Baseball Speed bump: Radar readings up with MLB change to Statcast

NEW YORK (AP) — The scoreboard at Citi Field showed Jacob deGrom hitting 98 mph, and the ballpark buzzed with the Mets star back in top form.

In Seattle, fans surely thought the same when Felix Hernandez’s fastball ticked up on opening day. And how about that extra juice from Detroit ace Justin Verlander?

All across the majors, pitchers are ramping up the velocity this season — or at least it seems that way.

Not so fast. They’re actually getting a little help: Major League Baseball has changed the way it’s recording and reporting pitch speeds, driving up readings all over the league.

After previously using PITCHf/x to provide velocities to broadcasts and ballparks, Major League Baseball Advanced Media is instead supplying numbers from its Statcast system. They key difference is that PITCHf/x calculates the velocity at a set point — usually 50 or 55 feet from the back of home plate — while Statcast is able to measure velocity directly out of the pitcher’s hand.

Because of that difference, Statcast readings are faster than PITCHf/x by about 0.6 mph on average, according to MLBAM senior data architect Tom Tango.

“We do have the technology to capture the speed right out of the hand now,” Tango told The Associated Press. “So that’s what we report.”

Trouble is, for now, fans and analysts aren’t necessarily comparing apples to apples on pitch speeds from last year.

For example, PITCHf/x had deGrom averaging 93.4 mph on his four-seam fastball during an injury-plagued 2016 season. On Wednesday, Statcast measured him at 94.2 mph, a bump deGrom noticed during the game.

“Last year, it felt like all I could do to get to 93 or 94,” deGrom said.

On Wednesday, he got there no problem, but that 0.8 mph uptick might be mostly because of the new readings. The same may be true for Hernandez (up 0.7 mph on four-seamers from 2016’s PITCHf/x to 2017’s Statcast data), Verlander (up 0.8 mph) and Stephen Strasburg (up 0.9 mph). Conversely, Arizona’s Zack Greinke (down 0.1 mph) might not be holding as steady as it seems.

What does all that mean? For the average fan, perhaps a few more triple-digit fastballs at the stadium, but likely not much else.

For the sabermetric community, it’s an effort to get everyone using the same data.

“We’re standardizing so we all see the same,” Tango said.

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Follow Jake Seiner at http://www.twitter.com/jake_seiner

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