I'm going to assume you've been close to a field during warm-up pitches. I'm going to assume you've been near a 90 MPH pitch.
Velocity stands out. The sound of the ball cutting through the air is audible. The "POP" of the catchers mitt is so distinct. If you've seen a pitcher throw hard, you've heard a pitcher throw hard. It's music to a baseball fan's ears.
The industry has become nearly obsessed with with velocity and has invested a lot of money into finding more of it. The use of high-speed cameras, weighted balls, bands, and other tools is getting close to becoming common place. Scientific studies have even devoted resources to finding the efficacy of these tools and factors in how characteristics of a delivery affect velocity.
There's no wonder why the average velocity in the major leagues has consistently risen over the last ten years. We've learned so much and have applied much of it. All organizations have devoted a lot of money into scouting, developing, and signing high velocity arms at different degrees of effort and success.
The Astros have not done a lot of it in the free agent market but have drafted their fair share of high velocity arms and have traded for them as well. They've also had several of their pitchers improve their velocity in the minors.
Let's take a look at some of the notable draftees that can reach mid to upper 90's under Jeff Luhnow:
Now player's traded for
Several players in the minors have made notable improvement in their velocity while in the Astros system. Nick Tropeano went from a high 80's guy to someone who can reach 95. Albeit, a lot of credit has to be given to Lantz Wheeler whom NiTro trained with in the off-season. Martes was a high-80's guy when signed as an IFA by the Marlins. Musgrove dealt with several injuries and at one point was barely clearing 90 MPH. Michael Feliz has found himself becoming much more consistent in his velocity. Then Latin guys like Reymin Guduan and Jandel Gustave have come out throwing lasers.
A lot of credit has to be given to the individuals for their own pure talent and physical development. But, some credit has to be given to the Astros approach as well.
One of the big changes that Jeff Luhnow did early on for the minors was to bring in Dyar Miller as the clubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator. He also brought in Brent Strom as the Major League Pitching Coach before the 2014 season. Miller was a minor league pitching coach in the Cardinals system for several years and then was a roving instructor and a pitching coordinator before becoming the bullpen coach for a year. Strom also served as a pitching instructor and coordinator in the Cardinals system.
Needless to say, both have spent a lot of time working together over the years and have some similarities in their philosophy about pitching. In 2014, Tim Deblock and I had a unique experience of watching a game while sitting in front of Dyar Miller and talked some with him about pitching.
Both Strom and Miller advocate getting momentum toward the plate.
Watch how Tropeano steps back before going into his leg kick has continues movement with his hips towards the plate, even during the leg kick. He drives with his hips and uses his momentum into his stride.
Watch Josh Fields when he pitches. If there's one thing you notice, it's that he gets a lot of momentum towards the plate. He flies toward the plate.
The thought behind getting momentum to the plate is that the body is a chain of kinetic energy that goes up the body from the feet to the arm. That's supported by studies showing a correlation between the amount of force going through the lead leg and velocity. Obviously there are aspects that include poor arm paths and timing deficiencies that will limit the transfer of energy.
That arm path is another thing the Astros seem to be in the forefront with. While speaking at Ron Wulforth's Pitching Ranch (the location could be wrong), Strom talking about perceived velocity and how release points affect that. Things that perceived velocity are poor trunk flexion and poor forward rotation which makes a pitcher's release point further from the plate.
Nick Tropeano is a good example of both of those. In the above video, he stays very upright through the entire delivery and never gets much bend at the waist nor does he rotate his trunk very much. That leads to a longer ball path and diminishes his velocity. Mike Foltynewicz has a lot of the same mechanical issues and both were guys who have shown to have their velocity play down by Statcasts perceived velocity stat.
We've seen many Astros minor leaguer's utilize bands and long toss programs in the minors. Tommy Shirley has used bands to help improve his velocity in the off-season. There's at least one minor league pitching coach who uses weighted ball with his pitchers. That's probably more than you'll see in most organizations but not the most by any means. There are some organizations who have almost fully bought into them.
We've even heard of Strom looking at high-speed video to look at kinematics in search to find how different body segments translate into pitch variables. He's discussed the angle of the shin on the drive leg.
These are all things that have just moved to forefront in the last ten years. We've discussed this stuff for at least two years here at TCB and we haven't even began to scrape the surface of the things that are done.
Make no doubt about it, despite the lack of power arms at the major league level right now, they are developing them.