The background for the question is that velocity has been going up for so long as we have had good measurements for it. That is true of most different athletic expertise we will isolate: In the previous century, the marathon document has dropped by almost an hour, the 100-meter report by about one full second, and the 1,500-meter freestyle swim by more than seven minutes. The bench-press document has roughly doubled, and the hour report for bicyclists a century in the past has been surpassed by the current document for 60-year-olds. Gear modifications are undeniably a part of these new marks, however progress can also be pretty intuitive.
In the event you take a look at FanGraphs leaderboards, the place you’ll be able to see the average fastball velocity for every year since 2002, you will see a similarly steep climb: In 2002, FanGraphs shows, the league-average fastball was 89.zero mph, and in 2018 it was 92.8 mph. You may hold that trajectory going by means of 2030 and end up with one thing like 95, but there are two issues you run into:
1. The best way we measure fastball velocity keeps altering, and even those FanGraphs numbers symbolize multiple shifts in know-how. While every season’s velo is accurate on its own, the relationship from one season to another is misleading. The typical fastball has not truly gone up Four mph since 2002.
2. That steep decades-plus climb? It has instantly stopped. Which is an enormous “wait, what?” moment.
In 2019, we’re spoiled with precision, however for most of baseball history, we have got a a lot rougher understanding of what occurred and at what velocity. It still gets us pretty near the fact: We know Willie Mays was a unprecedented middle fielder without figuring out what his Statcast-derived defensive metrics would have been, and Maury Wills was very fast with out us understanding his ft/second velocity.
So we principally know Walter Johnson was the hardest thrower of his era, or darned near it. After which Bob Feller. And then Nolan Ryan. And then the relievers — Rob Dibble, Mark Wohlers — and in the 2000s Randy Johnson, Joel Zumaya, Justin Verlander, Aroldis Chapman, a lineage you possibly can monitor from the Huge Practice by means of to Jordan Hicks.
We get just a little silly making an attempt to put numbers on these early pitchers, though. Just like supposed tape-measure residence runs, these figures are a mix of hype, misunderstandings and artistic problem-solving utilized to fill the deficit of know-how. That and anecdote, in fact. The ways these legendary fastballs have been measured have all the time been altering: Johnson’s was measured at a bullet-testing vary, Feller’s “on photoelectric devices” by the Army, and both also raced bikes with pitches. Ryan made the Guinness World Data ebook based mostly on readings by “four Rockwell International scientists” at a 1974 recreation, and after that radar guns turned widespread for scouting — overlaying the development from Goose Gossage in the 1970s via Zumaya in the 2000s. But that did not assure consistency: The type of guns used changed, from guns that measured the ball because it crossed the plate to ones that measured it out of the pitcher’s hand. That required an adjustment of Four-5 mph, in accordance with Kevin Kerrane, who wrote the basic e-book on scouting, “Dollar Sign on the Muscle.”
The results all through typically defied perception or have been wildly inconsistent. Johnson was clocked at 83 mph in one check and 99.7 in one other. A “hand-cranked camera, a special-made watch, and a grid-backdrop” in 1917 registered pitch speeds of 150 mph, and 1960s enigma Steve Dalkowski was stated to have often topped 110 based mostly on nothing however observer certainty. Feller claims he threw 107.9, and Ryan’s world-record pitch, adjusted for the place the radar picked the pitch up, is usually credited as truly 108.5 mph. Who knows?! However it in all probability wasn’t.
Even trendy speeds require changes or, typically, skepticism. The early FanGraphs velocities — 2002 and through the middle of that decade — are based mostly on radar-gun velocities recorded (off TV broadcasts) by Baseball Information Solutions, which have been then replaced by PITCHf/x readings later in the decade, which have been then replaced as the official measurement by Statcast in 2017. Statcast measures pitches sooner out of a pitcher’s hand than PITCHf/x did, so it added virtually one tick to what we considered each fastball. The hand-recorded speeds before PITCHf/x, meanwhile, have been much less correct in pitch classification, so some non-fastballs — especially cutters, which weren’t but damaged out or frequently recognized — would depress the averages. And all of those methods, to various degrees, have some calibration error.
Which leaves us unable to actually say what the trajectory has been, beside virtually definitely “up.” We all know that, within the BIS years, velocity went steadily up. We know that, inside the PITCHf/x years, it went steadily up, by about 1 mph over a decade. We know extra pitches at the moment are thrown by relievers, who as a gaggle are capable of throw more durable in brief stints than starters are in longer ones. We also know that, when Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur lately dove into 73,000 previous scouting studies that had been leaked to them, there was a clear upward trajectory within one organization’s reviews during the 1990s. The typical “max” velocity for pitchers scouted in 1991 was 88 mph, but by 2003 it was almost 92 mph.
