Are pitchers throwing harder these days?

This story claims Aroldis Champman of the Reds can throw between 102 and 106 mph fastballs. And I know I’ve seen a number of other pitchers who can throw over 100 mph. That made me wonder. Back when I started following baseball in the 80s, pitchers at best seemed to throw about 95 mph. Many All-Stars had fastball in the high or even mid-80s. What’s with the change? Better conditioning and coaching? Chemical enhancement? Are radar guns themselves different? And why is a hard thrower like Chapman a middle reliever rather than a closer or starter?

Selective memory, I think. Nolan Ryan, among others from that era, had a fastball that could hit 100 mph. Bob Feller, who pitched in the 1940s and 1950s, allegedly once had a pitch clocked at 107.6 mph.

Nolan Ryan definitely threw harder than that and I’m sure he was not the only one. I admit it’s hard to get reliable measurements of pitch speed, but I’m dubious there is a lot of difference. This site suggests it’s not possible to throw a baseball much harder than 100 mph without blowing out your elbow. The piece is from 2005 but there are pitches of 100 mph and more dating from the mid-'70s and later. Most of the pitches are from the '90s and 2000s. It’s possible that because there is more specialization in relief pitching these days, pitchers who throw hard but can’t do much else are catching on as relievers. Chapman’s top speed by consensus seems to be 105 mph.

Because he’s young and not that experienced. They don’t want to overwork him and see him break down. Given the money he is making, he’s expected to start eventually.

With Chapman it is mainly a question of endurance. He can throw 100 one day, but the next he can’t hit 95. He is going have to be able to maintain his velocity in order to get a more prominent role.


Were they clocking pitches in the 40s and 50s?

Sure, just not during a game. 98.6mph… at home plate.

Found this nice site discussing the fastest ever pitches and how the exact value is calculated.

Not sure if this is the same for baseball, but certainly in cricket there is an element of diminishing returns for any increase in speed.
Not least of which is that, when you get up to the upper reaches it takes more and more physical effort to eke out every extra mph. So you are putting enormous strains

As a result, in cricket certainly, we don’t really have fast bowlers now who are substantially quicker than in the past.

Of course fitness and technique have been improved and they may be able to bowl quite fast for a long time and with greater physical economy, control and accuracy. That is the holy grail for a bowler. (though the crowd of course do enjoy a littlechin-music as much as the next man…providing the next man isn’t the next bowler in)

I’d certainly say that pitchers are throwing harder then in the 40s, 50s, and 60s (whether the ball goes faster is a separate issue).

Starting pitchers back then were expected to pitch nine innings. Thus, they had to pace themselves – take a little bit off their pitches in order to last. They would ease up from time to time, often with the weaker parts of the order. No reason to blow out your arm throwing a 95 mph fastball to the pitcher – throw one at 80 and he’ll probably miss it, anyway.

Now, starting pitchers are expected to throw as hard as they can and be pulled when they start to get tired. There’s no need to pace yourself – toss it at 95 with every fastball (though a smart pitcher will change speeds and mix pitches). It’s the same with relievers – they will only face a small number of batters, so you throw as hard as you can with every pitch.

The DH has added to the issue, since there are fewer weak batter who you can throw a little slower to.

er…unless my physics teacher lied to me, aren’t the two exactly the same?

force, mass and velocity and all that other stuff that I’ve forgotten.

So a ball carrying more force has to either be more massive or be thrown at a higher velocity. I may have misunderstood you though.

Yeah, and he just ran into that wall last week when he was asked to pitch 3 or four games in a row and by the last game his fastball couldn’t crack 92mph. But he should be able to do that as a set-up guy. He’s not logging a lot of innings and he’s young.

Dusty Baker will learn him!


The Reds already have a closer. Chapman is expected to be first in line for the role if Cordero gets injured.

I saw a site that said Zumaya threw the fastest pitches ever clocked. His elbow is hurt again. he is on the DL more often than off it.

I have no doubt that the velocity of fastballs for fastball pitchers has gone up over the years if you look at them as a group and don’t focus on freakishly hard throwing outliers. However, I can only find data to back this up for the last nine seasons.

Compare 2002:

To 2010:

This is sorted by average fastball velocity for pitchers with more than 20 innings. 35th place in 2010 would have been 13th place in 2002.

I don’t think they did it very often. I’ve heard of experiments of Bob Feller throwing a baseball just as a motorcyclist went by at 80 mph…ergo, Feller threw faster than 80 mph. And there was one experiment using high speed photography. There were others from time to time, such as timing minor league legend Steve Dalkowski at the Abderdeen Proving Grounds

But I remember in the mid70s the California Angels making a big deal out of bringing in a radar gun to time Nolan Ryan. He was something like the mid 90s, if I recail correctly. But nowadays every pitch gets radar timed.

My gut feeling is pitchers throw harder today. More specialization. Bigger and stronger juiced athletes.

Or it’s spinning more, as with splitters and sliders.

Funny, I was going to start a thread asking, “why can’t pitcher throw harder today than they could a hundred years ago?” Walter Johnson and Smokey Joe Wood did pitch 100 years ago and supposedly both could throw 100mph. Bob Feller pitched 70 years ago and he supposedly threw 100mph (he claimed to have been clocked at over 107 in an exhibition game). J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan were throwing 100 over 30 years ago. Today Chapman is throwing 105 and that’s a good 3 mph higher than the next guy and he obviously cannot sustain that for very long.

What is it about the 100mph barrier for pitchers? Track stars are running much faster now than they did 100 years ago. Athletes are generally much, much stronger now than 100 years ago, some of that due to drugs, no doubt. But what limits pitchers to around the 100mph mark?

Jesse Owens ran the 100 in 1936 in 10.3, Usain Bolt has the current record of 9.59. Only a 7%(appx.) improvement.

Part of the improvement is different track surfaces, spikes and training in technique and understanding of training needs.

There does seem to be more pitchers throwing near 100 than in the days of Feller and Johnson.

Pitching is more than just throwing hard, you also need to control the pitch and not throw your arm out in just a few pitches.

ETA: Pitching stresses the arm/elbow in ways that sprinting does not stress the legs. It may be that pitchers are already at the body’s limit for throwing hard.

Well, Sidd Finch was clocked at 168 MPH, if I recall correctly, back in 1985…

If you have film, you can time the pitch and correct for 16 feet per second film and calculate the speed.

Would that make any detectable difference to the force applied to the bat at point of contact or the catcher glove? I suspect not.
It is rather like the “hang time” myth in basketball.