Here is a baseball topic worth discussion: How and when did the sport become so obsessed with a pitcher’s velocity? I include myself in this and, it seems in the game today, when discussing a pitcher, we focus on it, almost at the exclusion of other aspects of pitching that are important too.
I can remember a day last summer when I had a conversation with someone about this and we both agreed reporters, fans and even the scouts can become too focused on this. A few minutes later I remember talking to a scout about a pitcher and remember asking him about a minute into the conversation, “Hey, how hard does he throw?”
I think it has almost reached the point where, when we hear a pitcher is throwing his fastball at 94 or 95 mph, we automatically rank him ahead of someone that throws 89 or 90 mph.
Just about all the ballparks now, including most in the minors, have a listing of radar gun readings and most games on TV now provide that info for each pitch. We see 94 mph and sometimes we can think that is pretty good when 94 down the middle often can go over the fence against a big league hitter. The pitch before may have been an awesome slider at 87 mph and no one is impressed. Except maybe the hitter.
Brian Matusz is an example. When his velocity fell off in 2010 and 2011, it was all just about anyone could focus on. And it was significant that it fell off, but when I saw Matusz pitch so well in the minors, he did so because of an excellent four-pitch assortment. He was then, and always has been, a pitcher that is much more than a fastball pitcher.
I’ve always enjoyed watching Mark Buehrle get outs. His fastball velocity is 85 or 86 mph and he averages just 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings in his career. But he has pitched to an ERA of 3.85 or less in five of the last six season while averaging 208 innings per season. Again, doing that at 85 and 86 mph with his fastball. Pretty amazing - and of course, not the norm.
Remember what former Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said: “Work fast and throw strikes.” He could have added, “Change speeds and the batter’s eye level, pitch with control and keep the batter off-balance.”
There is also a focus on strikeouts now. We want pitchers that have what are now called swing-and-miss pitches. But that only tells us so much. Don’t we really want pitchers who can find a way to disrupt a batter’s timing and keep him from barreling up the baseball and hitting it hard?
By the way, I don’t mean to diminish velocity readings and certainly the ability to throw hard is a factor and often a big one for any pitcher. It just seems it’s become too much of a focus and it is just one factor for a hurler.
Here are the top 10 American League ERA leaders and average fastball velocity from last season:
David Price, Tampa Bay: 2.56 ERA and 95.5 pmh
Justin Verlander, Detroit: 2.64 ERA and 94.7 mph
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles: 2.81 ERA and 88.0 mph
Chris Sale, Chicago: 3.05 ERA and 91.3 mph
Felix Hernandez, Seattle: 3.06 ERA and 92.4 mph
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay: 3.10 ERA and 91.3 mph
Matt Harrison, Texas: 3.29 ERA and 92.4 mph
Hiroki Kuroda, New York: 3.32 ERA and 91.3 mph
Jake Peavy, Chicago: 3.37 ERA and 90.7 mph
CC Sabathia, New York: 3.38 ERA and 92.4 mph
So there you go, in a story wondering if we spend too much time on velocity, I end it with velo readings. We just can’t get away from it.
What is your take?: How important is velocity? Have we become too focused on it? Is it the most important aspect for a pitcher?