A Series of Revolutionary Pitching Velocity Articles
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How Much Does It Cost? Litwhiler saw it mostly as a teaching tool, one that would allow his pitchers to measure the velocity difference between their fastballs and changeups. Litwhiler paid the MSU police for one of their early guns, which he sent to Paulson to be adapted for use in timing baseball pitches. Litwhiler understood almost immediately that the radar gun could be revolutionary. He wrote to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in hopes of alerting all major league teams, and he traveled to spring training in to show it off to big league managers, coaches and executives.
Orioles manager Earl Weaver was an early adopter, but like Litwhiler, he saw the gun as most valuable for making sure there was a big enough differential between a pitcher's fastball and his changeup. He also saw it as a useful tool to help determine whether a pitcher was tiring. In his book Weaver on Strategy , the Orioles manager wrote that it took him six years to convince the front office to provide them to the clubs' minor league teams. And in the days before velocities were listed on every scoreboard, he couldn't convince the Orioles to send someone on the road with the big league team to operate a gun and signal its reading to the dugout.
The early versions of the gun would also offer wildly different readings.
For many years, you had to specify whether a reading came from the "fast gun" made by JUGS or the "slow gun" made by Decatur. Some teams and scouts used one, some the other, with the difference in readings said to result from whether the pitch speed was measured right out of the pitcher's hand or when it crossed the plate. Since the teams only cared about comparing one pitcher to another, the difference hardly mattered as long as each of their scouts used the same model.
But if you're trying to compare pitchers from different eras, those small differences can make all the difference in the world. There's a general consensus that major league pitchers are throwing harder than ever and that the same holds true for amateur pitchers. Even over the last seven years, data compiled from MLB. In , only eight major league starters averaged 95 mph or better on their fastball, according to charts on Baseball Prospectus. The number jumped to 15 by and to 20 last year. The same goes for relievers, with 27 throwing 95 or better in , and 54 at 95 or better last year.
There's no consensus on why pitchers are throwing harder, but there are plenty of theories. And one of them is that the radar gun itself has played a part. Two major league pitching coaches mentioned it as a significant factor, saying that radar guns are more available to kids and their parents at younger ages, and radar gun readings are more available to pitchers at every level of baseball.
Pitchers are getting bigger and stronger, with better deliveries learned and perfected at younger ages, and they're also able to set velocity goals for themselves and work to meet them. They also know that a few extra clicks on the gun can translate into thousands or even millions of dollars in draft bonuses or in college scholarships.
The Radar Gun Revolution
Because whether we like it or not, the radar gun rules when it comes to evaluating pitchers. Every veteran scout moans about the tendency to classify pitchers simply by how hard they throw, but every team requires scouts to list velocity on every report.
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And velocity matters so much at the top of the draft that it stands out when a team like the Cincinnati Reds selects a pitcher like Mike Leake with one of the top picks. Leake is hardly a soft tosser. But in a world where even some high school pitchers are throwing mph, Reds scouting director Chris Buckley gets praise from colleagues for looking past the gun and realizing that Leake could be a successful big league pitcher without being the hardest thrower in the game.
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The radar gun readings are just a statistic, and what we try to tell people is when you just look at statistics, you don't get the full story. This season, Leake's average velocity for all pitches Meanwhile, Chapman's No one can ignore velocity now.
It's on the scoreboard for every pitch in every big league ballpark.
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It's on the television screen for every pitch on every big league telecast. It's available on MLB. And there's a site called BrooksBaseball. Besides compiling all the info from MLB. The publicly available readings are considered accurate enough that many major league scouts don't even carry radar guns to the ballpark. Gone are the days when a home team might manipulate a scoreboard reading simply to get in the head of a hard-throwing opposing pitcher as one former general manager admits to doing with former Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya.
I'll tell you, [former A's, Orioles and Indians general manager] Hank Peters never asked me how hard someone threw. Kansas City Royals scout Art Stewart, who has spent seven decades in baseball, does carry a radar gun and said he finds it especially useful for judging amateur pitchers in night games in poorly lit ballparks. Stewart remembers that in the early years of the gun era, not all scouts had them, and those who didn't would try to hang around and poach readings off those who did. There's no substitute for a trained eye, and a guy who knows how to pitch.
Pitching Velocity Specificity Studies
You like to see an athletic guy on the mound. You look for pitchability and location. Those hitters are going to tell me how a guy throws. But you ask a young [scout] what kind of pitcher a guy is, and they'll tell you, 'He throws The radar gun has been around long enough that most major league pitchers today never knew life without it.
But even over the course of a career, the importance of velocity over everything else has grown. Peavy, for the record, is still averaging 91 mph on his fastball at 33 years old. That may be a tick below what he threw earlier in his career, but it's still at least average for a big league starter. Peavy pointed to Koji Uehara, his teammate last year with the Red Sox.
Baseball Prospectus says that out of relievers who have thrown at least pitches this season, Uehara's average fastball velocity of They don't see it.