Whether you watch last night’s game on TV, on-line, or at the ballpark, you probably noticed that Wade Davis’ velocity was lower than normal. Davis worked between 88-90 MPH for most of the night as opposed to last season when his velocity was generally between 92 and 94 MPH. Velocity drops in young starters can cause mass hysteria if the expected results of that pitcher also trend downward. For a perfect example just look at all the hoopla going on in New York with Phil Hughes.
There are a few things to keep in mind when looking at a pitcher’s velocity in April. First, it could be a matter of building up arm strength. Each pitcher is different. While David Price can come out of the gate pumping 97 MPH on opening day, we should not expect that of everyone else. That said, Davis started last season with more velocity than he has shown over the three starts in 2011.
The other thing to consider is Davis, himself. After the game, Joe Maddon mentioned Davis is “pitching” more than he is throwing. In other words, it seems as if Davis is trading some MPH for increased control or feel.
Although he is throwing strikes at a slightly lesser rate than his career numbers, Davis is walking fewer batters and keeping his pitch count in control during the early part of the season. He is averaging more than six innings per start and around 15 pitches per inning – both improvements over 2010. At the same time, Davis’ strikeout rate is down quite a bit, but his pitch-to-contact approach comes with one of the league’s best defenses behind him.
While Davis seems more comfortable pitching at the lower velocity, he can still reach back and gain an extra tick or two on his fastball if he feels he needs to. Here’s a look at 2011 his velocity readings with bases empty, runners on, runners in scoring position, and runners in scoring position with two outs (h/t to Joe Lefkowitz’s database).
Obviously, this is an extremely small sample selection, but Davis showed a similar trend in 2010 in a much greater sample size.
In some cases, lost velocity can be a sign of injury or fatigue. In other cases – as it seems we have here—it can be a philosophical one. If Davis at 90 MPH is a better overall pitcher than he is a 92 MPH, the change is worth an extended look. And remember, when the time calls for it he can always bring out that extra heat when he needs it.