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At This Velocity: Five MLB Pitchers That Lost Zip on Fastball

Andrew Cashner
Andrew Cashner

June 18, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Andrew Cashner (34) delivers a pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at AT&T Park. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Petti of fangraphs.com recently released his monthly Velocity Decline Trends for the month of June. He compiled a sizable list of starting and relief pitchers that have lost at least one mph on their fastball since June of 2012. Petti explains:

“pitchers who experience at least a one mph drop in their four-seam fastball velocity in a month relative to that same month a year ago…increased [their] likelihood [for] true velocity loss at season’s end when compared to those pitchers that didn’t lose one mph in that month.”

Petti believes that a decrease in velocity during the months of June or July is a more “reliable signal” of a pitcher’s declining velocity at season’s end.

We will focus on five starting pitchers that have lost at least two mph on their fastballs. Petti does state that the risk of true velocity decline at season’s end only applies “for pitchers that were in the same role…in both 2012 and 2013.” So Andrew Cashner and Wade Davis are seemingly saved from this risk. Regardless, we will take a closer look at these starting pitchers and review their performances so far in 2013 and what we can expect from them for the rest of the year.

Disclaimer: Usually when I analyze baseball data I tend to combine both “real baseball” and “fantasy baseball” perspectives interchangeably.  All stats are good through July 8, 2013.

Pitchers Losing 2+ mph from June 2012-June 2013

THE BASICS

Player

Velocity

V-Loss

INN

W

L

ERA

WHIP

BAA

K/BB

Andrew Cashner

93.6

-4.6

94.1

5

4

3.82

1.23

0.250

2.4

Felix Doubront

90.6

-2.3

92.0

5

3

4.11

1.45

0.257

2.1

Wade Davis

91.8

-2.2

89.2

4

7

5.42

1.75

0.318

2.1

Matt Moore

92.3

-2.2

100.0

12

3

3.42

1.33

0.214

1.9

Zach McAllister

89.8

-2.1

65.2

4

5

3.43

1.37

0.263

2.1

One will notice that Cashner has lost the most “zip” on his fastball, but again, he was coming out of the bullpen last season before converting into a full time starting pitcher this year. So perhaps the decrease is a result of Cashner attempting to stretch out his arm for a much heavier workload in terms of innings pitched. Of course, Matt Moore is the only pitcher that has the pedigree to truly be a dominant starter and most fans, judging by his Win-Loss record and his batting average against of .214, would make that assumption. However, his numbers, most noticeably his WHIP and K/BB, categorizes him as a serviceable starter at best. All five of these pitchers, for the most part, have posted solid, but unspectacular numbers so far this season.

As one will see from the previous table, all of these pitchers don’t really have good strikeout/walk ratios. We will now take a closer look at these pitchers’ rates and other skill-based metrics:

Advanced Stats

Player

Velocity

V-Loss

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

K%

BB%

ERA-

FIP

Andrew Cashner

93.6

-4.6

5.9

2.5

0.76

15.9%

6.7%

109

3.78

Felix Doubront

90.6

-2.3

8.5

4.0

0.78

21.6%

10.2%

96

3.74

Wade Davis

91.8

-2.2

8.1

3.8

1.10

19.6%

9.2%

132

4.19

Matt Moore

92.3

-2.2

8.8

4.8

0.72

22.8%

12.3%

88

3.86

Zach McAllister

89.8

-2.1

6.2

3.0

0.96

15.9%

7.8%

87

4.23

It is alarming to see Cashner’s rapid drop in strikeouts as even Zach McAllister, not known for his strikeout prowess, has a higher K/9. What separates Cashner from this pack is that he does a good job limiting his walks. All other pitchers have BB/9 of 3.0 or above. Matter of fact, a lot of the struggles that faced these pitchers are mostly based on high walk rates. Even though McAllister’s walk rate is respectable, he doesn’t strikeout enough hitters to help his own cause.

ERA- (“pitching version of OPS+”) takes into account league and park adjustments and is based around the number 100: anything below 100 is above average and vice-versa: lower is better. Only two pitchers are well below  the 100 threshold: Moore and McAllister meaning that they’ve pitched above league average. Cashner and Felix Doubront are within striking distance of pitching league average apropos to ERA-. Wade Davis is just simply a total wreck.

FIP, for the sake of this piece, will be described in the dumbest of dumb-down explanations: a stat in ERA form that measures a pitcher’s performance based on “results a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns.” Basically, what would the pitcher’s ERA be if he didn’t have a defense behind him. Again, it’s a layman’s terms explanation. The two pitchers with the best ERAs–Moore and McAllister–have a lot higher FIP. Cashner is the pitcher who has an FIP that is similar to his ERA. Davis and Doubront seem to be capable of posting better, basic numbers. Nevertheless, Doubront, Cashner, and Moore have above average FIP, while Davis and McAllister have below average FIP.

So we see that Davis, Doubront, and Moore could help themselves if they could find a way to control their walks as they strike out a healthy amount of hitters. Cashner is doing all he can to get by his starts by doing a good job limiting his walks. Meanwhile, McAllister is dangerously close to being just a marginal pitcher, even in real baseball terms.

Let’s now see how the drop in velocity has influenced their batted balls percentages.

Batted Balls

Player

Velocity

V-Loss

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

IF/FB

HR/FB

BABIP

SIERA

Andrew Cashner

93.6

-4.6

1.72

16.4%

52.9%

30.7%

3.3%

8.9%

0.283

4.07

Felix Doubront

90.6

-2.3

1.45

21.6%

46.5%

32.0%

12.8%

9.3%

0.319

4.01

Wade Davis

91.8

-2.2

1.26

30.4%

38.8%

30.8%

16.9%

12.4%

0.383

4.21

Matt Moore

92.3

-2.2

0.94

19.3%

39.0%

41.6%

11.6%

7.1%

0.270

4.31

Zach McAllister

89.8

-2.1

0.95

21.3%

38.4%

40.3%

7.1%

8.2%

0.295

4.59

Along with Cashner’s low walk rate, he also is a high, groundball pitcher. That helps him control his BABIP (almost creating his own luck, so to speak), and makes up for the fact that his velocity has been declining, although, it’s worth reminding that he was coming out of the bullpen last season. Among these four pitcher, he also has the lowest line drive rate so in essence, Cashner is adapting the best he can to his new role as a starting pitcher.

We already mentioned how Doubront should be more dominant because he can post high number of strikeouts. Like Cashner, he too is a groundball pitcher, but as you can see from his GB%, he doesn’t induce enough groundballs to be an effective pitcher and therefore, has seen his BABIP go up to .319. Coupled that with his high walk rate, and you see a pitcher that has created his own bad luck.

It will be interesting to see if we can find something positive out of Wade Davis’ terrible season. The K/9 is nice, but it’s moot when you consider his astronomically high WHIP. The most noticeable problem is his high, homerun per flyball rate. And since he really hasn’t established himself as a goundball or flyball pitcher, one-third of his batted balls go for line drives, and he’s shown terrible control. It all equals to a high BABIP and it’s pretty safe to say that he has, based on his batted ball rates, immense command and control problems.

Moore and McAllister are both flyball pitchers, but are fully capable of inducing groundballs. But because they give up plenty of flyballs, they’re, ironically enough, are not susceptible to the long ball. Both pitchers are around league average in terms of line drive percentage and if you take all of the other data into effect, it leads to a fairly, league average BABIP for both pitchers.

All five pitchers do share one thing in this department: they all have a SIERA above 4.00. SIERA, unlike FIP, takes into account balls in play and can be used to gauge future performances–to a certain extent. All five pitchers are sporting below average SIERA.

Finally, we take a look at how the drop in velocity has affected these pitchers’ plate discipline (here’s a glossary for the following stats used):

Plate Discipline

Player Velocity V-Loss O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% S-Strike%

Andrew Cashner

93.6

-4.6

26.3%

63.7%

44.5%

75.3%

88.1%

84.2%

48.7%

55.8%

6.8%

Felix Doubront

90.6

-2.3

23.6%

64.4%

43.2%

72.3%

83.7%

80.4%

48.0%

54.2%

8.3%

Wade Davis

91.8

-2.2

28.0%

62.4%

43.5%

71.8%

88.2%

82.4%

44.9%

60.1%

7.5%

Matt Moore

92.3

-2.2

28.4%

63.6%

44.0%

64.0%

84.8%

77.3%

44.2%

52.1%

9.7%

Zach McAllister

89.8

-2.1

25.4%

64.3%

42.9%

73.6%

89.1%

84.1%

45.1%

60.2%

6.6%

League average for O-Swing% is at 30%. Clearly, all of these pitchers are not forcing many opposing hitters to swing at bad pitches. Even more perplexing, league average for Z-Swing% is at 65% and Swing% is averaged at 46.2% so far this season and all of these pitchers are below average. Perhaps the high walk rates have forced hitters to swing at less pitches. Or just as likely to have occurred, the drop in velocity has given hitters the opportunity to swing and make contact with more favorable pitches. O-Contact% and Z-Contact% league average is at 66.7% and 86.9% respectively. Matt Moore is the only pitcher that is not above these league averages in both stats. Again, Moore is probably the most talented among these five pitchers. Hitters still have a hard time making contact with his pitches and he is still sporting an above average SwStr% as he is still capable of making hitters swing-and-miss at “bad pitches.”

Despite the glimpse of dominance in Matt Moore, it goes back to his lack of control. F-Strike% league average is about 60%. Among these five pitchers, Moore has the hardest time finding the plate with his first pitch against opposing hitters. He also has the worst Zone% among these five pitchers. So again, control problems are at the root of Moore’s subpar season.

All sorts of conclusions can be made with these statistics, but one thing is for sure, as long as these pitchers continue to give up free passes to first base, their struggles will continue, velocity drop or not.

Cashner has proven to be the pitcher to survive best in not only a new role, but also with the drop of velocity. Nevertheless, there’s some luck involved in Cashner’s season so far.

Wade Davis is a control and command mess every five days and hitters have learned to be patient against him and wait for their pitch and when they connect, odds are, it’s usually for long distances.

McAllister has also been very lucky this year in terms of his low ERA, but all other figures suggest that he can be a lot worse than what we have seen of him so far.

Doubront’s drop in velocity might be responsible for hitters being able to wait for the perfect pitch against him, but he too has had issues with giving up too many walks. Doubront also needs to induce more groundballs to help his own cause as he does strike out a good number of hitters to be a better pitcher than what he has shown so far.

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