Heat index: Mets enter 2017 with MLB’s hardest fastballs
Queens hurlers ranked third in 2016 with 93.6 mph average velocity
Allow us to present what may be the least surprising preview of the 2017 season: The New York Mets are going to show up with the most pure heat of any pitching staff in the Major Leagues.
You’re not shocked by this, because you’ve seen all the flame emojis that surround any mention of Noah Syndergaard, and because you’ve heard him talking about how he hopes the added muscle he packed on this offseason will help him throw even harder. We’ve been writing about how hard the Mets throw for years now.
But it’s not only Thor, is it? The Major League average velocity on a four-seam fastball (which is what we’ll be basing all of this on) was 93.1 mph last year, and while Syndergaard (98.2 mph) obviously cleared that, so did Jeurys Familia (97.0), Josh Smoker (95.7), Hansel Robles (95.5), Matt Harvey (95.0), Robert Gsellman (94.1) and Jacob deGrom (93.4). Not only that, the Mets subtracted the below-average velocities of Bartolo Colon (90.3), Logan Verrett (90.9) and Antonio Bastardo (91.7).
You could even dream of Harvey (recovering from surgery) throwing harder and Zack Wheeler returning to the 94.7 mph he averaged when he was most recently healthy in 2014 if you wanted to. But for now, we’re just looking at hard data, taking ’15-16 Statcast™ velocity numbers and applying them to ’17 rosters. (Where’s Steven Matz, you ask? We looked only at four-seamers, and he doesn’t throw one, but his sinking two-seamer averaged a quality 93.9 mph, so feel free to mentally add him.)
While this isn’t weighted by expected playing time, the top teams here make a lot of sense. After all, last year, the Mets finished third in average four-seam velocity at 93.6 mph, behind the Yankees (94.4 mph) and D-backs (93.7 mph), and it’s the Yankees who are tied with the Pirates at 94.2 mph for second place in our preview.
Remember, this is based on 2017 rosters, and that means the Yankees do not get the benefit of Nathan Eovaldi, who averaged 97.8 mph last year before getting injured and signing with the Rays. But, of course, they do expect a full season out of Aroldis Chapman, the game’s reigning fireballer, who averaged 100.5 mph last year and, by himself, has thrown 40.3 percent of all 100-plus-mph pitches the sport has seen since tracking began in 2008. And, of course, having Dellin Betances (98.1 mph), Luis Severino (96.7 mph) and Ben Heller (95.9 mph) can only help.
But it may be the Pirates who are the biggest gainers. Last year, their average four-seam velocity was 93.3 mph, tied for 12th overall, and essentially league average. But now, even without the services of Arquimedes Caminero (97.7 mph), who’s off to Japan, they’ve jumped up to a tie for second. How? In large part, it’s because they no longer employ soft-tossers Ryan Vogelsong (90.4 mph), Jonathon Niese (89.5 mph) and the accurately-named Kyle Lobstein (89.6 mph). Instead, look forward to a great deal more of Felipe Rivero (97.1 mph), one of only three lefties to touch triple digits last year, and newcomer Daniel Hudson (96.6 mph).
If there’s a surprise here, it may be that the Braves, who added Colon and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (82.8 mph) aren’t in last. Then again, most teams don’t have a Mauricio Cabrera (100.5 mph) — the only pitcher other than Chapman to average triple digits — plus Mike Foltynewicz (95.8 mph) and others to bring the heat.
Now, if you’re a Mariners fan, you’re thinking about James Paxton (96.8 mph) and Edwin Diaz (96.6 mph) and wondering how that 30th-place ranking (92.0 mph) could be possible. That’s partially because someone has to bring up the rear, and the gap just isn’t that wide, because there are 13 teams between 92-93 mph. Still, it’s a reflection that Hisashi Iwakuma (88.5 mph) doesn’t throw that hard, and Felix Hernandez (90.7 mph) has seen his velocity trend down for years. Taijuan Walker (94 mph) is with Arizona now, while Yovani Gallardo (91.0 mph) and Drew Smyly (90.7 mph) are with Seattle.
Not that you need us to remind you that velocity matters, but it of course does. Last year, the Major League hitters batted .180 when they managed to make contact on four-seamers at or above 100 mph, and they hit .290 on contact against fastballs at or below 90 mph. The contact rates, as you would imagine, follow similar trends.
Surely, there’s other things that contribute to success, or else guys like Colon and Marco Estrada (88.8 mph) wouldn’t be so successful. But throwing heat makes everything a whole lot easier. It gives you a much larger margin for error, and there’s nothing quite like seeing a hitter blown away by pure, nasty velocity.
For 2017, there might not be a better place to find that than in Queens or the Bronx.