To those who are fans of the game, baseball is known as a game of finesse. It is a game won by the little things: a step here, a pivot there. There is technique and trickery involved in every aspect of the game. At no other position is finesse, technique, and deception more important than on the mound.
But off-speed pitches are nothing if they don’t contrast against a good fastball. Over the years there have been various pitchers who have been known to throw the ball at incredible speeds. It seems that the more the game progresses the faster pitchers are able to throw the ball. Let’s take a look at some of the fastest pitchers ever to take the mound.
The 1978 All-Star Game
Going back all the way to the 1978 All-Star game is a good place to start in the history of the hardest throwing pitchers of all time. The game was played in San Diego at the Padres stadium.
Two pitchers in that game did something unforgettable for fans and for the record books. Nolan Ryan, who played for the California Angels threw a 103 mile an hour fastball. Not to be outdone, New York Yankees pitcher Goose Gossage also clocked in at 103 during the game.
It’s clear from looking at the careers of these two pitchers that speed matters. One marker of a great pitcher is his ability to get strikeouts. No one was better at this than Nolan Ryan. And no one has been as good since. During his career he struck out 5,714 hitters. The next on the list? Randy Johnson with 839.
It’s hard to fathom how Ryan did it. But it’s almost certain that his record can never be passed. It should be noted that with great speed can sometimes come inaccuracy. Ryan does hold the number one spot for all time bases on balls.
Nonetheless Ryan is remembered as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He in the Hall of Fame and has had his jersey retired by three different ball clubs. No one else since has been retired by as many teams.
Goose Gossage’s career is perhaps not as illustrious as Ryan’s but is impressive indeed. As a closer, he lead the American league in saves in 1978 with 27. In his career, right-handed batters combined for a measly .211 average against him. He was also inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Nolan and Gossage were two of the hardest throwers in their day but sadly for them, they have been surpassed.
In 2010 Aroldis Chapman, threw a fastball with the recorded speed of 105.1 mph. To this day no pitcher has been able to top him (although some sources will dispute this). Not only is Chapman the fastest pitcher, he is consistently fast. He typically throws the ball at 100 mph or more making him current top pitcher in terms of speed.
Chapman hails from Cuba where he played baseball professionally until 2010 when he signed with the Cincinnati Reds. Since debuting in the Major leagues Chapman has made a successful career as a relief pitcher for the not only the Reds but the Royals, Yankees, and Cubs.
Benefits of Speed
Chapman is not just a fastball pitcher of course. He throws a slider and a changeup as well. His fastball on average is thrown at about 100 mph with his slider coming in at around 88. His changeup of course is a bit slower. In the 2015 season he recorded 62 of fastest pitches league-wide. There is no question that speed is working for him.
How hard you throw the ball is of course not the only thing that makes a great pitcher. Accuracy, poise, and a variety of pitches are necessary too. But from taking a look at some of the greats of all time it is clear that how fast a pitcher can throw makes a big difference.
Chapman may not make the Hall of Fame like his predecessors Nolan and Gossage but he will certainly be remember as one of the hardest throwing pitchers ever to play the game. It may not be the ultimate reward for a baseball player but it is certainly nothing to sneeze at.