That type of decline is common, even when surgery is not involved. In that same 2010 season, the top 10 starting pitchers in average fastball velocity — among pitchers with a qualifying number of innings pitched — were Ubaldo Jimenez (96.1), Justin Verlander (95.4), Josh Johnson (94.9), David Price (94.6), Edwin Jackson (94.4), Clay Buchholz (94.1), Felix Hernandez (94.1), Mat Latos (93.7), Liriano (93.7) and Zack Greinke (93.5).
All of them were 27 or younger during that season, and all 10 have experienced declines in velocity since — ranging from precipitous (Jimenez is down 4.6 mph, to 91.5 in 2013) to slight (Liriano has fallen from 93.7 mph to 92.8 mph in 2013). Some on that list, such as Johnson and Buchholz, have suffered serious injuries since then. But others, including Verlander and Hernandez, remain perennial 200-plus-innings-per-season workhorses who have simply learned to pitch at lower velocities.
The Post Sports Live crew debates whether the Nationals can still make it to the postseason, despite the hole they have dug themselves.
“When I first got up [to the majors], I threw in the upper 90s the whole game,” Verlander said. “Once you start piling up 230 innings a year, you might have to dial [the velocity] down on occasion. I didn’t do it to save my arm. I did because I found it was more effective. . . . I think the main thing is mechanics. That’s where guys get hurt.”
All the evidence linking velocity to injury risk is more than circumstantial. According to Glenn Fleisig, research director of the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., velocity alone doesn’t make a pitcher an injury risk, but, “If two pitchers are identical in all other aspects — the amount of pitching, mechanics, physical make-up, etc. — then a pitcher who throws 99 mph certainly has a higher risk of injury” than one who throws softer.
If there are reasons to believe Harvey could be an exception — that he can avoid the surgeon’s table and maintain his 96 to 99-mph heat deep into his career — they are that his mechanics are impeccable and he mixes in his other pitches well(including a filthy, low-90s slider).
But that scarcely makes life any easier for Alderson, Collins and the rest of the Mets’ braintrust. They may do and say all the right things about Harvey’s future, but in the end, all they can really do is sit back and hope.
Staff writer Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.