It has been a pretty busy month of baseball to this point. There are also plenty of pitchers who may have a leg up on the competition in the month of May. Several standouts in May have presented an interesting question.
How about these dominant names:
Phillip Hughes: 3-0 (5 starts), 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 33.1 IP, 24:0 K:BB
Tim Hudson: 1-1 (4 starts), 1.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 24.2 IP, 13:4 K:BB
Ryan Vogelsong: 3-1 (5 starts), 1.64 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 33 IP, 29:9 K:BB
Bronson Arroyo: 3-1 (5 starts), 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 36.1 IP, 24:5 K:BB
Wily Peralta: 1-3 (5 starts), 1.69 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 32 IP, 24:9 K:BB
Dallas Keuchel: 4-1 (5 starts), 1.79 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 40.1 IP, 31:4 K:BB
Mike Leake: 0-2 (5 starts), 1.77 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 35.2 IP, 26:8 K:BB
Pitching is a tricky part of the game. With so many injuries, it is fair to wonder what the wear and tear of long-term success has on a player’s future, and we may be seeing that now with Verlander, specifically. However, for all of the mediocrity that comes with the 85.8 mph average fastball that Bronson Arroyo is throwing this season, perhaps plus-plus velocity continues to be overrated. In fact, as it heats up in May, it is fair to look at pitchers like Hughes (92.1 mph), Hudson (89.0 mph), Vogelsong (90.2 mph), Peralta (95.3 mph), Keuchel (89.3 mph), and Leake (90.8 mph) and wonder if the fastball is really all that important.
Consider the top 20 fastball velocities in baseball since the start of the 2010 season. The numbers range from 95.7 to 93.2 and how many of them have had elbow issues in their careers – 11.
Andrew Cashner (5/2014), Stephen Strasburg (9/2010 and 10/2013), David Price (4/2008), Chris Sale (4/2014), Josh Johnson (7/2007, 10/2013, and 4/2014), Alfredo Simon (5/2009), Jordan Zimmermann (8/2009), Matt Garza (4/2008 and 7/2012), Matt Moore (7/2013 and 4/2014), Edinson Volquez (8/2009), and Luke Hochevar (3/2014), have each spent time on the disabled list due to elbow issues, with Strasburg, Johnson, Simon, Zimmermann, Moore, Volquez, and Hochevar undergoing Tommy John surgeries.
While there are names, like Peralta and Hughes, who are thriving still with 92 to 95 mph fastballs, could it just be another inning before the elbow snaps?
Bronson Arroyo has tossed 2,339.1 innings in his career without a single stint on the disabled list. Greg Maddux tossed over 5,000 innings in his 23-year career with one disabled list stint, missing 10 games in 2002 due to a nerve issue, while changing speeds and utilizing movement to become a four-time Cy Young winner. Mark Buehrle is up to 2,956 innings and 195 wins without a stint on the disabled list without an electric fastball. Yordano Ventura and his 96 mph average fastball lasted all of 72.2 innings before injuring his elbow.
For all of the stuff and electricity that is added to the ballpark experience due to an incredible, triple-digit fastball, the torque and force on the elbow will continue to be a single pitch away from snapping the ulnar collateral ligament. There certainly are some impressive names on the list for top 20 velocities since 2010, but when half of them lose time due to injury, is it really worth it? Scouting speed seems ok with Billy Hamilton or Micah Johnson, but the vulnerability of pitchers due to the focus on fastball velocity is risky business these days in baseball.