People had noticed Justin Verlander's velocity was down this year, with his peak fastball not yet even reaching the 97 mph mark this year and his average fastball nearly 1.5 mph slower than the prior season according to PitchF/X. What's interesting is that it goes way beyond Verlander, according to research done by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
Passan listed several well-known starters with notable velocity decreases, from Zack Greinke to Jered Weaver to CC Sabathia to Matt Moore and even Max Scherzer, whose fastball is nearly 2 mph slower. This led me to look a bit closer at the Tigers, and certainly a pattern emerged: Fastballs were slower.
Which led to the question: Does it really matter?
"He's still the best pitcher in baseball," one AL scout told Passan.
So far this month, Verlander's ERA is the best it's been in April for his career. His strikeouts per plate appearance is at a career-high 27.9 percent. Needless to say, it's far better than some Aprils in Verlander's past. His ERA of 2.14 is light years ahead of what used to be a typical April for him, with ERAs in the 5 or 6 range.
Then we have Scherzer. He's struck out 14.21 per nine innings and walked just 1.89. Just how overpowering is Scherzer? Forty percent of his plate appearances have ended in strikeouts -- just 5.3 percent in walks. Like Verlander, Scherzer's ERA has shown no signs of struggle either at 2.84. That's about 5 better than Scherzer's 7.77 ERA last April and nearly a run better than in 2011.
Alburquerque's fastball is down about 1.5 mph. Forty-four percent of his plate appearances have ended in strikeout -- a career-high, naturally.
We could go on, but you get the point. Velocity as reported by PitchF/X is down across the league (by 0.3 on four-seamers and 0.7 on two-seamers), but strikeout ratios are up (by 0.5 percent) and ERAs have improved (by .09).
Again, does this mean anything?
It's April. It's been colder-than-normal in a large section of the United States. Sometimes tendencies we notice early in the season turn out to be significant, such as when improved pitching and defense (and maybe stronger PED testing) helped lead to a lower run environment in 2010 and 2011. And sometimes, well, it just isn't significant after all. It's important to remember not to rush out to conclusions so early in the year.
In the case of lower velocity readings on PitchFX, I'm going to take a wait and see approach. We've certainly seen no reason to panic yet. Save that for if it actually becomes necessary.