Pitchers don't just have random spikes in velocity in the middle of the season. It just doesn't happen. It can be added gradually over the course of the season, but not in one fell swoop. Yet in the last few weeks the Angels have seen not one or two but three pitchers magically add 4+ MPH to their fastballs almost overnight.
WHAT. THE. HELL.
The pattern is just too hard to ignore, especially when you factor in that two of the guys to recover lost velocity were Tommy Hanson and Jered Weaver. Before the season started, I looked specifically at the velocity issues of both those pitchers and came to the conclusion that their velocity was gone and never, ever coming back. It wasn't impossible, but extremely unlikely given their known health problems. Yet here we are.
Weaver's velocity gain is at least somewhat understandable. As his velocity chart indicates, it hasn't been all that long since he was throwing as hard as he is now.
He had even talked in the off-season how he had been battling shoulder discomfort. Specifically, he theorized that once the discomfort was taken care of, he could return to a lower arm slot that he used earlier in his career where he felt he could get more heat on the ball. That appears to be exactly what happened after he came off the DL with an injury to his non-throwing arm (even though we all know he was covertly rehabbing his pitching arm as well).
OK, fine. That works for Jered, but what about Hanson? He has had his fair share of arm problems but made no mechanical adjustments that anyone is aware of. Yet look at his velocity chart. I think there is one specific mark that will jump out at you:
That is just bonkers. So bonkers that Hanson doesn't even know where all those extra MPHs came from. He had been on the DL with forearm discomfort but had no procedure to take care of it. He didn't miss a particular long amount of time either that would suggest rest did his body good. After all, he didn't gain any velocity after his extended absence when his brother died. There is no explanation, it just happened. It is only one start, so it might be a random fluke, which would be even stranger, but it is definitely something worth monitoring because the last time Hanson was able to touch 94 MPH on a regular basis, he was considered one of the best young pitchers in the game.
Then there is Dane De La Rosa. He is a guy who has always thrown hard, but since he was recalled from a brief stint in the minors, he is throwing harder than ever before (at least in the majors):
Dane talked about ironing out some mechanical inconsistencies in his trip to the minors, but it didn't just allow him to throw hard with more consistency, his peak velocities are well up from where he was peaking previously. If he really just made some delivery adjustments, then whoever adjusted him deserves a big promotion and/or raise. Apologies to half the Angel fan base if that man turns out to be Mike Butcher.
These three aren't the only Angel pitchers to add velocity though, just the only ones to do it over a short span of time. The Halos have also seen Jerome Williams add a full mile per hour to his sinker and maintain that velocity even as he shifted back from a relief role to a starting role. One of the more substantial improvements has been Michael Kohn going from throwing 92.1 MPH in 2010 to 93.3 MPH in 2011 to Tommy John surgery in 2012 to 94.3 MPH in 2013. TJ surgery has helped pitchers add velocity before, so it might just be that, but it is also a trend that started before he went under the knife.
It isn't all velocity readings bursting into flames on the chyron for the Angels though. Joe Blanton, Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen have all seen their velocity drop off by roughly one mile per hour. C.J. Wilson has lost about half a mile per hour as well, though he is still throwing slightly harder than he did when he was in Texas. Everyone else is either right on with last year's velocity or up a marginal amount.
Whatever the Angels are doing, if anything, is clearly no panacea but it is a welcome reprieve from the alarming trend of previous seasons where the Angels had several high profile pitchers all lose a significant amount of velocity. One could mark a pretty strong argument that the velocity declines suffered by Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana in 2012 were some of the biggest factors in the Halos missing out on a playoff spot. It burnt the Angels so badly, that it would be no surprise if they instituted some major changes to their pitcher training and preparation to avoid a similar fate.
If it is a change in training and preparation, the Halos are being awfully secretive about it. You certainly couldn't blame them for that. If you discovered the secret sauce that allowed guys like Tommy Hanson to pull his long lost four MPH out of his butt, you wouldn't want to share that with the competition either.
It could be though that this is just a random confluence of circumstances. As mentioned above, Weaver and De La Rosa have both offered divergent explanations of where their velocity recovery stemmed from. Both are completely plausible explanations that have nothing to do with each other. You could even make the leap in logic that Kohn's velocity came from being 100% healthy post-Tommy John and Williams' velocity increase from having built arm strength now that he is used to working a full season workload again. But it is that Hanson velocity jump that has no explanation whatsoever that stands out as the canary in the coal mine that there might be something going on in a grander scale within the organization.
I don't know if/when we will find out what is behind this, if anything, but it will be interesting to see if they can continue to make these gains over the next few years since it would be a pretty significant competitive advantage.