In 1976, Nolan Ryan had a bad game. At some point, someone in Arlington Stadium leaned over to the person in the next seat and said, "Hey, does it look like Ryan’s throwing slower than normal to you?" The person in the next seat responded, "Dunno."
It’s a new era. We have the technology to know the speed of every pitch five seconds after it’s thrown. It’s raw data that you can use as a blunt object in any situation without really understanding it. It’s fun! So here’s a look at five of the names near the top of the FanGraphs leader board for average fastball velocity:
Michael Pineda - #1 - 96.1 MPH
Pineda’s averaging -- averaging! -- 96.1 miles per hour, by far the fastest in the game. That’s the exact speed that Ubaldo Jimenez averaged last year -- the fastest average pitch since 2002, which is how far back FanGraphs’ data goes. Obviously it’s early, but velocity tends to increase as the season goes on, not decrease. That might offset the wheat thresher that’s inside every young pitcher’s shoulder, mawing away at velocity with every pitch. Combined with his above-average control for a youngster, it’s hard not to envy how the Mariners’ rotation is set up for the next few seasons.
Now, about that offense...
The M's backup second baseman is now only one home run away from the team lead in HRs, currently held by the team's fourth outfielder.
Alexi Ogando - #3 - 94.2 MPH
The old convert-a-reliever-into-a-starter gag doesn’t always work -- think Danny Graves or Braden Looper -- but it looks like the Rangers might get away with it for the second year in a row. Pitchers usually don’t throw as hard when they start compared to when they relieve, and Ogando’s no exception, but he had some velocity to spare and still be one of the hardest throwers in the game.
For as hard as he throws, Ogando wasn’t a strikeout machine as a reliever last year. Oh, he was good -- a K/9 of 8.4 is nothing to sneeze at -- but he wasn’t in that upper echelon of relievers. In a ludicrously small sample, his strikeout rate this season is low. It’s something to keep an eye on, but never bet against the position players turned into pitchers. They’re learning the craft on the fly, absorbing knowledge like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. Ogando could wake up tomorrow, realize that he shouldn’t close his eyes when he releases a pitch, and become Pedro Martinez.
Jordan Zimmermann - #13 - 93.1 MPH
Zimmermann is the feel-good story on the list. After a promising start to his major league career in 2009, he underwent Tommy John surgery. Now he’s back and throwing just as hard as ever, with his average fastball coming in at 93.1 MPH. The he’ll-throw-even-harder! myth about Tommy John surgery isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, thank goodness, because it’s kind of a big freaking deal, and it comes with risks. Sometimes pitchers go through the assembly line and don’t make it out because of an industrial accident.
Tim Lincecum - #15 - 92.8 MPH
If you were to make a composite paragraph from all of the apocalyptic Lincecum articles from last August, it would look like this:
Tim Lincecum is too small for sports, and his arm is the Keith Richards of sports. Both his arm and Richards are going to die soon, so see them now, even in their dilapidated form, just so you can tell your grandkids that you saw them.
Reports of Tim Lincecum’s demise ... were greatly exaggerated. His velocity came back in September, lasted through the postseason, and now it’s as good as it’s been since 2008, his first Cy Young season.
A.J. Burnett - #18 - 92.6 MPH
Back in 2004 and 2005, Burnett had the highest average fastball speed in the game. Over the past few seasons, though, his velocity has dipped. Not to Livanian levels (83.9 MPH and dropping!), but enough to make people wonder, especially when his strikeout rate completely cratered in 2010.
Burnett's fastball is down even further this season, but that brings up two points: a) it’s still one of the best in the game, and b) his decreased fastball speed might not be related to his mysterious K/9 drop from last year, as the early samples have his strikeout rate rebounding. It’s not even May, but he seems like a Yankees rotation stalwart, with Phil Hughes in the minors.
And he’s doing it all with a paltry, naked 93 MPH fastball! Imagine what it was like just to watch people pitch, and not fuss over the velocity of every single pitch. It must have been awful.