The Measure Of A Fastball Has Changed Over The Years — College Baseball, MLB Draft, Prospects - Baseball America (2024)

A fast fastball is a lot faster than it used to be.

On Sept. 24, 2010, Aroldis Chapman threw the fastest recorded pitch in major league history.

His 105.1 mph fastball was the first time the 105 mph barrier had been broken. It wasn’t Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, but it was significant.

But Major League Baseball now registers that pitch as a 105.8 mph fastball. Over the course of the past decade, Chapman’s fastest fastball had gotten faster by nearly a mile per hour. What was a 105 mph fastball can now be said (with rounding) to be the first recorded 106 mph pitch in MLB history.

How can that be? It all comes down to where the pitch is measured.

The moment a baseball leaves a pitcher’s hand, it starts to slow down because of drag. According to University of Illinois physicist Dr. Alan Nathan, a pitch that leaves a pitcher’s hand at 100 mph will (at sea level) slow down by 9 to 10% by the time it crosses the plate some 55-58 feet later.

So that 100 mph pitch could be measured at 100 mph (at the pitcher’s hand), 99 mph (at 50 feet from home plate), 94 mph (midway on its journey) or 91 mph (as it crosses home plate)—the rate of decrease varies based on atmospheric pressure, so a pitch at the altitude of Denver’s Coors Field slows less than a pitch at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Pitch/FX system that MLB used in 2010 measured pitches at roughly 50 feet from home plate, which is where the 105.1 mph of Chapman’s fastball was measured. The current MLB Statcast system measures velocity as the pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand. MLB has gone back and recalibrated Pitch/FX pitches to convert them to their velocity at pitch release. That’s why Chapman’s fastest fastball found an extra .7 mph.

For decades, comparing pitch velocities has often been an apples-and-oranges discussion. The first radar guns that began appearing at ballparks in the late 1970s and early 1980s measured pitches much closer to the plate. The Speedgun, developed by Decatur Technologies (a long-time maker of police radar guns) measured closer to the plate than the JUGS gun. For scouts, the Speedgun was known as the “slow gun” while the JUGS gun registered faster readings and was the “fast gun.”

Then Stalker came out with its Pro Sports radar gun in the early 1990s. It measured velocity closer to the pitcher’s release point than the JUGS gun, so the JUGS flipped to being the slow gun.

A 90 mph pitch on a Speedgun could register at 92 on a JUGS gun and 93-94 mph on a Stalker. The tech continued to improve. A 94 mph pitch on the Stalker Pro registered as 95 on the Stalker Pro II.

So when you read of 85-90 mph fastballs from the early 1980s, realize that they would be registering much faster with current measurement tech. An 85 mph fastball (if registered by a Speedgun at the plate) would be roughly 93 mph if measured by Statcast out of the pitcher’s hand.

And that makes the 100 mph pitches Nolan Ryan threw in 1974 (as measured by Rockwell laser/radar instruments relatively close to the plate) even more remarkable today.

Now that Statcast has been measuring pitches since 2007, and has adjusted all of those pitches to the same scale, we now have a consistent scale to measure pitches, which leads to the question: are pitchers throwing harder, or are we just measuring the pitches closer to the hand?

Every year, MLB pitchers are throwing harder than they were before. In 2007, the average four-seam fastball measured out of the hand at 91.9 mph. In 2023, the average four-seam fastball measured out of the hand at 94.2 mph. Over the past 16 years, there has never been a season where the average four-seam fastball velocity has dipped from the previous year.

The Measure Of A Fastball Has Changed Over The Years — College Baseball, MLB Draft, Prospects - Baseball America (1)

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The Measure Of A Fastball Has Changed Over The Years — College Baseball, MLB Draft, Prospects - Baseball America (2024)

FAQs

The Measure Of A Fastball Has Changed Over The Years — College Baseball, MLB Draft, Prospects - Baseball America? ›

In 2007, the average four-seam fastball measured out of the hand at 91.9 mph. In 2023, the average four-seam fastball measured out of the hand at 94.2 mph. Over the past 16 years, there has never been a season where the average four-seam fastball velocity has dipped from the previous year.

How has baseball pitching changed over the years? ›

According to data from Fangraphs and Statcast, the average major league fastball has improved 3.8 miles an hour in the past 20 years, and the number of pitches at or above 100 mph has jumped from a couple hundred in a season, to what could be nearly a couple thousand this year.

How fast did they pitch in the 1920s? ›

However, after watching footage of pitchers from the 1920s, the author revised their opinion. They suggest that pitchers like Satchel Paige, Lefty Grove, and Dazzy Vance likely topped out in the low or middle 90s miles per hour, which was considered impressive at the time [1].

What is the average speed of a fastball in MLB history? ›

The maximum average changeup speed in 2020 was 89.3 mph. The avg four-seam fastball speed increased from 91.9 mph in 2008 to 93.1 mph in 2015. The number of pitches thrown 100 mph or higher each MLB season has dramatically increased from 147 in 2008 to 1,320 in 2017.

