MLB Pitchers Whose 2014 Velocity Drops Should Be Scaring You

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

MLB Pitchers Whose 2014 Velocity Drops Should Be Scaring You

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    Carlos Osorio

    Even though the sample size is small, the 2014 Major League Baseball season has been rough for a lot of pitchers who entered the year with lofty expectations. 

    In addition to the onslaught of Tommy John surgeries, several star hurlers have seen a steep drop in velocity. It's typical for pitchers to start the season slow in order to pace themselves for the six-month grind, but when you start seeing fastball velocities down more than one and two miles per hour, something is wrong. 

    Usually when you think of declining fastball velocity, it's associated with an older pitcher who has to reinvent himself in order to be effective. But the players on this list are, for the most part, still in their 20s and should be at or near their peak. 

    Here are the pitchers that every fan and fantasy owner should be worried about losing some giddy-up on their stuff. 

     

    Note: Stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

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    Tony Dejak

    Pitch Information

    Pitch Type2013 Velocity2014 Velocity
    Fastball91.6 mph88.7 mph
    Slider83.0 mph81.1 mph

     

    When Justin Masterson went to the Cleveland Indians in the offseason reportedly willing to take a very reasonable, especially for a small-market team, three- to four-year contract extension, it seemed like a no-brainer for the team. After all, Masterson was coming off his best season in 2013.

    The big right-hander had a 3.45 ERA, 195 strikeouts in 193 innings and even figured out how to get left-handed hitters out (.698 OPS against), and he doesn't turn 30 until March 2015. 

    Instead, the Indians balked at the offer and were willing to let Masterson play out his contract year. It appears to be a wise gamble, at least thus far, as the 29-year-old hasn't looked right at all this season. 

    Masterson has always been a pitcher who uses different fastballs and changes speed on all of them to keep hitters off balance, but he could reach back for 94-95 mph when necessary. Now, he's lucky to break 91-92 mph. 

    He even discussed the drop in velocity with Cleveland reporters, including Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but his response wasn't exactly encouraging. 

    "When asked if he was just building up to those faster pitches, Masterson quipped: 'Sure, let's use that one.'"

    Losing nearly three miles per hour off the fastball is more than just a blip on the radar. Something isn't right and must be fixed in a hurry if the Indians want to have any shot at making the postseason for the second consecutive season. 

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Pitch Information

    Pitch Type2013 Velocity2014 Velocity
    Fastball91.5 mph89.8 mph
    Slider81.3 mph80.9 mph
    Curveball72.9 mph72.8 mph
    Changeup82.0 mph80.7 mph

     

    After a breakout rookie season, followed by a six-year contract extension in February, Julio Teheran was expected to take the next step and become the leader of the Atlanta Braves rotation. This was before Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy needed Tommy John surgery. 

    The results so far in 2014 have been promising. Teheran has a 1.80 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 35 innings. But there are two huge flaws that make those numbers appear to be more mirage than reality. 

    First, Teheran's average fastball velocity this year is down by a substantial margin from 2013. He's never going to recapture the 92-96 mph that was there when he was a star prospect, but 91.5 mph and the slider he had last year made him very effective. 

    Second, the 23-year-old isn't missing bats. He's averaging just 5.40 strikeouts per nine innings with a .240 batting average on balls in play. Atlanta's got quality defenders, including a stud at shortstop, but not even Teheran can keep up his current pace with so many balls ending up in play. 

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    Bill Kostroun

    Pitch Information

    Pitch Type2013 Velocity2014 Velocity
    Fastball91.1 mph88.8 mph
    Slider81.0 mph80.5 mph
    Changeup84.6 mph83.3 mph

     

    If you thought CC Sabathia's drop in velocity was bad last year, when the fastball lost 1.2 mph from where it was in 2012, what do you think now? 

    After an offseason spent talking about his new body, Sabathia still has the same flaws that led to a 6.08 ERA and 1.622 WHIP in the second half of 2013. His strikeouts (27) and walks (five) so far this season are very good, but the former Cy Young winner isn't keeping the ball in the park. 

    Opponents have already hit six homers off of him, the most in the majors. He's struggling to get outs against anyone, but left-handers are particularly fond of seeing the 33-year-old (.273/.333/.545). 

    Sabathia reportedly learned a cutter from former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte during spring training, but he clearly doesn't have confidence in the pitch yet.

    According to Brooks Baseball, Sabathia has thrown the new cutter just 2.2 percent of the time thus far and allowed a 2.500 slugging percentage when throwing it. 

    At least the Yankees appear to have found something with Masahiro Tanaka. Otherwise, the two years and $48 million Sabathia is owed after 2014 would look even worse based on his performance thus far. 

Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Al Behrman

    Pitch Information

    Pitch Type2013 Velocity2014 Velocity 
    Fastball93.4 mph91.4 mph 
    Slider86.1 mph84.8 mph 
    Curveball 82.6 mph81.0 mph 
    Changeup88.0 mph85.3 mph 

     

    Grant Balfour was poised to become the Baltimore Orioles closer this offseason when the two sides agreed to a deal, but the Orioles backed out when there were issues with his physical. There were conflicting reports about what the problem was. 

    Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported Balfour's right shoulder was an issue. ESPN's Buster Olney reported it was actually Balfour's knee and wrist that were cause for concern.

    Whatever the issue was, it appears the Orioles may have caught a break because Balfour's numbers are down across the board so far in 2014. The former All-Star's fastball velocity is the worst of his career, and a 6-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't exactly encouraging for the Tampa Bay Rays.

    The Rays have plenty of bullpen depth to withstand a decline from Balfour, but you have to wonder how much his $7 million salary for 2015 will hinder the financially-limited front office in the offseason if this is a bigger problem. 

Aaron Crow, Kansas City Royals

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Pitch Information

    Pitch Type2013 Velocity2014 Velocity
    Fastball94.6 mph92.0 mph
    Slider84.6 mph82.4 mph
    Changeup88.0 mph86.5 mph

     

    The Kansas City Royals bullpen was electric in 2013, leading the American League in ERA (2.55), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.07) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.57). The Royals started this season with a weaker relief corps when Luke Hochevar needed Tommy John surgery. 

    Aaron Crow, who has been searching for consistency throughout his career, hasn't stepped up to fill the right-handed void left by Hochevar, despite not allowing an earned run through April 22. He's pitched seven unimpressive innings with four walks and three strikeouts. 

    A .150 batting average on balls in play, not to mention playing in front of a stellar defense, makes Crow look better than he is. The right-hander has lost more than 2.5 miles per hour off his heater and more than two miles per hour off his slider. 

    Crow has generated a ton of ground balls already this season, at least 60 percent on all of his pitches put in play, but is that ratio going to stick since his career line is closer to 52 percent?

    The 27-year-old has always had the stuff to pitch in high-leverage spots, yet his declining strikeout rates indicate a pitcher going in the wrong direction. 

     

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