The Pirates have made velocity an organizational focus

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Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote an intriguing column about the rise in fastball velocity across Major League Baseball. In 2008, the average fastball in the Majors registered at 90.9 MPH; in 2013, it was 92 MPH. A change of 1.1 MPH over a six-year period may seem small, but when hundreds of thousands of fastballs are thrown every year, it becomes a statistically significant change.

Sawchik adds that more pitchers are hitting triple digits (100-plus MPH) more consistently than they have since velocity-tracking has become a regular part of the game. Some teams have begun to prioritize velocity over other traits, and the Pirates — one of baseball’s most forward-thinking organizations — are among them. From Sawchik’s column:

Under general manager Neal Huntington, the Pirates made targeting and acquiring velocity a key part of their strategy, adding pitchers such as A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, and placing a premium on velocity in the draft.

“(Velocity) gives you a larger margin for error,” Huntington said. “Ninety-four (mph) that runs and gets too much of the plate has much more margin for error than 88 (mph) that runs and gets too much of the plate.”

In Huntington’s first season as general manager, the Pirates ranked 18th in fastball velocity at 90.8 mph. The Pirates’ fastball velocity has improved every year under Huntington, averaging 92.5 mph last season, 10th in baseball.

Per Sawchik, Pirates 2011 first round pick and starting pitcher Gerrit Cole threw 22 pitches that registered at 100 MPH or faster last season. Reliever Bryan Morris averaged 94 MPH on his fastball last year, but showed up in camp throwing 97 MPH, drawing the attention of scouts. Other pitchers who averaged 93 MPH or better last season included relievers Mark Melancon, Vin Mazzaro, Tony Watson, and Justin Wilson, as well as starter Francisco Liriano, a bargain bin pick-up who was a key reason why the Pirates snapped a 20-year-long playoff drought.

2017 Preview: The American League Central

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League Central

Do the Indians have a weakness? Do the Tigers and Royals have one more playoff push in them or do they have to start contemplating rebuilds? The White Sox and Twins are rebuilding, but do either of them have a chance to be remotely competitive?

As we sit here in March, the answers are “not really,” “possibly,” and “not a chance.” There are no games that count this March, however, so they’re just guesses. But educated ones! Here are the links to our guesses and our education for all of the clubs of the AL Central:

Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

2017 Preview: The National League East

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League East

The Washington Nationals crave a playoff run that doesn’t end at the division series. The Mets crave a season in which they don’t have a press conference about an injured pitcher. The Marlins are trying to put the nightmare of the end of the 2016 behind them. The Phillies and Braves are hoping to move on from the “lose tons of games” phase of their rebuilds and move on to the “hey, these kids can play!” phase.

There is a ton of star power in the NL East — Harper, Scherzer, Cespedes, Syndergaard, Stanton, Freeman — some great young talent on ever roster and, in Ichiro and Bartolo, the two oldest players in the game. Maybe the division can’t lay claim to the best team in baseball, but there will certainly be some interesting baseball in the division.

Here’s how each team breaks down:

Washington Nationals
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves