Tuesday Sep 26, 2023

100 mph has become commonplace…pitchers pushing the limits of velocity

Major League Baseball started tracking pitches in 2008. Since then, we’ve been able to learn a lot more about the balls pitchers throw.

Fastballs were one of them. We could go from vaguely fastballs to knowing how fast they were. In the past, Walter Johnson, the king of fastballs, was known as the “Big Train” because his pitches sounded like a train passing by. However, there was a lot of speculation about what his velocity was (88 to 91 mph is the average). Unlike then, we now know exactly how hard a pitcher throws.

The first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to hit 100 mph was Nolan Ryan. Ryan threw 100.9 mph against the Detroit Tigers on August 20, 1974. This was when speed guns first appeared. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Ryan became the “fastest man to throw a baseball in the world.

At the time, the velocity was measured when the ball landed 10 feet in front of home plate. Professor Alan Nathan, who applies physics to baseball, has found that “if a pitcher throws a 100-mph ball, the velocity decreases by 9 to 10 percent past a distance of 55 to 58 feet” (the distance between the mound and home plate is 60 feet, 6 inches).

In other words, Ryan’s fastball would have been faster with modern equipment. The 108 mph claimed by some is unlikely, but theoretically possible. For reference, the 2010 Pitch/FX system measured velocity about 50 feet from home plate, while current statcasts measure velocity immediately after the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. Behind the rise in pitchers’ velocity, there have also been technological advances.

The first pitcher to hit 100 mph since 2008 was Javier Chamberlain. Chamberlain, who debuted for the New York Yankees in 2007, was a highly prized prospect. He was projected to be the next Roger Clemens as a starter and Mariano Rivera as a reliever. Chamberlain, of course, became neither Clemens nor Rivera, but he did become the first pitcher to throw 100 miles since pitch tracking began on April 6, 2008, when he threw 100.2 miles.

But Chamberlain didn’t make his mark as a 100-mile pitcher; that honor went to Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya. Zumaya burst onto the scene in 2006 and threw 234 100-mph pitches that year, before the advent of pitch tracking. Three of them were 104 mph, a major league record. Teammate Justin Verlander won the 2006 Rookie of the Year award, but it was Zumaya who turned heads with his fastball.

While Verlander is still going strong, Zumaya’s career was cut short almost as quickly as his fastball. Injuries plagued him since 2007, and he last played in the majors in 2010. “Everyone asks me how to throw fast, but I want to give them the advice they really need: you have to take care of your body,” Jumaya later said.

Jumaya lasted only three seasons in the pitch-tracking era. And even then, he didn’t pitch many games due to injury. From 2008-10, Jumaya pitched just 92.2 innings in a total of 81 games, but no one could match him in terms of velocity.

Most 100-mph pitches from 2008-10

537 pitches – Joel Zumaya
193 pitches – Henry Rodriguez
161 pitches – Jonathan Broxton

It didn’t take long for someone to surpass Zumaya. It was Aroldis Chapman. Making his debut for the Cincinnati Reds in 2010, Chapman broke new ground in velocity. On September 24 of that year, a strike he threw to the San Diego Padres’ Tony Gwynn Jr. clocked in at 105.8 mph. It’s still the fastest fastball ever broken. Most importantly, Chapman’s fastball didn’t top out at 100 mph; the average velocity of his pitches was over 100 mph.

In 2010, Chapman averaged 100.3 mph on 162 pitches in the zone. In 2014, his fastball average increased to 100.9 mph (643 pitches), and in 2016, it reached 101.1 mph (792 pitches). A single-season average of 101 mph is territory that only Chapman has ever enjoyed.

Highest single-season average velocity (min. 500 pitches)

101.1 mph – Aroldis Chapman (2016)
100.9 miles – Aroldis Chapman (2014)
100.8 mph – Yoan Duran (2022)

Another reason why Chapman is so highly regarded when it comes to velocity is the “long run. Historically, 100 mph has been the devil’s temptation for pitchers. There were things you had to give up in order to throw 100 mph. Health and pitches. Most 100-mile pitchers have fallen victim to injury or pitching anxiety, but Chapman is still playing in the majors. This year, in his 14th year in the majors, Chapman’s fastball sits at 103.8 mph.

No pitcher has ever surpassed him in terms of velocity. However, there are plenty of pitchers who are up for the challenge. Jordan Hicks of the St. Louis Cardinals threw a 105 mph sinker twice on May 20, 2018. Teammate Ryan Helmsley, Camilo Doval of the San Francisco Giants, Felix Batista of the Baltimore Orioles, and Emmanuel Clouse of the Cleveland Indians are all closers who have topped 100 mph. In an era of increasingly fastballs, 100 mph is not as special as it once was.안전놀이터

The strongest challenger is undoubtedly the Minnesota Twins’ Yoan Duran. Duran touched 104.6 mph on May 24 against San Francisco, his highest velocity of the season. Duran made his debut last year, and raising the bar a bit will give him a better sense of where he stands in terms of velocity.

Number of ‘102 mph’ pitches in 2022-23

130 – Johan Duran
91 – Jordan Hicks
55 – Ryan Helmsley

Fastballs aren’t everything. A 100 mph fastball without a strikeout is just window dressing. But that doesn’t take away from the thrill of the pitch. As long as baseball exists, pitchers will instinctively look for the fastball. And we will continue to be fascinated by those fastballs.


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