I am fortunate enough to have a handful of acquaintances who work in professional baseball that I can freely discuss things without fear of dismissal. One friend of mine is a minor league pitching coach, who got in a discussion with me about velocity and command. The conversation went like this:
Him: You should see some of the ridiculous crap we get. Guys who throw 95 MPH but can’t throw a strike to save their lives. Unreal. Command is so important, pounding the strike zone is so important.
Me: I agree with that for sure, but velocity is a floor – no one is going to look at a guy who throws in the low 80’s who pounds it.
Him: I dunno. Our organization is full of flamethrowers with no idea what the hell is going on. Give me the strike throwers.
20 minutes elapsed while I spoke to him about other non-baseball related topics, then I decided to test him.
Me: Hey, I have a kid I want you to look at. Real good prospect.
Him: Is it [name redacted]? (one of my clients who is a top tier nationally-ranked prospect) I already know about him. Great stuff, love the body too.
Me: No, it’s a 2014 kid with awesome command. Throws three pitches for strikes like you wouldn’t believe. Average height/weight. Right-handed.
Him: Great, what’s his fastball look like?
Me: Has some sink. Locates super well though, can knock down soda cans all day.
Him: No, I mean what’s he cruise at? How hard?
Me: I thought you said command is the only thing you cared about?!
The point, of course, is that velocity is really important. If it wasn’t important…. well, I have no idea how Stalker is selling all those useless radar guns in the stands to scouts, but they have one hell of a business model.
Velocity is a Floor
Fastball velocity is the floor. College and pro coaches complain about everyone having terrible command because everyone they have throws hard. No one is actually complaining and requesting the 82-84 MPH strike-thrower at the higher levels – yeah, maybe they don’t like the 97 MPH guy who has zero idea where it’s going, but they want that guy to be 92-93 MPH with average command. If you haven’t noticed, 92-93 MPH is really hard. Not a lot of guys are cruising at that velocity.
You have to understand the environment from where they come. They don’t complain about velocity because they get their pick of the litter, and everyone who pitches professionally throws gas, because throwing hard leads to more strikeouts, and more strikeouts leads to better performance. Look at the trends of MLB over the last decade and a half:
Strikeout rate is way up and offensive production has crashed over the last decade.
Not only has average fastball velocity increased from 89.9 MPH to 91.7 MPH since 2002, but the percentage of fastballs thrown has dropped significantly! Not only do you have to throw harder, but you have to throw off-speed and breaking pitches more frequently, and they have to be better.
If you limit it to relievers alone – one of the fastest ways to get to the big leagues – you see just how hard you have to throw if you are coming out of the bullpen:
And that includes all the soft-tossing lefties coming out of the pen – if you limited it to right-handed relievers, I bet you’d see sky-high numbers.
In Conclusion, You Already Know…
That velocity is king.
The only people who don’t think this way are the pitching coaches who have the luxury of not needing to worry about it, or are amateur pitching coaches who have no idea how to train velocity. Fortunately for you, we do.
In parting, I leave you with this very scientific matrix that should help everyone understand the problem better: