Velocity and Pitch Mix Report: 4/19 – Shane Bieber and Zack Wheeler struggle with velocity while Paul Blackburn reinvents himself

Ryan Venancio brings you the latest in notable pitch mixes, velocities, and overall changes on pitchers throughout the 2022 season.

As we enter week 3 of the fantasy baseball season there are pitchers who have made notable changes early in the season. Some pitchers are gaining and losing velocity. Others are changing their pitch mixes. All of this is worth noting and monitoring. That is where this article comes in handy. Here are a few that stood out so far in the 2022 season.

Luis Garcia, SP, Houston Astros

Notable Change: Velocity up 1.7 mph

During the Astros playoff run, Luis Garcia saw his velocity tick up to levels we had never seen before. Even though he was dealing with knee injuries, it didn’t stop the young right-hander from looking like a budding young star all throughout the postseason.
In his first game of the postseason, his velocity was up one mile per hour from his previous starts in the 2021 season. Then, his third postseason start, he was averaging 96 miles per hour on the fastball, up two miles per hour on the season. Finally, in his last two outings of the season, Garcia was averaging 95.5 miles per hour on his heater.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find this information until the middle of draft season. So, I was able to bump Garcia up in my rankings and draft him a lot more towards the end of my drafts. Banking on the possibility that this change could stick.

Fast forward to yesterday and we have seen the potential that Garcia could have if this change were to stick. Last night, he averaged 95 miles per hour on the fastball over the course of nearly six innings and 72 pitches. That number would have him up 1.7 miles per hour from 2021.

As a result, he had a 36-percent whiff rate on his four-seam fastball against the Angels. Mixing in his cutter, curveball, and slider, all above-average offerings. With the added velocity, you can really see the potential of an ace here.

Obviously, you can’t pick up Garcia anywhere. But, in trade leagues, if the person rostering Garcia isn’t in love with him and is willing to trade him away, you need to pounce on the opportunity.

Zack Wheeler, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Notable Change: Velocity down 2.5 mph

During the off-season, Zack Wheeler was reported to have had a ‘sore shoulder’. Resulting in him shutting down for a few weeks. Because of that, he showed up to Spring Training a few weeks behind. He only started to throw in games two weeks before the season started.

Normally, we would be concerned about velocity that is down this much, despite it being April. The fact he started so late, this type of dip in velocity should almost be expected.

If anything, this opens up a beautiful buying opportunity if you are in a trade league. You have the option of benching Wheeler in the next week or so just to wait until he regains his velocity back. I would then expect him to be himself by the first week of May, or somewhere around there. If the velocity is still down two and a half miles per hour, then we can actually be concerned.
Though, there was no actual injury reported, unlike Shane Bieber and Zac Gallen. I wouldn’t really be concerned about Wheeler at all. Trade for him if you can or just bench him until he starts to become the ace that we saw all of last season.

Shane Bieber, SP, Cleveland Guardians

Notable Change: Velocity down 2 mph

Despite not looking like the dominant Shane Bieber of old. He still hasn’t looked like the second-round pick some expected early on. Through his first two starts, the velocity on all of his pitches is down and Bieber has only struck out 24-percent of batters.

Why is this more concerning than Wheeler? Well, just before the lockout, Bieber had done an interview and said that he was completely healthy and felt great. Referring to the shoulder injury that forced him to miss basically all of the second half of the season.

Bieber was supposedly throwing all off-season and felt “great”. He then pitched all of Spring Training and didn’t have any issues or setbacks, coming back from the injury. So, the concern is that he is fine but the shoulder injury is hampering him from reaching his velocity pre-injury.

You can’t drop Bieber just due to the chance that he regains the velocity as the season goes on, or he ends up being good enough despite it. Though if you are in a trading league, moving on from him for name value sake or just swapping for a similarly valued player isn’t a bad idea. All you can really do is wait at this point, thankfully he makes another start tomorrow night against the White Sox.

Tylor Megill, SP, New York Mets

Notable Changes: Fastball velo up 2 mph, changeup velocity up 5 mph

Tylor Megill looks like a bonafide ace out of the gate. The velocity on his fastball, which was slightly above average last season, is now sitting at 96.5. What is even crazier is that the velocity on his changeup is up five miles per hour!
What makes Megill’s increase in velocity so impactful is that he is 6’7 with a ridiculous 7’2 extension on his fastball. Making his 95-99 mph fastball look a few miles per hour harder than it actually is because of how much closer he releases the ball compared to the average pitcher.

Through two starts, Megill has struck out 30.6-percent of batters while not walking a single batter. Obviously, you can’t pick up Megill at this point, he will already be rostered in every league. But, if there is a chance you can buy high on the breakout right-hander, you should do so. There is no doubt he is legit.

Paul Blackburn, SP, Oakland Athletics

Notable Change: Velocity is up 1 mph, big change in pitch mix

A Paul Blackburn breakout would not have been on most people’s 2022 bingo card. Of course, it has only been two starts but the Oakland right-hander has flashed some interesting skills thus far. Through two outings, he has struck out 26.3-percent of batters while walking just one in ten innings. It’s not like he had easy matchups either, pitching pretty well against the Rays and Blue Jays, you can’t ask for much more.

Now, what exactly has he done differently? It’s not a whole lot but it may be enough to move the needle.

Blackburn started throwing his four-seam fastball and sinker slightly over one mile per hour harder. On top of that, he is throwing his sinker ten percent less than he did last year. Throwing his changeup nearly ten percent more often and throwing his curveball nearly ten percent more often. The cutter is the other pitch that is suffering along with the sinker. Ditching those pitches for the superior changeup and curveball, that actually had great results last year.

Blackburn has a low-spin sinker that generates lots of ground balls. Generating all of the whiffs with his changeup and curveball. There is a path to him being an average to above-average starting pitcher in the American League. Especially if home runs continue to be down around the sport, a massive issue he dealt with in 2021.

All you can do is add Blackburn if he is on the waiver wire. Otherwise, you can wait until he has a bad start and trade for him or wait to see if he gets dropped after one bad start.

Kyle Hendricks, SP, Chicago Cubs

Potential return to form

This isn’t necessarily a pitch mix change or velocity increase. I think I’m just intrigued by a potentially different kind of Kyle Hendricks. His changeup and curveball are legit big league offerings that get plenty of swings and misses. In fact, the changeup has nearly a 50-percent whiff rate through three starts.

What I noticed when going through his numbers on Baseball Savant was that his changeup and curveball are getting more movement early on. The curveball is moving, on average, 68.5 inches, an increase of five inches from the previous season. Right in line with movement from his 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The changeup is also moving more, two more inches of drop from the previous season. Right in line with how it moved in the 2019 season.

Now, I know you might think. How am I going to invest in a pitcher that is throwing, on average, 86 miles per hour? Well, there is a chance it could work.

Hendricks’s average fastball velocity since 2017: 85.7, 86.6, 86.7, 87.3, 87.3, 86.4. He doesn’t need to throw hard to be successful. Aside from the 2021 season, he had never posted an ERA worse than 3.46 since 2017.

If his curveball and changeup are back to elite form. Along with the high probability that Hendricks finds his command again, which is entirely possible considering he has pitched in cold weather during all three of his starts and is a notoriously slow starter. There is a potential bounceback here from the 33-year old while everyone is claiming him to be dead meat.

If he’s available in your league, I wouldn’t be hesitant to take the chance on him.

We hope you enjoyed this article. You can follow this author on twitter Ryan Venancio (@ven_armbarn)

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