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Believe in speed
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - "Slow and steady" didn't put a gold medal around Usain Bolt's neck.

McDonald's wouldn't have sold a billion hamburgers promoting itself as the world's biggest slow food chain.

And nobody wants to see Vin Diesel behind the wheel of a Prius in Slow and the Furious.

Fast is where it's at, people. And that includes fantasy baseball.

The three hardest-throwing pitchers in the bigs last season were Matt Harvey (95.8 mph), Stephen Strasburg (95.3) and Jose Fernandez (94.9). Those three combined to go 29-20 with a 2.49 ERA across 534 innings (0.99 WHIP).

Overall, eight of the top-ten pitchers in average fastball velocity finished with an ERA under four. Milwaukee's Wily Peralta (11-15, 4.37) and Chicago's Jeff Samardzija (8-13, 4.34) were the only exceptions.

Justin Verlander has also dabbled in the art of flame-throwing. His fastball averaged 95 mph in 2011, the same year he won AL Cy Young and MVP. Out of 94 qualified starting pitchers that season, only Alexi Ogando threw the ball with more force (95.1 mph).

A year after Verlander's double-dip, David Price had his heater clocked at an average velocity of 95.5 mph. Not only did he have the majors' hardest fastball that season, but he also led the league in victories (20) and ERA (2.56). Price won the AL Cy Young, becoming the first left-hander to win the award since Cliff Lee in 2008.

I think it's important to bring up Lee because he's the complete opposite of all the pitchers I just mentioned. Lee's average heater sat at 90.7 mph last season, good for 52nd-fastest in the major leagues. Yet, nobody in MLB was able to top his exquisite 6.94 K to BB ratio in 2013. Lee teaches us that speed is useless without accuracy.

Maybe someone should relay that message to Wily Peralta. His 94.8 mph fastball last season was the majors' fourth-fastest. But his 1.77 K to BB was third- worst out of 81 qualified starters.

Part of the problem with Peralta was that he wasn't mixing up his pitches. While Lee chose fastball on 54.9 percent of this throws last season, Peralta's fastball rate was almost 67 percent. Jeff Locke (64.7 percent), Felix Doubront (63.3) and Jhoulys Chacin (62.9) were plagued by the same shortcoming. All three were in the bottom ten in K to BB ratio in 2013.

The lesson is that balance is just as important as velocity. Clayton Kershaw lowered his fastball rate to 60.7 percent last season while Max Scherzer trimmed his to 56. By mixing in other pitches, both pitchers became unstoppable, winning the Cy Young award in their respective leagues.

Of course, even moderation has its limits. Price got a little too enamored with his off-speed stuff last season (career-low 54 percent fastball rate) and ended up missing the All-Star Game for the first time since 2009. Verlander has also had mixed results while lowering his fastball rate the past two seasons (30-20, 3.04 ERA, 1.18 WHIP).

All pitches carry a certain level of risk but guys who throw straight heat can be especially vulnerable to injury. Patrick Corbin went under the knife for Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Throwing fastballs on 67.3 percent of his pitches last season probably wasn't the best way to go.

Harvey and Strasburg can relate. Harvey had his Tommy John procedure last October, roughly two years after Strasburg underwent his own elbow reconstruction surgery.

But don't get too hung up on the horror stories. Every position has those.

The ultimate goal of throwing hard is to miss bats and that's exactly what Strasburg has done throughout his career. Opponents hit just .207 against him last season, sixth-best in the league. In fact, six of the pitchers ranked in the top-20 in velocity last season were also in the top-ten in batting average against. Five of those six were invited to the All-Star Game in 2013.

Fast may not be original but boy does it get the job done. Believe in speed, my friends.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.


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