During the season’s first 19 games, Royals reliever Aaron Crow faced 27 batters. Only six reached bases, and only one produced an extra-base hit. Crow has yet to allow an earned run, and could be paired with Wade Davis in the team’s eighth-inning platoon.
Yet his mid-90s fastball, the one he utilized en route to an All Star appearance in 2011, has yet to materialize. His fastball continues to register around 92 mph, according to Baseball Info Solutions, down from 94.6 mph career average.
Crow framed the drop in velocity as a conscious choice, part of his attempt to harness his command, and insisted he felt healthy. Team officials dismissed the suggestion they were worried. But rival evaluators sound less optimistic.
“The ball is moving, and still has some heavy qualities to it,” said one American League scout who watched Crow this month. “But it is not exploding on hitters like I’ve seen in the past.”
On Tuesday night, the Progressive Field radar gun clocked Crow in the upper 80s at times. Crow’s average fastball velocity in the ninth was 91.2 mph, according to Pitch F/X data from Brooks Baseball. Yost shrugged off the initial reading, noting the fickleness of in-stadium guns, while Crow was less dismissive. “It was probably right,” he said. “It was pretty cold out.”
Part of the decrease, Crow explained, stemmed from a reliance on his two-seam sinker, which tends to arrive slightly slower than his four-seamer. In his career, he has walked 3.9 batters per nine. His lack of command is one of the reasons team officials kept him in the bullpen, rather than utilizing him as a starter.
“I feel fine,” Crow said. “I think I’ve learned over the last few years, I mean, it’s great when Greg [Holland] can go out there and blow guys away with 96, 97. But there’s times when I was throwing 95, 96, and it just seems like guys pick it up earlier or something. It didn’t have the same ride on it at the end.
“I think I’ve been more successful when I’m trying to throw sinkers. Instead of trying to blow it by them.”
Both manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland agreed with this sentiment.
“I don’t give a crap what his velocity is, as long as he’s getting guys out,” Yost said. “He’s getting guys out.”
Yost conceded he was aware of the velocity drop – “I see it, I notice it” – but suggested the cold temperatures of April and the time of year caused the phenomenon.
“His velocity is down two or three miles an hour,” Yost said. “But it’s early in the year, and he’s still building up arm strength. They’re still getting their arms underneath them, if you will.”
It is a reasonable contention. But Crow’s fastball has averaged 92.79 mph this month, according to Brooks Baseball. In April 2011, his fastball clocked 96.48; in 2012, 95.75 mph; in 2013, 95.93 mph.
But, Eiland cautioned, he has seen Crow throw 97 mph before with lackluster command. The velocity means little when the ball flies at random.
“It’s not a concern, when he’s commanding the ball the way he’s commanding it,” Eiland said. “His two-seamer is down in the zone. His slider’s got some nice depth to it. I think the velocity will come back. There hasn’t been an injury or anything like that.”