“In addition to the fact that velocity increased over this time frame,” Lindbergh and Arthur wrote, “some evidence suggests that Reds scouts also began to prioritize velocity to a greater degree. The correlation between max velocity and amateur [Overall Future Projection] was strong throughout the years covered by the data, but it appeared to get stronger in the later years. Similarly, pro reports always showed a significant difference in average fastball velocity between players the Reds were interested in and those they weren’t (as indicated by the ‘ProsAcq’ field). As the years went on, though, their preference for velocity increased.” In different words: Groups’ choice for velocity grew, giving pitchers more incentive to throw more durable — and groups extra incentive to draft and develop arduous throwers — which might help explain why velocity continued to go up in the many years that adopted.
So, with limitations on what we know, it’s in all probability accountable to conclude that pitchers throw more durable now than they used to, that this rise has been happening persistently and for a very long time, and that this was the results of logical forces at work.
Which brings us to the past three years. With the caveat that there are nonetheless things that make this difficult to say conclusively — corresponding to the proportion of two-seamers to four-seamers, or the inclusion of extra position players pitching in blowouts — the development appears to have hit a wall. Listed here are the common velocities going again to 2008 of just four-seam fastballs, by way of MLB Advanced Media. (The current years use Statcast; earlier than that, the PITCHf/x figures have been adjusted for the totally different measurement spots, which is to say, these are apples to apples. They should symbolize the most exact and consistent measure of fastball velocity in the sport’s history.)
- 2018: 93.2 mph
- 2017: 93.2
- 2016: 93.2
- 2015: 93.1
- 2014: 92.eight
- 2013: 92.7
- 2012: 92.5
- 2011: 92.Four
- 2010: 92.2
- 2009: 92.1
- 2008: 91.9
As Jeff Sullivan wrote final month, the proportion of fastballs over 95 mph or 100 mph has additionally flattened out, and the fee of pitchers averaging over 95 decreased final yr.
Crucially, the velocity of fastballs thrown by rookies has flattened out. Only a few pitchers add velocity as they age, so the rise in velocity has all the time been driven more by each new group of pitchers (and the retirement of previous groups of pitchers). However the current teams have been the first in fairly a while who did not surpass their predecessors.
In the meantime, pitchers who’re already in the majors aren’t, collectively, slowing down. This chart exhibits the average four-seam velocities by pitchers who also appeared in the earlier season — not rookies, but established main leaguers:
They have not hit a plateau in any respect, which appears to rule out the speculation that pitchers in the majors merely aren’t making an attempt to throw as onerous anymore, or that we are seeing a measurement error. Pitchers nonetheless need to throw more durable. Velo continues to be thought-about good.
One among two issues can be the easiest rationalization. The primary is that groups have give up choosing as much for velocity once they draft and develop pitchers. Pitchers still need to throw as exhausting as they’re capable of — quicker is usually higher — however hard-throwing pitchers may not be crowding out pitchers with other, less-velocity-dependent talent sets. We are likely to worth what we will measure, so when radar weapons have been the solely tech software for scouts, velocity took on an outsized significance in analysis. However Trackman models are becoming ubiquitous and permit groups to measure spin rates, pitch movement and efficient velocity. Golf equipment can access the entire rainbow now, which has allowed them to look past velocity and make extra nuanced assessments of younger pitchers.
The opposite is that we’ve merely reached a peak. There won’t be a wave of next prospects capable of redefining what human ligaments can do.
“Pitching, unlike most athletic activities, has reached the limit of what is humanly possible,” Tom Verducci wrote in a 2008 profile of Tim Lincecum. “So while we are accustomed to increasingly swifter sprinters, faster swimmers, longer drivers of the golf ball and bigger football players, you will not see a pitcher throwing 110 mph. The arm and shoulder are maxed out. Pushed any further, the shoulder would blow, like an engine in a race car.”
The subsequent decade appeared intent on disproving that. But the prediction won’t have been flawed, just a bit early.
The fastest fastball recorded by MLB’s most precise measurement methods seems to be 105.eight mph, by Aroldis Chapman. I can consider it, greater than I can consider Nolan Ryan ever threw 108 or Bob Feller 107. The fastest common fastball for the league is final yr’s 93.2 mph. I can consider it.
However that Chapman pitch was thrown virtually a decade ago, and that 93.2 mph common is not any quicker than it was in 2016. We have reached a weird state of affairs, the place we now have an enormous sample of shifting, mutating, imprecise knowledge that inform us velocities all the time go up. And we have now a really small pattern — three years — of extraordinarily exact knowledge telling us that that history has stopped.
Predict what’ll happen by 2030? Buddy, I’m in knots making an attempt to predict this yr. But right here we go:
- Fastest fastball in 2019: 104.9 mph, by Jordan Hicks
- Common fastball in 2019: 93.Four
- Quickest fastball by 2030: 106.5
- Average fastball in 2030: 94.4
I have no real proof for any of this, however that’s how it’s. We will lastly measure enough to know what we’ve seen, but we’re still means brief on the subject of answering what we’ll see.
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