Team USA's Staff Has Been Coming Up Short Velocity-Wise
Team USA managed to escape the first round of the World Baseball Classic.
Escape is the apt description, as Team USA rallied to beat Colombia, 3-2, and never really put away an outmanned Great Britain team in a 6-2 win. It also was beaten handily by Mexico, 11-5.
With the exception of a binge of offense against a Canadian team that deliberately saved its best pitchers for what it viewed as more winnable games, Team USA seemed surprisingly flat offensively. In those other three games against Great Britain, Colombia and Mexico, the U.S. was outhit, 30-23, and was outscored, 15-14.
All of that doesn’t matter anymore. Win three more games and Team USA’s first round struggles will be immaterial and quickly forgotten. But lose to Venezuela in the quarterfinals, and there will be plenty of questions about why this team never seemed to put it all together.
As Team USA gets ready for the quarterfinals and its matchup against Venezuela, there is a very reasonable question to ask about the U.S. pitching staff. Where did all the velocity go?
Whether intentional or not, Team USA has opted to construct its roster with veteran pitchers with guile, guts and a varied mixture of offerings. It has chosen brains over brawn.
This is most notable among Team USA’s starters. Adam Wainwright sat at 86.2 mph with his fastball in his first round start. That ranked 70th out of the 78 starters whose velocity has been measured in the WBC so far this year. Wainwright’s fastball was harder than a pair of Korean and Taiwanese sidearmers, two starters for China, one Aussie and two pitchers from the Czech Republic. It was softer than that of any starting pitcher whose team remains active in the tournament.
Thanks in part to Wainwright, Team USA’s average starting pitcher velocity so far is 91.4 mph. That ranks 10th, right in the middle of all 20 WBC teams.
But it’s not just Wainwright among Team USA's staff who is notable for a lack of premium velocity. In comparison to the other remaining teams, the U.S. starters have less velo.
Japan’s starting pitchers have averaged 97.1 mph with their fastballs in the WBC so far. Roki Sasaki (100.1 mph) and Shohei Ohtani (98.3) are the first and third hardest-throwing starting pitchers in the tournament. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (95.5) ranks sixth and Yu Darvish (94.4 mph) ranks 12th.
Venezuela, Team USA’s next opponent, has two of the top five in Jesus Luzardo (96.7) and Pablo Lopez (95.6) and a third, Eduardo Rodriguez (93.6), in the top 20. Cuba, which has advanced to the semifinals, has two in the top 10 with Ronald Bolanos (95.1) and Yariel Rodriguez (95.0). Puerto Rico and Mexico each have a pair of starters who rank in the top 20.
Team USA’s hardest-throwing starter, Nick Martinez (94.1), ranks 14th. No other U.S. starter is in the top 30.
As we all know, velocity isn’t everything. And fastball shape and movement play a role in the success of a pitcher’s fastball along with its radar gun reading. But velocity always has its advantages. And so far, Team USA has had a velocity disadvantage.
Colombia’s Guillermo Zuniga sat at 98.1 mph with his fastball coming out of the pen against Team USA and threw the eight hardest pitches of the game. The U.S.’s hardest throwing reliever in that game, David Bednar, sat at 96 and touched 96.8 mph.
Mexico’s Gerardo Reyes sat at 96.4 mph against Team USA. USA’s Daniel Bard nearly matched him at 95.9 and did have a 97.4 mph pitch that was the hardest of the game and the hardest that any Team USA pitcher has thrown in the tournament. Mexico threw the next six hardest thanks to Reyes and Javier Assad.
Great Britain would seem to be a game where Team USA would have a clear velocity advantage, but you’d be mistaken. Michael Peterson sat at 100.0 mph and touched 101.3 for Great Britain. David Bednar sat at 96.2 for Team USA and touched 96.8.
Against Team Canada Miles Mikolas may have sat at 94.6 mph, but he did touch 95.8 for the hardest pitch of the game. Canada’s Cade Smith sat at a higher velo level with his fastball (94.8) but topped out at only 95.5.
Team USA has the talent to win the whole tournament, but when it comes to velocity, the team will be at a deficit against every team it faces the rest of the tournament.
Here's a look at the 11 pitchers in the World Baseball Classic who have touched 100 mph so far, (99.5 mph if you round up) as well as their fastest pitch.
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And here's the average fastball velocity for all 78 WBC starting pitchers who have been measured so far.
|26||De Avila, L||COL||92.9|
|43||de Blok, T||NED||91.8|
|44||De León, J||PUR||91.8|