Baseball’s love affair with a good fastball

It seems that baseball is in love with big-time fastball velocity. Scouts talk about it, pitchers want to gain more of it, fans are impressed by it and reporters are plenty happy to keep track of it.

It takes more than a good fastball to succeed on that mound - we all realize that - but it seems to be the first thing discussed when debating the talents of a pitcher, pro or amateur.

How hard does he throw? Does his velocity hold up into the later innings? What speed does he top out at? Is he throwing harder than he did last year?

I’d like to think I appreciate a well-pitched game as much as anyone and especially one where the pitcher doesn’t light up the radar gun, but I’m like most of you when first learning about a pitcher. “How hard does he throw?” I’ll ask a scout or coach. Sometimes we even take a minute to ask, “What else does he throw?”

It seems we give the benefit of the doubt to a real hard thrower while we just seem to have doubt about someone that lacks decent velocity.

Justin Verlander went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA last year and averaged 95 mph with his fastball. At the other end of that spectrum, Mark Buehrle went 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA and averaged 85 mph with his fastball.

But how many fans or reporters might just about totally discount a pitching prospect if you were told his fastball velocity is 85 mph?

When discussing Brian Matusz and how his performance fell off so badly last year, the fact he lost some fastball velocity was the first point discussed and the aspect of his pitching that drew most of the focus in analyzing his 2011 struggles. But nearly equal of that to me, was his lack of command over his secondary pitches that wasn’t nearly as solid as it had been before.

I saw Matusz dominate minor league lineups and then pitch great for the Orioles at the end of the 2010 without blowing the ball past anyone. He would pitch between 89 and 91 with his fastball but also had tremendous command of his breaking pitches and changeup. He could throw any pitch in any count and put that pitch where he wanted to. It was a solid, at times, stunning four-pitch assortment. There was no big-time fastball velocity needed.

Plenty of pitchers through the years have won with a less than imposing fastball, from Scott McGregor to Greg Maddux to Jamie Moyer.

I think there is something very enjoyable about watching a pitcher keep major league hitters off balance and off stride without a superior fastball. The art of denying hitters the ability to square up the baseball is the key to pitching and some do it without big velocity, but with location, command, smarts and experience. But the margin for error sure seems smaller and a pitcher with big heat can miss his spot, leave the ball in the middle of the plate and still get an out.

It can also be special to watch a pitcher that is simply overpowering the batters. They know what is coming but still can’t hit the ball hard. Watching a Randy Johnson or Nolan Ryan at his best is a sight to behold and true dominance on the mound.

The radar gun has become prominent in the sport. Every stadium features a display of the pitch velocity somewhere.

Chicks might dig the longball, but fans of both sexes truly seem to enjoy the fastball.

What is your take?: Is too much emphasis placed on velocity? Would you rather watch a pitcher with great velocity overpower hitters or a finesse pitcher outsmart them? Do reporters and fans put too much importance on fastball velocity?

Here are some links to stories from around the American League East:

* The Tampa Bay Rays say the abdominal issue with top pitching prospect Matt Moore is minor.

* The New York Yankees may have some decent pitching prospects at Triple-A this year.

* The Boston Red Sox are banning beer from their clubhouse. No word on what this means for chicken wing consumption.

*Jose Bautista, slugger for the Toronto Blue Jays, is looking to take on more of a leadership role.

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