Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Bullpen and Fastball Velocity

The Orioles come into the 2012 season with a much stronger bullpen on paper. The returns of Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, and the newly acquired Matt Lindstrom make a formidable 7-8-9 combo. All three of these pitchers have averaged a fastball velocity over 94mph in their careers.

Strop- 94.5 Average FB velocity
Johnson- 94.2 Average FB velocity
Lindstrom- 96.3 Average FB velocity

That is a lot of heat packed at the end of the bullpen. Add Alfredo Simon to the mix and you get even more fire-power. But does fastball velocity mean a stronger bullpen? Does it make the team better having more fire-power?

I went back over the past four years and took a look at the average fastball velocity of each pitcher on the club.

A few quick notes :

-In order for a pitcher to qualify for this list, they must have at least pitched 15 innings for the Orioles that season. I wanted to stick with using players who were primarily active that season. This limits out guys such as Armando Gabino (4.2 IP in 2010), who pitched less than 10 innings and really had no relevance.
- Some players started games as well, but I decided that as long as they pitched more than 15 innings out of the bullpen, they were eligible. Some players like Alfredo Simon, and Mark Hendrickson both pitched 15+ innings in the bullpen and played a role in the rotation.

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*** I also calculated the FB velocity without players such as Clay Rapada, Chad Bradford, Cla Meredith, and Jamie Walker. This just shows the speeds without them as outliers, since they primarily hovered around 85mph or lower***
As you can see from above, The Orioles' average fastball velocity has gradually increased each season since 2008.  Does this mean that they were more productive though? Let's take a look at the Orioles' ERA, FIP, xFIP, and fWAR over the past four years.

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As you can see from the chart to the right, the Orioles have hovered around the 2.7 fWAR ranking over the past three years, which is a significant increase from the terrible 1.3 fWAR in 2008. That year also happened to be the year with the worst average fastball velocity in the bullpen. Based off the ratings above, one could make a point in saying the Orioles had an average bullpen over the past three years. But does fastball speed really have any part in that? The Orioles bullpen has surely gotten better velocity-wise over the past couple years. The main reason why is probably not because of harder pitches, but better arms. In 2008 the Orioles had players such as Fernando Cabrera, Randor Bierd, Jamie Walker, and Chad Bradford.They were either "non-factor" players that pitched over 15 innings, or veterans on the decline. Each year after 2008, the Orioles' bullpen saw less and less "non-factor" players (although they still had their fair share, let's be honest). This could attribute more to the bullpens rise to mediocrity than the speed of their fastball. But it could possibly show that a better bullpen is probably filled with players whose average fastball is higher, rather than lower.

Another point to consider is that the starting rotation affects the bullpen as well. The more innings the bullpen pitches, the more likely their velocity will decrease due to getting overworked.

2008- 882 IP (29)
2009- 877.2 (30)
2010- 947.2 (24)
2011- 881 (30)

So looking at the innings pitched, it seems that the Orioles simply got more talented in the bullpen. The only year that I think less innings pitched helped the bullpen is probably 2010.

Looking forward to 2012, the Orioles seem to have a bullpen packed with better velocity. Here is my projected bullpen and their average fastball velocity from 2011:
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-The projected average velocity is faster than all four past years.
-If you take out O'day, the outlier, it averages out even faster.

Of course, this average will drop once the season actually happens. Injuries, demotions, trades, and other things factor into play. But as of now, it seems the Orioles have a ton of fire-power in the pen, and it seems to be the best pen yet in four years. If the bullpen could get ANY help from the rotation, they could actually be very good.

*All credit to Fangraphs as usual*

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