How fast did pitchers throw in the 1960s? ›

The estimates I've seen indicate that most successful pitchers fastball ranged from the high 80s to mid 90s. Steve Dalkowski was the hardest thrower in the 60s. He threw a fastball at 100 mph or better in his prime. Some estimates have him throwing 110 mph.

How fast did pitchers throw in the 1940s? ›

A similar retroactive calculation exercise has also been done for Feller, widely accepted as the hardest thrower in the 1930s and 1940s. Feller had pitches tracked by equipment used by the Army to measure the velocity of ordnances, and one was measured at 98.6 MPH at home plate.

How fast do college pitchers throw? ›

College Baseball Pitching Averages and How to Reach Them
Pitch (RHP)Speed (MPH)Pitch (LHP)
4-Seam Fastball85 MPH4-Seam Fastball
Cutter79 MPHCutter
Curveball73 MPHCurveball
Slider76 MPHSlider
4 more rows
Jun 7, 2023

How fast was Sandy Koufax fastball? ›

Koufax was an American baseball legend. He possessed a 100-mph fastball and what announcer Vin Scully called “a twelve-to-six curveball” that started at 12 o'clock then dropped to 6 o'clock. From 1963–1966, he had the best four-year span of any pitcher in baseball history.

How fast was Nolan Ryan's pitch in 1974? ›

During a September 7, 1974 game against the Chicago White Sox at Anaheim Stadium, Ryan became the first Major League pitcher to have his pitch speed measured during a game. A primitive radar gun clocked a ninth-inning fastball at 100.8 miles per hour (162.2 km/h) when it was 10 feet (3.0 m) in front of home plate.

What was the average speed of the pitchers in Babe Ruth era? ›

From what I could discover, pitchers threw around 65–70 miles per hour on average in the Babe Ruth era from 1918 to 1935. Faster pitchers like Walter Johnson could reach 75 miles per hour.

What was Babe Ruth's fastest pitch? ›

Highlights: Fastest Recorded Baseball Pitches

Another one of thefastest baseball pitches was thrown by Nolan Ryan in 1974 at 100.9 mph. In Babe Ruth's era, the fastest pitch was only 93.8 mph., thrown by Carl Mays. Chapman holds the record for the most pitches recorded above 105 mph in one game (2).

How hard is it to hit a 100 mph fastball? ›

How hard is it to hit a 100 mph fastball in the MLB? For mere mortals like us, it is darn near impossible. But for professional baseball players who are good enough to get to the major leagues, it is difficult, but far from impossible. In fact, most power hitters go up to the plate looking for the fastball.

How long does it take to hit a 100 mph fastball? ›

How long does it take a baseball pitched at 100 mph to reach home plate, accounting for acceleration? The distance from the pitcher's hand to home plate is 60 feet, 6 inches. So…… At 100 mph the ball covers 146.7 feet per second, or 0.412 seconds to get to the batter.

How fast did Nolan Ryan pitch? ›

Thus, tales of Nolan Ryan's 108.1 mph fastball in 1974 or Bob Feller's 107.6 mph pitch in 1946 remain unofficial. After spending multiple seasons with the New York Yankees, Chapman recently finalized a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals for the 2023 season.

How fast was Bob Gibson's fastball? ›

The statistic highlights the exceptional performance of Bob Gibson during the 1968 World Series in a segment called Prime 9. It specifically focuses on his incredible ability to throw a pitch at an impressive speed of 103 miles per hour, which was considered one of the fastest pitches of that era.

How big was Babe Ruth? ›

6 ft 2 inches

Do pitchers throw harder now? ›

Pitchers are throwing more spin and fewer fastballs.

You might have been aware of this in recent years, but what's new is that the more-spin/fewer-heaters model has boomed over just the past two seasons. As an example, Texas reliever Josh Sborz throws his fastball at 97 mph with elite spin properties.

How fast did pitchers throw in the 1980s? ›

So when you read of 85-90 mph fastballs from the early 1980s, realize that they would be registering much faster with current measurement tech. An 85 mph fastball (if registered by a Speedgun at the plate) would be roughly 93 mph if measured by Statcast out of the pitcher's hand.

What is the history of the baseball pitch? ›

In baseball, the pitch is the act of throwing the baseball toward home plate to start a play. The term comes from the Knickerbocker Rules. Originally, the ball had to be thrown underhand, much like "pitching in horseshoes". Overhand pitching was not allowed in baseball until 1884.

How fast did pitchers throw in the 1930s? ›

Lefty Grove was the first pitcher to use leg drive to increase his pitch velocity, but his technique became standard practice only gradually. Most pitchers didn't throw as fast as 90 mph. Some, who relied mostly on breaking pitches, were a lot slower than 85 mph.

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