We're in the golden age of pitch velocity -- and our ability to measure it. But flamethrowers aren’t a new phenomenon in Major League Baseball, going back to the days of greats such as Walter Johnson. As far as the technology of the time could tell us, Nolan Ryan threw a 100 mph fastball. Randy Johnson was clocked as high as 102. Bob Feller may have hit 104 in his day, although we only have some creative science experiments to rely on for that figure.
Unfortunately, while today we can measure velocity out of a pitcher’s hand, for most of history, radar clocked a pitch closer to home plate. The incredible fastballs of the 20th century, as a result, are more legend than fact. That changed in 2008 with the installation of pitch tracking software in all 30 ballparks. Now we almost take for granted our ability to know just how hard modern pitchers can throw.
When Hunter Greene, the Reds' top prospect entering the 2022 season, officially joined the Major League rotation, the hype was real. This was the same young player who hit 104 mph in his Triple-A debut in 2021. In his first two starts at the big league level, he's lived up to that type -- and then some. In his debut, Greene threw 20 fastballs of at least 100 mph, good for 7th-most by a starting pitcher in an appearance since 2008.
He was apparently just getting started, however, as in his second start, on the road at Dodger Stadium, Greene shattered that tally -- and Jacob deGrom's Major League record (33) -- by throwing 39 fastballs that broke 100 mph.
While Greene has so far topped out at 102, he'll be in rare company if he can dial it up one more notch. Only 11 pitchers have hit 103 mph even once in a regular-season game, and only three have thrown more than 10 such pitches.
Pitches recorded at 103+ mph, since 2008
1. Aroldis Chapman: 273
2. Jordan Hicks: 61
3. Mauricio Cabrera: 11
4. Bruce Rondón: 7
5. Henry Alberto Rodriguez: 5
6. Joel Zumaya: 4
7. Tayron Guerrero: 4
8. Bobby Parnell: 2
9. Jonathan Broxton: 1
10. Neftalí Feliz: 1
11. Kelvin Herrera: 1
Meanwhile, the list of fastest pitches officially on record has stood undisturbed since 2018, but with Greene in the Reds' rotation, it might be in for an update.
Fastest recorded pitches, since 2008
1. Aroldis Chapman: 105.8 mph (9/24/10)
2. Aroldis Chapman: 105.7 mph (7/18/16)
3. Aroldis Chapman: 105.4 mph (7/18/16)
4. Aroldis Chapman: 105.2 mph (7/22/16)
5. Aroldis Chapman: 105.1 mph (7/22/16)
6. Aroldis Chapman: 105.1 mph (8/2/16)
7. Aroldis Chapman: 105.1 mph (7/18/16)
8. Aroldis Chapman: 105.0 mph (7/23/16)
9. Jordan Hicks: 105.0 mph (5/20/18)
10. Jordan Hicks: 105.0 mph (5/20/18)
Here’s a look at some of the hardest throwers the game has seen in the pitch-tracking era.
He’s all over the leaderboards above, so we’d be remiss not to talk about him. While Chapman has dialed it back as he's matured, his four-seamer still averages 98.3 mph, and in the last few seasons he’s incorporated a sinker that averaged 100.7 mph in 2021. That pitch is as unfair to opposing batters as it sounds -- it was literally unhittable in 2021, with opponents going 0-for-28 with 20 strikeouts and a 52.8% whiff rate against it.
It’d be impossible to say for certain, but there’s a real possibility that the Guardians’ closer is the hardest-throwing pitcher in the history of the game. Clase’s primary fastball is a cutter that sat at 100.2 mph in 2021, but once in a while he also threw in a four-seamer that averaged 100.7 mph. In his career, his overall average velocity -- of his cutter and four-seamer combined -- is exactly 100 mph, highest among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 1,000 fastballs since 2008.
Even hampered by injuries, deGrom has better velocity than any other starting pitcher. His four-seamer has picked up a ton over the past five years, going from a 94 mph average in 2016 to 99.2 mph in 2021. Last season, he threw 185 pitches at 100 mph or higher -- the third most in baseball and most among starters, despite being limited to just 92 innings of work -- and topped out at 102.
If Clase is the hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball history, Hicks is an extremely close second. His career average fastball velocity is also 100 mph, and he only loses ground on Clase for lack of recent playing time. Hicks had Tommy John surgery in July 2019 and dealt with elbow inflammation last season. But if he stays healthy, get ready to see something special -- he offered a preview in Spring Training with this ridiculous 101.9 mph heater.
While he’s since left New York, Syndergaard is another flamethrower out of the Mets’ farm system, and before injuries disrupted his progress -- he’s thrown just two innings since 2019 -- there wasn’t a starter in the game who could top his velocity. From his debut in May 2015 through the end of the 2019 season, his four-seamer was the hardest thrown by any starter in the game (min. 500 pitches) at an even 98 mph.
Since 2014, Cole's first full season in the Majors, only two pitchers have thrown more pitches at 98 mph or higher -- Chapman and Syndergaard. His average four-seam fastball velocity reached an all-time high of 97.7 mph in 2021, his age-31 season. He gets a ton of mileage out of that heater, too. Since his breakout 2018 season, he's racked up 443 strikeouts on four-seamers, more than anyone else. And it isn't close -- in second place entering the 2022 season is Max Scherzer at 362.
Alcantara draws less attention than Cole, but the Marlins' ace actually has him beat in multiple categories. For one, his average four-seam fastball velocity in 2021 was higher, at 98.1 mph, second only to deGrom among starting pitchers (he also throws a 97.6 mph sinker). To top it all off, it was Alcantara who led starters in pitches thrown 98 mph or higher in 2021 -- he threw 727, to deGrom's 621 and Cole's 585.
Verlander might feel out of place on this list. Even from 2009-13, between his age-26 and age-30 seasons, in which he made five straight All-Star appearances and won a pitching triple crown, his average four-seam velocity was "just" 95.4 mph, which feels downright pedestrian next to deGrom or Cole. But Verlander is the original pitch tracking marvel. One has to consider, though, that between 2011 and 2021, the league's average four-seam velocity rose 1.3 mph. And, even at the time, his raw velocity was less remarkable than when it kicked in. Verlander may have been the first pitcher who definitively threw harder as the game wore on -- since 2008, his average four-seam fastball velocity is 94.4 mph in the first inning, and 96.0 mph in the eighth or later.
Admittedly, Graterol had a rough regular season in 2021, but there's nothing speculative about including him here. His primary pitch is a 100 mph sinker that he throws 59.1% of the time, and the average velocity of his sinker, cutter, and four-seam combined came out to 99.4 mph in 2021, just behind Clase at 100.2 mph. 4.59 ERA aside, Graterol was as effective as anyone come October, allowing the second-lowest wOBA in the postseason (min. 75 pitches).
The Mets don't just have the hardest-throwing ace -- they have one of the game's hardest-throwing closers, too. Díaz throws a 98.8 mph four-seamer he throws about 60 percent of the time. And while it's generally less effective than his wipeout slider, in terms of velocity, in 2021, it was second only to deGrom's.