Pitcher’s Exit Velocity – June Update (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Jun 24, 2019

Shane Bieber is flourishing despite a high exit velocity against.

Every month, I take a look at the Statcast leaders for pitchers’ exit velocity. I examine the top 10 in average exit velocity and report the findings for what you should expect going forward.

In May’s inaugural column, I looked at the 10 pitchers who had the highest and lowest average exit velocity based on 90 batted-ball events. For June, I raised it to 150 to get a larger sample while weeding out middle relievers and closers.

The 10 hardest last month were:

  1. Tyler Mahle – 92.1
  2. Mike Leake – 91.9
  3. Felix Hernandez – 91.7
  4. David Hess – 91.3
  5. Patrick Corbin – 91.3
  6. Reynaldo Lopez – 91.2
  7. Homer Bailey – 91.2
  8. Matt Harvey – 91.0
  9. Carlos Carrasco – 90.9
  10. Antonio Senzatela – 90.9

The lowest were:

  1. Kenta Maeda – 83.9
  2. Joey Lucchesi – 84.4
  3. Luis Castillo – 84.7
  4. Charlie Morton – 84.9
  5. Kevin Gausman – 84.9
  6. Sandy Alcantara – 85.1
  7. Caleb Smith – 85.3
  8. Jose Berrios – 85.4
  9. CC Sabathia – 85.5
  10. Anibal Sanchez – 85.8

Let’s look at how the listed pitchers have done over the past six weeks:

Highest Exit Velocity

Mahle – 92.1 > 89.3

Leake – 91.9 > 91.4

Hernandez – 91.7 > n/a

Hess – 91.3 > 90.7

Corbin – 91.3 > 89.7

Lopez – 91.2 > 90.2

Bailey – 91.2 > 89.7

Harvey – 91.0 > 90.8

Carrasco – 90.9 > 90.9

Senzatela – 90.9 > 88.8

Lowest Exit Velocity

Maeda – 83.9 > 84.8

Lucchesi – 84.4 > 86.3

Castillo – 84.7 > 85.9

Morton – 84.9 > 86.3

Gausman – 84.9 > 86.1

Alcantara – 85.1 > 86.1

Smith – 85.3 >87.7

Berrios – 85.4 > 85.6

Sabathia – 85.5 >86.8

Sanchez – 85.8 > 85.6

What stands out to me the most is that all of last month’s leaders reduced their average exit velocity except for Carrasco, who hasn’t pitched in more than two weeks. On the flip side, those with the lowest exit velocity against have all seen their numbers go up to varying degrees besides Sanchez, who was the lone pitcher to drop even further.

Current Highest 10:

  1. Dan Straily – 91.4
  2. Leake – 91.4
  3. Glenn Sparkman – 91.3
  4. Carrasco – 90.9
  5. Jorge Lopez – 90.8
  6. Harvey – 90.8
  7. Hess – 90.7
  8. Daniel Norris – 90.7
  9. Shane Bieber – 90.7
  10. Jose Urena – 90.6

Current Lowest 10:

  1. Martin Perez – 84.5
  2. Maeda – 84.8
  3. Hyun-Jin Ryu – 85.5
  4. Sanchez – 85.6
  5. Berrios – 85.6
  6. Ryan Yarbrough 85.7
  7. Mike Soroka – 85.7
  8. Castillo – 85.9
  9. Noah Syndergaard – 86.0
  10. Jalen Beeks – 86.0

Looking at the lists, there aren’t a lot of surprises. Those who give up a higher exit velocity are typically worse pitchers — who aren’t more than streamers in the right matchups — while those with lower exit velocities allowed tend to be top-tier fantasy options by eliminating hard-hit balls.

But there is one name listed who stands out above the rest: Bieber.

Overall, Bieber is enjoying quite the season. He’s 6-3 with an 11.47 K/9, 31.4 K%, 3.86 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 3.26 SIERA. In Yahoo points leagues, he’s the 14th-ranked pitcher. He’s 18th on ESPN’s Player Rater and is, all in all, having a great season. So what’s with the high exit velocity?

It’s the home runs. Bieber has given up the fourth-most home runs this season with 16. He allowed nine in May alone, which would explain the increase in exit velocity that month on his fastball and curveball.

Of the 16 home runs, 11 have come off the fastball. The simple answer to remedy this would be to just throw it less, right?

Well, Bieber has. He’s decreased the usage from 57.4 percent last year to 44.1 percent this year while raising his slider usage from 22.7 to 29.7.

Eno Sarris of The Athletic did a great job profiling Bieber’s home run issues recently, showing how he is actually one of the pitchers who reduced his fastball usage the most from 2018 to 2019.

More and more pitchers are throwing their slider with higher frequency, as it’s not as easy to square up, sit on, and hit for home runs like the fastball. Throwing the slider has helped with not only the average exit velocity against, but also with his hard-hit rate against. On the season, Bieber, however, still has the third-highest hard-hit rate at 42.9 percent, behind just Madison Bumgarner and Jake Junis.

So is the answer for Bieber to throw his slider even more and his fastball less? Not quite, as he’s already doing that.

At his 44.1 percent usage rate, Bieber ranks 49th in baseball. His 2018 usage of 57.4 percent would rank 12th this year, so asking him to reduce the usage even more may not be realistic. As far as his slider goes, the 29.7 percent usage is 27th in baseball, and last year’s 22.7 percent would be 51st this year.

Home runs are the one issue Bieber is having. If he can adjust and limit them off his fastball, he’s not only going to find himself off of the exit velocity leaders, but he’s going to find himself as a bonafide ace.

I’m looking forward to checking back on his progress next month.

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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