Bullpen arms and anti-regression velocity

(Originally published at The Flagrant Fan)

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 Fangraphs.com’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. Location and command are just as important (ahem, Sabathia critics).

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 McGeebeating the time machine? McGee has added significant velocity in each season! How isChad 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.

Name 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 (SSS) 1st to 2013 2014 age
Jake McGee 93.5 94.8 95.7 96.3 96.9 2.8 28
Chad Qualls 92.1 92.6 93.1 94 94 1.9 36
J.P. Howell 85.6 86.5 86 87.4 84.7 1.8 31
Junichi Tazawa 91.8 93.7 93.5 92.8 1.7 28
Craig Kimbrel 95.4 96.2 96.8 96.9 96.5 1.5 26
Logan Ondrusek 92.6 92.9 93.5 93.9 92.8 1.3 29
Jeremy Jeffress 95.4 96.8 94.7 96.7 95.4 1.3 27
Koji Uehara 88.1 88.8 88.9 89.2 1.1 39
Matt Albers 92.4 93.6 93.7 93.4 95.1 1 31
Tom Wilhelmsen 95.2 96.3 96.2 94.5 1 30
Jason Grilli 92.4 93.6 93.4 94.4 1 35
Fernando Rodney 95.6 95.5 96.1 96.5 93 0.9 34
Pedro Strop 94.9 94.3 96.9 95.8 95.5 0.9 29
Steve Delabar 94 94.6 94.7 92.6 0.7 30
John Axford 94.9 95.6 96.2 95.4 93.1 0.5 31
Francisco Rodriguez 91.1 90.3 91.8 91.4 90 0.3 32
Juan Gutierrez 94.7 94 95 94.7 0.3 31
James Russell 88.8 88.1 89.1 89.1 86 0.3 28
Mark Melancon 92.8 92.7 93.3 92.9 93 0.1 29
Joaquin Benoit 94 93.9 93.7 94.1 95.3 0.1 34
Dale Thayer 92.9 92.8 93.9 92.9 92.2 0 33
Joe Nathan 92.3 94 92.2 90.3 -0.1 39
David Robertson 91.9 93.1 92.2 91.7 -0.2 29
Jim Johnson 94 95.1 94.3 93.8 93.4 -0.2 31
Tyler Clippard 92.3 92.7 92.8 92.1 92.4 -0.2 29
Steve Cishek 92.5 92.7 92.2 92.3 90.1 -0.2 28
Jason Frasor 92.8 93.1 93 92.5 91.4 -0.3 34
Carlos Marmol 94.1 91.8 94 93.7 94.4 -0.4 32
Aaron Crow 95 94.5 94.6 91.8 -0.4 28
Ronald Belisario 94.9 93.5 94 94.4 94 -0.5 31
Casey Fien 91.5 92.8 91 92.3 -0.5 31
Drew Storen 94.4 95 94.6 93.9 92.2 -0.5 27
Matt Lindstrom 95.7 96 94.8 95 94.8 -0.7 34
Heath Bell 94 94 93.6 93.2 90.3 -0.8 37
Wilton Lopez 92.3 91.7 92.4 91.5 90.6 -0.8 30
Cesar Ramos 91.9 92.3 91.6 91.1 89.6 -0.8 30
Fernando Salas 91.3 91.2 91.8 90.4 93 -0.9 29
Sergio Romo 88.6 89.4 97.7 87.7 88.6 -0.9 31
Al Alburquerque 95.4 94.5 94.3 93.3 -1.1 28
Joakim Soria 91.9 91.4 90.8 89.5 -1.1 30
Aroldis Chapman 99.6 97.9 97.7 98.3 -1.3
Sergio Santos 95.9 95.3 94.8 94.6 93.7 -1.3 31
Kenley Jansen 93.9 93.3 91.9 92.4 94.9 -1.5 27
Bobby Parnell 96.5 97.2 95.7 95 92.3 -1.5 30
Antonio Bastardo 93.5 92.5 91.8 91.7 91.4 -1.8 29
Matt Thornton 96.1 95.8 95 94.2 -1.9 38
Chris Perez 94.6 93.4 94 92.7 93 -1.9 29
Rex Brothers 95.3 95.3 93.4 91.8 -1.9 27
Huston Street 91.3 90.1 89 89.4 88.6 -1.9 31
Addison Reed 94.9 94.6 92.8 93.4 -2.1 26
Luke Gregerson 90.6 89.7 89.2 88.2 87 -2.4 30
Jose Valverde 95.2 93.9 93.4 92.8 92 -2.4 36
Jonathan Papelbon 94.9 95 93.8 92 91.6 -2.9 33
Santiago Casilla 96.6 93.6 93.9 93.4 94.2 -3.2 34

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

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  1. […] last and definitely least, I pondered this week how some relievers are getting older and yet still increasing their fastball […]

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