Baseball’s heat wave: Is high-end velocity the new, big thing? (updated)

It was on display in the playoffs, whether it was Michael Wacha or Trevor Rosenthal of the St. Louis Cardinals throwing the ball by a hitter or the Detroit Tigers staff ringing up another strikeout.

It was an impressive display of power pitching.

A good fastball has always been valued in the sport, but are we entering an era when power pitching will be more important and more sought-after than ever?

The combination of a starter who can throw mid-90s heat like Wacha and a closer with overpowering stuff like Rosenthal is not only impressive but dominant at times.

Of course, even the pitchers with the best velocity need more than that, but power pitching was sure on display in this postseason.

St. Louis pitchers fanned 149 in 152 postseason innings, while Detroit pitchers fanned 130 over 96 frames. The final four teams this year all sported impressive postseason ERAs with Boston at 2.59, Detroit at 2.81, St. Louis at 2.90 and Los Angeles at 3.19.

How did Orioles starters rank in fastball velocity in 2013? Here is a look from FanGraphs PITCHfx miles per hour charts:

92.7 - Jason Hammel
92.4 - Bud Norris
91.6 - Chris Tillman
91.5 - Wei-Yin Chen
91.4 - Miguel Gonzalez
89.9 - Scott Feldman

Fastball command is pretty much every bit as important as velocity. A pitcher with both is in great shape and can set up his secondary pitches so well due his fastball ability. A good fastball, and command of it, sets everything else up.

Are there some flamethrowers in the Orioles’ future?

The Orioles’ last three first-round draft picks are all hard-throwing right-handers in Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Hunter Harvey. Bundy and Gausman already reach the mid- to high 90s with their fastballs and Harvey touched 95 mph this year at short-season Single-A Aberdeen and 97 in high school. Throw in Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright, who both can touch 94 and 95 mph with their heaters, and you have some real gas coming from the O’s five best pitching prospects.

A pitcher throwing 95 mph usually has more margin for error on his pitches and is more likely to get away with a fastball thrown down the middle than a pitcher throwing one at 90 or 91 mph.

There are plenty of pitchers in the game that do just fine without high-end velocity and we saw Feldman do just that this year. He’s going to get a nice contract this winter.

But teams like the Tigers and Cardinals put some real flamethrowers out there who blew away hitters on their way to postseason success.

Is high-end velocity the new big thing in baseball?

Did you see this?: In this article, Ken Rosenthal of looks at some of the big money that a few free agent pitchers could be getting this winter.

Rosenthal writes:

“By the end of the offseason, Tim Lincecum’s stunning two-year, $35 million contract with the Giants might almost seem like a bargain. Free-agent right-hander Ervin Santana is seeking more than $100 million on a five-year deal, and righty Ricky Nolasco $80 million over the same term, according to major league sources.

Updated: According to Baseball America’s reporting of the latest minor league transactions, the Orioles have re-signed right-handed pitcher Tim Alderson and signed third baseman Cam Kneeland who was in Can-Am League last year.

The 25-year-old Alderson went 1-2 with an ERA of 6.27 in 15 games for Triple-A Norfolk. Kneeland hit .306 with nine homers and 62 RBIs in the Can-Am League.

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