If you care at all about fastball velocity, the horizontal and vertical movement of a slider, or anything else of a similar nature, you really should be reading more of Mike Fast at Baseball Prospectus – Could there be a better name for a man in their particular field, other than, perhaps, Home Run Baker?
His most recent piece about – you guessed it – fastball velocity is fascinating. For example, how velocity rises and falls with the temperature. Go figure. But from within the lengthy piece’s depths, I extracted something that may well be of interest to Giants fans. Because you’re so smart, you read the title of this post, and can put things together so quickly, you can probably guess what: Santiago Casillia’s fastball velocity. Here’s Mike:
The pitchers with the biggest changes in fastball speed from September 2009 to spring training 2010 are as follows.
Within the data, Mike shows that Casilla’s average velocity went from 92.3 mph in September of 2009 to 95.2 (change of +2.9) in the spring of 2010. Throughout 2010, he averaged 96.1 mph (change of +3.8 from September 2009).
I have no idea what the increase in velocity can be attributed to. Casilla’s velocity increase was most dramatic of all in Fast’s study – next closest was Billy Wagner, who’d always been a flame thrower and was coming off of Tommy John surgery. In other words, it makes perfect sense. My shot in the dark is that Casilla was a minor league invite, worked out extremely hard in the offseason and was doing everything he could to make the team and stick. That’s all I got.
But anyway, we continue with Mr. Fast, later on in the article:
As spring training draws to a close in 2011, which pitchers have displayed the greatest fastball speed changes this year among those Cactus League pitchers for whom there is PITCHf/x data?
Unfortunately, Casilla appears again. This time, the change is negative; he went from an average velocity of 96.3 mph in September of 2010 to 93.2 mph this spring (change of -3.1 mph). Some of the changes can be explained away pretty harmlessly, such as Neftali Feliz, whose “speed presumably dropped because of his latest experiment with starting.” For Casilla, again, the explanation isn’t so obvious. Taking another shot in the dark – and piggy-backing on my previous guess – it’s possible Casilla simply felt more comfortable this spring, felt he had earned his keep, and wasn’t compelled to use any of his mid-90, sinking bullets in Arizona. Maybe.
The truth is that I don’t know the answer, probably never will. What I did do, though, was take a look at his velocity (and a lot of other stuff) throughout his career via FanGraphs. What I found was not encouraging.
In his unremarkable – at least until 2010 – career, he’s thrown 215.2 innings while posting an 8.10 per nine strikeout rate (K/9) and 4.42 per nine walk rate (BB/9); which is essentially a below average strikeout to walk ratio. He’s also one of the few that can say his career fielding-independent pitching (FIP) and ERA are beautifully symmetrical: 4.30 and 4.30. He’s compiled just 1.2 WAR, which isn’t terrible for a reliever, but certainly isn’t the making of a guy a skipper wants to give his high-leverage innings to. To round it out… 0.92 home runs per nine innings (HR/9), a normal .305 batting average on balls in play (BABiP) and 9.5 % home-run-per-fly-ball rate (HR/FB).
From 2004-2007 his average velocity was 93.9, 94.7, undefined and 93.1. That’s quality velocity, but not nearly as impressive as he was running it up there with in 2010.
I also found that his pedestrian career statistics were mostly just bad prior to last season. In 2008: 7.69 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, a 43.4% ground ball rate (GB%), 3.93 ERA and 4.09 FIP. He was also perhaps unlucky while posting a .348 BABiP. His velocity was, on average, 94.4 mph.
Back for more in Oakland in 2009, he was far worse: 6.52 K/9, 4.66 BB/9, a 50.3% GB%, 5.96 ERA and 5.00 FIP in 48.1 innings. He was again, perhaps, unlucky or extremely hittable with a .335 BABiP. His velocity was mostly unchanged from the previous season at 94.6 mph. His regressed in essentially every area with the exception of inducing ground balls and, unsurprisingly, the A’s dumped him.
With his unexplainable, much-improved velocity in 2010, he was quite effective in 55.1 innings: 9.11 K/9, 4.23 BB/9, a 50.7% GB%, 1.95 ERA and 3.15 FIP. He also gave up just 0.33 HR/9 with an outstanding 5.1% HR/FB rate – maybe old Raggs got his hands on him and turned him to solid gold, like he has with so many others.
His fWAR was 0.9 in 2010, so you can see what I mean when I say he was 1) effective in 2010 and 2) plainly bad before last season given his career fWAR of 1.2. He ran it up there in a jiffy with an average heater of 96.6, a full two mile per hour difference than his 2009 total and a delta of +1.7 from his career average. You can also see that he carried over the improved ground ball rate from 2009 into 2010, now getting ground balls about half the time two seasons in a row.
What I also found interesting was that he threw his fastball 10% more often than he had throughout his career in 2010, but then 2-3 mph will probably result in the confidence to do so. He also added a hard curve (about 82 mph) in 2010 that he threw about 14% of the time while ditching a changeup that wasn’t doing him any good. Perhaps these can be attributed to his 180 degree turnaround.
What does it all mean? I wish I knew. But I would probably surmise that a Casilla with his old fastball probably isn’t going to be nearly as good as 2010 Santiago Casilla was with his new fastball. Those two to three fewer inches probably mean both fewer strikeouts and more walks. Not to mention his .277 BABiP may well not be repeatable nor his 0.33 home run rate. It’s possible his improved fastball just didn’t come out to play in the spring, without the proper adrenaline and motivation in all. But if not, he won’t be seeing the eighth inning very often for very long.
Jeff Fletcher took a more simplistic approach this, but it certainly looks as though he was on to something in regards to the Giants’ bullpen. Even if Brian Wilson returns expeditiously, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be quite as good in 2011 with the same arms. Bullpens are extremely volatile, relievers fungible and, it pains me to say it, but we might have one heck of an example of that here pretty soon.
We may see the former Japanese star, Marc Kroon, a lot sooner than we thought, assuming he hasn’t headed home to hang out with his kids.
Update long after I wrote this: Casilla just took 30 pitches to get out of an inning in which he gave up one earned run. He also looked absolutely terrible doing it, and his velocity was clearly down from last season. He also managed -.055 win probability added (WPA) — subtracted, in this case –in his one inning of work. As I said, he may not be seeing the eighth for long.
In other news, Jonathan Broxton’s fastball velocity might be down as well, and Burrell just turned one around, placing it into the bleachers.