On the Thursday July 14th edition of ESPN’s Baseball Today, Keith Law brought up the following: Why are all the O’s pitchers losing velocity? Law’s comments exactly where: “Some this, what is going on with their pitching, might be their own fault. Matusz gets hurt, loses velocity. Tillman gets to the big leagues, loses velocity. Matt Hobgood, first round pick a couple years ago, first year in the system, he blows out his shoulder, he loses velocity. Brandon Erbe, top prospect, hurts his shoulder, he loses velocity. There is a long list of guys, pitchers, in that Orioles system who have had major arm problems, often shoulder, and have lost velocity. I don’t know what is going on and it could just be a run of really bad luck, but if you’re Andy MacPhail you have to sit down with player development, maybe independent of player development, and say ‘What the heck are we doing wrong that all of these really talented pitchers we are getting into the system are getting hurt and/or losing their fastballs.’” Law is completely right on this issue. Furthermore, he didn’t even mention former first round pick Adam Lowen who will never pitch again after a stress fracture in his elbow in 2008. I had actually noticed this issue independent of Law and noted it in the comments of Daniel Moroz’s summary of Brian Matusz’s shelling on June 30th. As of the Allstar Break the three young Orioles starters whom we have multi-year MLB data for have showcased the following velocity decreases.
Law didn’t mention Arrieta and I’d be perfectly willing to admit that his decrease in velocity is in the noise, but the other two pitchers have a better pedigree than Arrieta and seem to be losing velocity at an extremely high rate. What compounds the matters is that both Mark Connor and Rick Adair seem insistent that the O’s starters throw their fastballs more than any other staff in the majors (O’s starters have the highest fastball usage rate of 7/14). I don’t know enough about scouting or player development to determine if the injuries and decreased velocity are simply bad luck or symptoms of a systemic problem in the organization. Regardless is a very disturbing trend and one that deserves extreme attention in the future.