Saturday marked the first milestone of the 2017 season: every Cubs starting pitcher got through their first outing. Analyzing first starts is exciting, yet dangerous. We might see a pitcher pumping faster pitches, but we might extrapolate too much because, after all, it’s only one start. However, since velocity stabilizes in just two games, first starts might allow us to identify potential trends.
How hard were Cubs starters throwing? In a nutshell, significantly slower than last year.
|Pitcher||2016 (MPH)||2017 (MPH)||Diff (MPH)|
Every pitcher was throwing at least 1.5 mph slower than their 2016 averages. In particular, Jake Arrieta was spitting fourseams at roughly 90.6 mph against the Cardinals, much lower than his 94.3 mph average last season. Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Brett Anderson all were throwing roughly 2 mph slower in their first outings. Even Kyle Hendricks, who’s already known for low velocity, was throwing 1.6 mph slower.
What do we make of this?
As I was sitting crunched between two not-small humans on my “spacious” flight to Chicago, I was trying to come up with the right words for this post, since I know such slow readings — from the radar gun, not the wonderful #content on Cubs Insider — can scare fans. We shouldn’t be worried about these numbers, just aware.
There are several reasons, both technical and instructional, for low velocity readings. As we’ve chronicled at Cubs Insider, that data is now being tracked by Statcast, not PitchFX, effectively making the previous 10 years of pitch data less useful than the folding tray in front of my narrow plane seat. Further, while Statcast velo readings are actually three-quarters faster on average, we don’t know which guns are hot, variable, or cold.
This past week at Busch Stadium, Statcast radars missed half of Arrieta’s pitches, suggesting that technical issues were a real problem. So for Lester, Arrieta, and Lackey, I have little confidence that Stacast reliably measured their fastballs.
Yet Hendricks and Anderson didn’t pitch at Busch Stadium. How do we reconcile their slower readings? For Anderson, who’s been operated on by more doctors than the goofy guy in the kids’ board game, lower fastballs come as no surprise. He might ramp up as the season progresses, similar to what Hendricks did last year. Indeed, Hendricks threw slower than 88 mph in four of his first five starts of the 2016 campaign. The Cy Young candidate is the least of my concerns.
Overall, don’t be scared by the slower velocities…yet. Busch’s Statcast radars had technical problems, and we don’t even know how to accurately interpret Statcast data at the moment. Anderson is hoping to embark on his first full season since 2015 and the Cubs exercised caution when he entered the 80-pitch range against the Brewers. Finally, Hendricks was throwing similarly slow early in the 2016 season.
Let’s just wait and see how velocities change in the upcoming games before we freak out. The question now becomes whether I can hold my breath for another week.