After a rough weekend of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on Friday, and a frustrating loss in which Strasburg “struggled” through 6 innings (giving up 2 R, neither earned thanks to poor defense and, oh yeah, striking out 7 and walking only 1), Gio Gonzalez was supposed to come in and be a stopper. He was going to make it so the Nats would only have to score a single run to win the game. Well, he didn’t cooperate, not that the offense could even muster a single run. Buster Olney of ESPN noticed a dip in velocity for Gio which could be some form of explanation
In Gio Gonzalez's start vs. ATL Sunday, his velocity was down markedly. http://t.co/akmw1bHTu9 Hopefully, just a sluggish day for him.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 15, 2013
So once again, I’ll turn to PitchFX and Brooks Baseball to take a look at just how off he was. First, here are his historical average velocities on the two types of fastballs he throws – Thunder and Lightning, er, a 4-seamer (F4) and 2-seamer/sinker (F2). I’ve shown them by year, just as a start
I didn’t expect the increase in velocity with that four seamer, but last year he averaged a little more than a half a mph over 2011, and over a full mph more than 2010 and 2009. Is this just from maturing? I don’t know, but it’s interesting that last year was his best, and 2011 was probably his second best season.
So looking at the chart above, we see that his second start, in which he gave up 1 ER and struck out 7, the velocity is basically the same as last year. But the other two, not so much. Gio was very good in the first game, goign 6 IP and not giving up a run while striking out 5. I’m not going to pretend that I think the difference in velocity added 2 more Ks in game 2, that’s just too variable.
But 7 ER and 2 HR in a game probably is a sign that something isn’t working right, and the velocity is definitely down. Perhaps this is just the normal volatility in a season? After all, if he averaged 94.08 mph last year on his 4 seamer, maybe there were a bunch of games well below that. So I went through the games last year – I stopped after looking at his 10 starts in April and May. I didn’t find any where he averaged less than 93, and only one averaged less than 93.5.
So he has definitely been low in terms of velocity this year, although the game on April 9 adds a strange variability to it. He isn’t unable to throw with his normal velocity at all – he did it in ONE THIRD of his games this year (at least that’s one way to look at it). And the loss of velocity isn’t a killer to him either, as he pitched his first game with his slowest fastballs of the season and went 6 IP with 0 ER.
It’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on. Perhaps his motion is a little bit off right now and he isn’t getting the proper torque or follow through or escape velocity or whatever it is pitchers need. Or maybe his arm isn’t in the shape it was in last spring. Maybe he is worn out. Maybe he will end up on the DL for 2 months with dead arm. Who knows really. If he ends up with a slower fastball after a few more outings, it’s definitely something worth worrying about.
But even if that velocity is gone, it could mean absolutely nothing. Just as the numbers went up over the years, maybe his velocity peaked at age 26, last year. You wouldn’t expect a massive year over year dropoff after that, and he’s definitely a good enough pitcher to be great with the stuff he has right now.