Image credit: Oregon State LHP Cooper Hjerpe (Photo courtesy of Oregon State)
Velocity is a key component of any evaluation of a pitcher. Regardless of how well a pitcher throws in any given appearance, “what’s the fastball velocity?” is guaranteed to be one of the first questions anyone wants answered. We’re often wowed by velocity over execution and often boost players for the power fastballs they show as collegiates. Conversely we’re often quick to dismiss or limit expectations on pitchers with middling velocity in college.
We often discuss fastball velocity for college pitchers as a set number, one not capable of increasing over time. Based on a healthy knowledge of recent college pitching draftees and their early performance in professional baseball, this didn’t seem accurate.
After thinking it over there were clearly questions that needed answering.
- How common is a college pitcher increasing his fastball velocity as a professional?
- If they do, how many mph do they add?
To answer these questions, looking at the first 50 college pitchers drafted in 2019 and 2020 seemed to make the most sense—totaling a 100-pitcher sample.
First we pulled the college fastball velocity for all of those 100 pitchers in their draft spring, and then compared it to the average fastball velocity in 2022 as of mid-June. This gave us a two- and three-year sample to compare against, as both of these drafts were held in the previous time period in June.
A majority of these pitchers have a decent pro sample from which to compare and have had enough time to go through a few full cycles of the development calendar.
How common is a college pitcher adding velocity?
Fairly common, if not expected. Of the 100 college pitchers included in this survey, 99 have pitched professionally and the statistics lay out as follows.
- 64 pitchers saw some increase in velocity between their average fastball velocity during their draft spring and June 15th of 2022.
- Of those 64 pitchers, 50 saw an increase of one mph or more.
- 27 of those 64 pitchers saw an increase of two mph or more.
- The average median increase in fastball velocity among those 64 was 2.2 mph.
- 31 pitchers saw a decrease in fastball velocity between their average fastball velocity during their draft spring and June 15th of 2022.
- Of those 31 pitchers, just 16 saw a decrease of one mph or more.
- Of those 16 pitchers only 10 saw a decrease of two mph or more.
It’s fairly clear to see that a majority of college pitchers add velocity by their second season as a professional. With improved focus on training, likely enough bonus money to navigate the tricker parts of minor league life and programs designed to add velocity, pitchers adding multiple mph has become a fairly common occurrence.
Here are the top 25 velocity increases from the top 50 pitchers taken in the 2019 and 2020 college classes.
How many mph are college pitchers adding?
Based on our entire sample of all 99 active pitchers, a little under one mph at .77 mph. Based on the average among pitchers who increased velocity the number grows to over two mph.
Why pitchers add velocity can be attributed to a variety of factors. Increased strength and improved mechanics are the easy ones to spot but it’s not always that simple. Organizational focuses and coaching play a huge role as well as other environmental factors. Many of these pitchers who saw an increase have found better health during their professional careers or have moved to shorter-inning roles.
It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons for the increases without a vast understanding of all of these elements, but it’s clear to see that increases in velocity have become the norm among the first 50 college pitchers taken.
There are certainly some outliers within this group of gainers that, for a variety of reasons, perhaps aren’t clearly the product of professional player development. Graeme Stinson for example was 95-96 mph for stretches prior to his draft spring. He sustained an injury preceding his velocity dip, and that’s the velocity used here. It’s not exactly a clear sample.
Spencer Strider struggled to stay healthy as an amateur but has found health and significant velocity gains since his draft spring. Neither of these two gainers can really be viewed as standard gainers. Stinson is technically still down from his pre-draft velocity, but for purposes of continuity he was included.
Reasons For Gains In Velocity
There are some pitchers among the gainers that likely added significant strength over the two dates in the sample. It’s hard to measure this even with listed weights as they can vary greatly from what’s listed versus reality, though strength is likely the key factor on a more overarching basis.
There are several premium athletes among this group such as players like Nick Frasso, strong athletes whose natural movement patterns portended more gains. When discussing this article’s concept with Matt Pajak, formerly the assistant director of PDP and co-founder of Loden Sports, an organization that works with high-level baseball players and specializes in athletic evaluations, he specifically mentioned Frasso.
“I think there are a number of variables as to why college arms might add velocity in pro ball,” Pajak said. “For one, certain clubs have gotten really good at integrating velocity programs in a safe way, which probably explains the majority. In a few rarer cases, a college arm may still have some physical projection—couple that with existing athleticism, and a pitchability guy like Nick Frasso becomes really interesting.”
Programs like Driveline, Tread and Cressey all work directly with MLB organizations and are involved in pitching development programs that often focus on velocity gains. In addition to team-sanctioned work, these organizations also consult and train with individual pitchers during the offseason. So in many cases it’s a year-round process of honing one’s stuff.
Cooper Hjerpe is one college pitcher in the current draft cycle who has seen incremental velocity and stuff gains but still faces questions regarding his arsenal’s power. He forgoed an invitation to pitch for Orleans of the Cape Cod League last summer and instead chose to go to Driveline to train. While his focus last summer was improving his offspeed, he saw immediate gains in fall ball. While his velocity settled in, he did see gains year over year and has a level of athleticism and pitchability that projects well.
“It really helped me especially in the pitch design part, they had these high speed cameras and they have you on Trackman, they had you on Rapsodo, they had to go through a biomechanics lab bullpen session where you have all these stickers attached to your joints and they see how your joints are moving through your mechanics and that really gives you an idea of where you’re inefficient and also where you are efficient,” Hjerpe said. “And so that was a huge thing for me is understanding how my body moves throughout the whole pitching delivery.”
Following the completion of Hjerpe’s Driveline program he was showing increased velocity during fall ball, including hitting 98 mph multiple times during a one-inning appearance. Hjerpe credited his added strength as the key driver.
“I came back from Driveline after an individualized program and I also had about 10 more pounds on me at the end of the season this year and I was really smooth at that point and so I think it was just the weight, the weight thing, just making sure you’re gaining strength,” he said. “There’s room for improvement in that aspect. And at that point, that was the best I’ve felt in my entire life.”
Key Factors For Gains
- Added strength, weight and untapped physical projection.
- Natural athleticism that portends improvement in mechanics.
- Velocity focused training.
While there are a variety of factors at play, there’s a fairly solid chance that half of the college starters taken over the first few rounds will likely see velocity gains in pro ball.