of 2016, ending a streak of six straight winless series away from the Bronx. That was their longest such drought to begin a season since 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Thanks to a Blue Jays loss in Minnesota, the Yankees also climbed out of the basement in the AL East for the first time since April 23. That was their longest stretch in last place since spending the final four months of the 1990 season at the bottom of the division.

Masahiro Tanaka continued the Yankees’ recent stretch of terrific starting pitching as he went seven innings and allowed one run for his second win of the season. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three career games against the A’s, and has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings.

The only other Yankee since 1980 to win three straight starts versus the A’s without giving up more than an earned run in each game was Andy Pettitte (1997-2000).

Broom Broom
The Yankees capped off this successful West Coast swing with a 5-4 win, completing their first four-game sweep in Oakland since July 1979. They also avoided losing their fourth straight season series against the A’s, something that hadn’t happened in this rivalry since they dropped seven season series in a row to the Philadelphia A’s from 1908-14.

Consider the amazing turnaround that the Bombers have engineered in the past week. When the Yankees started this road trip, they were:

  • Without a win streak of more than two games … Done.
  • Without a road series win … Done.
  • Without a series sweep … Done.

And stuck in last place in the AL East … not anymore. With the win on Sunday, they’re now in third place, their highest rank in the standings since April 17.

Two players that had struggled mightily this season were surprise key contributors to the win. Michael Pineda, riding the longest losing streak of his career (0-5 in prior seven starts), tossed a quality start for his first victory since April 6. His 6.60 ERA entering Sunday was the highest among qualifiers in the AL and second-highest in the majors.

Mark Teixeira brought a .133 batting average against righties into this game, the worst among 286 players with at least 50 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers this season. Also, he’d yet to record an RBI in his 48 at-bats with two outs this season, the most two-out at-bats without an RBI by any player.

So, of course, he delivered the game-tying hit in the sixth inning via a two-out RBI single off righty Jesse Hahn.

“Well, Suzyn, you know, you just can’t predict baseball!”

Sabathia Sinking to Success

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

On Friday night, near his hometown, CC Sabathia had his second straight best start of the year, even there was a a 16 day gap between them thanks to a DL stint. Returning from injury, Sabathia was looking to build off of a seven inning, six hit, zero runs, six strikeouts performance against the Orioles. CC responded by striking out eight A’s batters over six innings, allowing just three hits plus a walk, and only one run in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory. The win–the Yankees’ second straight–helped to rinse out the bad taste left in everyone’s mouths after the Arizona series, and put the team in position to win the series, which they did with yesterday’s victory; they go for the sweep today.

This has all been part of what’s been, so far, a renaissance season for Sabathia. Yes, it’s only six starts old and he did miss time on the DL already, but things have been about as good as they could be for the Bombers’ former ace. He’s thrown to a 3.41 ERA and a 3.14 FIP in 34.1 innings so far, which each one of us to a person would’ve taken before the season started. Though he’s twice failed to complete five innings, he’s not allowed more than three runs in any start this year and he’s done what a fifth starter is supposed to do: keep the team in the game and don’t embarrass yourself too much out there. After the last three seasons of ERAs in or around the five’s, this year’s performance is a more than welcome sight. It would seem that early in 2016, CC is starting to get used to pitching with a diminished fastball. That adjustment is where we can find a possible reason for his 2016 success.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

In terms of pitch selection, the biggest difference between 2016 and 2015 is the sinker. That’s not necessarily in terms of usage, as it was his most frequently thrown pitch in 2015 as well. In terms of pitch selection, 2016’s highlight is more so the apparent elimination of his four seam fastball. The sinker, though, has turned into CC’s number one and it has been more effective this year. Though 2015 saw CC getting more whiffs per swing and a higher percentage of grounders on his sinker, batters seem to be having a tough time squaring the pitch up. His foul/swing% on the pitch is up slightly from 38.96 to 40.23%. Additionally, the line drive rate on the pitch has dipped from 27.27% to just 17.50% and the pop-up/balls in play rate has gone from just 1.21% in 2015 to 10.00% this year. He’s also yet to give up a homer on the pitch, whereas last year’s HR/(FB+LD)% was at 14.47. In general, then, Sabathia’s keeping his sinker in a position where it’s not getting hit too hard. His cutter–another pitch he’s relying more heavily on in 2016–has also seen a big jump in grounder percentage, hopping up to 41.18% from 25.00% in 2015.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

It is still early and these things could be blips that get violently corrected going forward. I’ve been optimistic about Sabathia in the past and been wrong about it, but I just can’t let go of feeling good about him. Call it a hangover from 2009-2012, but I just can’t help but believe in this guy. It may not have been a short process and it may not have been anything close to painless, but, dammit, I’m hoping against hope that CC settles into this sort of routine. Long gone are his days of big strikeouts and big innings totals, but as long as he keeps rolling out six or seven innings with three runs allowed, he’s doing his job.

Game 41: Can the Yankees make it three straight?

Nightmare fuel. (Presswire)
Nightmare fuel. (Presswire)

The season is roughly one-quarter of the way complete and the Yankees still have not won three consecutive games all year. Isn’t that unbelievable? The Astros are the only other team in baseball without a winning streak of at least three games this year. I guess the AL wildcard game screwed everyone up.

Tonight the Yankees have a chance to win their third straight game and boy, it would be really nice to see them get over that hump. They’ve won nine of their last 14 games overall, so they’ve been playing better, but they’re probably not going to climb out of last place winning two games at a time. At some point they need an extended winning streak. What better time than now? Here is the Athletics’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s another cool, cloudy, and windy night in Oakland. Same weather as last night. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 9:30pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) ran the bases again. The Yankees are facing a lefty tomorrow, so if they’re going to activate A-Rod this weekend, that would be a good time to do it … Luis Severino (triceps) is expected to resume playing catch this weekend.

Roster Moves: James Pazos was sent down to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Sabathia … Phil Coke cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. He can still elect free agency.

Game 37: Green’s Debut

(Aimee Dilge/Times Leader)
(Aimee Dilge/Times Leader)

The season is only 36 games old and already the Yankees have had three players make their MLB debuts (Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Ben Gamel). Tonight will feature their fourth MLB debut of the season as right-hander Chad Green gets the spot start in place of the injured Luis Severino. Green came from the Tigers with Cessa in the Justin Wilson trade over the winter.

What do you need to know about Green? Well, he’ll turn 25 next week, he was an 11th round pick out of Louisville in 2013, and he had a 1.22 ERA (2.12 FIP) in seven starts and 37 innings for Triple-A Scranton before being called up. Green is a low-90s sinker/low-80s slider/low-80s splitter guy. He’s credited the Yankees with helping him improve the slider, leading to that success in Triple-A this year.

So that’s the crash course on tonight’s starter. As for the Yankees overall, they are coming off a fantastic 7-3 homestand and tonight they begin a seven-game West Coast trip in Arizona. The bullpen figures to be short tonight, especially in the late innings. The deeper Green can pitch into the game, the better his chances of getting a W. Here is the Diamondbacks’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. LF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. RHP Chad Green

Pretty standard “Phoenix in May” weather in Phoenix today: low-90s and sunny. The Chase Field roof will be open, apparently. Tonight’s game will begin at 9:40pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game, assuming you’re planning to stay up.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) took batting practice and did some running. Joe Girardi said the plan is to activate A-Rod off the DL on Thursday, the first day he is eligible to return … CC Sabathia (groin) will come off the DL and start Friday, Girardi confirmed. That’s the first day he is eligible to be activated. Ivan Nova will start Thursday on normal rest.

Game 34: Reverse Lock?

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The ten-game homestand has gone about as well as we could have reasonably hoped so far. The Yankees took two of three from the Red Sox and three of four (!) from the Royals, and now they get three with the White Sox, who look totally legit as a contender. Lots of teams get off to hot starts and fizzle. I think the ChiSox are for real. The pitching is great and the infield upgrades they made over the winter are massive, especially defensively.

Tonight the Yankees draw Chris Sale, who is on the very short list of the best pitchers in baseball. They counter with Luis Severino, who has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this year. It’s true. He ranks 109th in ERA (6.12) and 97th in FIP (4.92) among the 117 pitchers to throw at least 30 innings this season. That said, Sale comes into the game 7-0. Severino is 0-5. There’s only one way this game can end. This has reverse lock written all over it. Here is the ChiSox’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Aaron Hicks
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. DH Gary Sanchez
  7. LF Brett Gardner
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

It has been raining in New York for much of the afternoon but it stopped just a few minutes ago. The forecast says there’s no more wet stuff coming tonight, so the game will begin on time. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (groin) threw a bullpen today. It was his first time throwing off a mound since being placed on the DL … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) is progressing and remains on track to return sometime this weekend. My guess is Sunday is the earliest we’ll see him.

Roster Move: Lefty Tyler Olson was send down to Triple-A to get Sanchez on the roster, the Yankees announced. They’re back to a seven-man bullpen and a four-man bench, though it’s really a three-man bench with Ellsbury banged up.

Game 32: Take the Series

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees have been playing much better over the last week or so, and they come into tonight’s game winners of five of their last seven. Tonight they have a chance to clinch a win of a four-game series over the Royals, the defending World Series champs. Winning a four-game set is never easy, not even against a bad team, and Kansas City is no pushover. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. CF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Ben Gamel
    RHP Michael Pineda

It has been a lovely day in New York. There is no rain in the forecast tonight. Nice little evening for baseball, I’d say. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has been running on the treadmill and it appears he’ll be ready to return once his 15 days are up … CC Sabathia (groin) played catch again and feels fine. It’s possible he’ll be able to rejoin the rotation once his 15 days are up without needing a rehab start … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) did some light running and took batting practice. Joe Girardi said he hopes to get him back in the lineup this weekend … Mark Teixeira (neck) is out again and the plan was to give him two days off anyway. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow.