The Physics
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Speed of the Fastest Pitched Baseball

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Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Serway, Raymond & Beichner, Robert. Numerical Modeling in Particle Dynamics. Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics, Fifth Edition. Philadelphia; Saunders College Publishing, 2000:169. "A pitcher hurls a 0.145 kg baseball past a batter at 40.2 m/s (90 mph)." 40.2 m/s
Fastest Pitcher in Baseball, Baseball Almanac, 2000. [see table below] 46.0 m/s
Scheiber, Noam. Pitcher Perfect. Slate, 8 April 2005. "This article disagrees, crowning Mark Wohlers the radar-gun champ with a 103-mph pitch." 46.0 m/s
Bose Alex. Sidd Finch. 2002. "In its edition for the first week of April, 1985 Sports Illustrated published an article by George Plimpton that described an incredible rookie baseball player who was training at the Mets camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. The player was named Sidd Finch (Sidd being short for Siddhartha, the Indian mystic in Hermann Hesse's book of the same name), and he could pitch a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. The fastest previous recorded speed for a pitch was 103 mph." 75.1 m/s
(a joke)
Thomases, Jake. Ask the Experts. Baseball Library, 22 August 2001. "In a start against the Chicago White Sox, one of his pitches was clocked at 100.8 miles per hour." 45.1 m/s

When throwing a baseball, it isn't the pitcher's muscle mass that determines how fast the ball goes, but rather it is the amount of torque the pitcher puts on his body. The elite flame-throwing pitchers can maximize this effort, and throw a baseball at speeds in excess of 100 mph (44.7 m/s). It seems as if there is an imaginary boundary, preventing pitchers from going much past that point. However, this boundary isn't as imaginary as one would think. The reason that pitchers struggle to throw a ball faster than that, is because once you get to that speed, additional muscle mass doesn't help throw a baseball any faster. It has been calculated that bout 80 newton-meters of torque act on a pitchers elbow when he throws it at 100 mph. If a person were to put any more torque on their elbow, they would probably snap. Hence, pitchers usually are unable to go past that point.

It is uncertain what the fastest pitcher ever thrown has been, but there have been many claims. One of these claims was a made by a journalist for Sports Illustrated, George Plimpton in 1985. He said that a man going by the name of Sidd Finch had thrown a 168 mph (75.1 m/s) fastball. However, it was found out a couple weeks later that this was just an April Fools joke and that Sidd Finch was not a real person. Another claim, a much more believable claim, has been made about a minor league pitcher in the 1950s and 1960s, Steve Dalkowski. Due to his bad control, he never made it to the major leagues, but it was thought that his fastball could reach 105 mph (46.9 m/s). He was once clocked at a military instillation, but only threw the ball at 93.5 mph (41.8 m/s). However, it took him many pitches to get the ball into a very small target, which probably tired him out and he was not pitching from a mound, which also would have slowed his fastball. The most widely believed value is 103 mph (46.0 m/s) by Mark Wohlers in 1995 during a Spring Training game.

In Order by Fastest Observed Speed
(Listing Has Only The Fastest Known Speed by the Pitcher)
Pitcher Radar Speed Date Location
Mark Wohlers 103.0 mph 1995 Spring Training
Armando Benitez 102.0 mph 2002 Shea Stadium
Randy Johnson 102.0 mph 07-09-2004 SBC Park
Robb Nen 102.0 mph 10-23-1997 Jacobs Field
A.J. Burnett 101.0 mph 05-31-2005 PNC Park
Rob Dibble 101.0 mph 1992 Candlestick Park
Kyle Farnsworth 101.0 mph 05-27-2004 Minute Maid Park
Eric Gagne 101.0 mph 04-16-2004 SBC Park
Jose Mesa 101.0 mph 1993 Cleveland Stadium
Guillermo Mota 101.0 mph 07-24-2002 Qualcomm Stadium
Billy Wagner 101.0 mph 06-11-2003 Yankee Stadium
Nolan Ryan 100.9 mph 08-20-1974 Anaheim Stadium
Josh Beckett 100.0 mph 10-12-2003 Pro Player Park
Daniel Cabrera 100.0 mph 05-09-2005 Camden Yards
Roger Clemens 100.0 mph 10-10-2001 Yankee Stadium
Francisco Cordero 100.0 mph 07-07-2004 Jacobs Field
Jorge Julio 100.0 mph 09-16-2004 Skydome
J.R. Richard 100.0 mph 1976 Candlestick Park
C.C. Sabathia 100.0 mph 2002 Jacobs Field
Ben Sheets 100.0 mph 07-10-2004 Miller Park
Derrick Turnbow 100.0 mph 05-27-2005 Miller Park

Michael Robbins -- 2005

Bibliographic Entry Result
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Light, Jonathan Fraser. The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball. Second edition. North Carolina, McFarland & Company Inc. Publisher, 2005: 312- 314. "Feller also claimed that he was clocked at 107.9 mph in a demonstration in 1946 at Griffith Stadium." 48.24 m/s
Bearner, John. Zoooomaya and Speed Guns. The Hardball Times. January 8, 2007. "If you haven't seen Enhanced Gameday, have a look at the screenshot below that shows Zumaya's second pitch to A-Rod in the 8th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS.The graphic tells us that the pitch left Zumaya's hand at 102.5 mph and flew over the plate at 93.4 mph for a swinging strike. Out of interest, in Game 1 of the ALCS, Zumaya's release speed registered an incredible 104.8 mph for a pitch to Frank Thomas." 46.85 m/s
Holz, Sean. The Fastest Pitcher in Baseball History. Baseball Almanac. February 2003. "The most widely quoted response is Nolan Ryan, whose fastball was "officially" clocked by the Guinness Book of World Records at 100.9 miles per hour in a game played on August 20, 1974 versus the Chicago White Sox." 45.11 m/s

Ever wonder why in most physical activities including sports, players show significant improvement over time, but not in baseball? Millions have wondered the same, and research has led experts to believe the blame is on physical reasons. A pitcher produces momentum by transferring his weight onto his back leg and then thrusting forward. Next, he turns his pelvis, then his elbow, shoulder, and finally his wrist. Thinking logically, it seems as though this would generate more force and allow his arm to accelerate the ball more. However, what many people fail to recognize is that there is a limit, and that more torque (angular force that causes a change in rotational motion) doesn't produce a faster pitch. Even baseball follows a path right back to the simple laws of physics.

Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) Guns (small Doppler radar used to detect the speed of objects) were introduced in 1935 and are still used to this day to measure the speed of baseballs pitched by some of the world's most famous athletes. The magic fastball number has been established to be 100 mph (44.70 m/s). This 3-digit speed is difficult to surpass, however a few athletes have managed.

When the topic of the speed of the fastest pitched baseball arises, fans and historians alike begin to dispute the recorded measurement and who was the pitcher who threw it. Many controversial beliefs come into play in the discussion, but the Guinness Book of World Records has placed credit into the hands of Nolan Ryan whose fast ball was pitched at 100.9 mph (45.11 m/s) on August 20, 1974 in a game against the Chicago White Sox. Many disagree with this claim and have strong beliefs that there is actually a tie between Mark Wohlers and Joel Zumaya who each pitched at 103.0 mph. Still, others feel that the praise and recognition should go to Bob Feller who pitched a baseball at a speed of 107 mph (some say it was 107.9 mph). Some experts accept the accounts that state that Steve Dalkowski (nicknamed White Lightning) after his fastball pitched a baseball at a whooping speed of 110 mph, whereas others believe that it is absolutely ridiculous. What do you thing?

Recently, evidence has been found that suggest that radar guns produce an inaccurate reading of the speed of the pitch. With this in mind, the MLB Advanced Media and its Enhanced Gameday technology was developed. This advanced software allowed experts to compute Zumaya's release speed to be a remarkable 104.8 mph in Game 1 of the ALCS and claim him the fastest pitcher.

For the typical person, pitching a baseball at any speed equal to or greater than 100 mph would probably be a challenge. However, baseball athletes are far from the average person in terms of their physical abilities in pitching. In baseball, as in all sports, the faster the better, and all athletes strive for the best.

Anna Ostrovskaya -- 2007

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
The Pitching Repertoire. Encyclopedia Britannica. "Some pitchers have been capable of throwing the ball 100 miles per hour." 45 m/s
Schulman, Henry. The 100-mph fastball - The Pitcher. Speed in Sports. Sporting News, 1998. "RHP [Right Hand Pitcher], Matt Anderson, Detroit, 103 mph." 46.0 m/s
"Baseball." The World Book Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. New York: Field Enterprises, 1962. "A major-league pitcher's fast ball usually travels at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour." > 22 m/s
Aylesworth, Thomas. The Kids' World Almanac of Baseball. New York: Pharos Books, 1993. "September 7, 1974 — One of Angels pitcher Nolan Ryan's pitches was officially clocked at 100.8 miles per hour in a game against the White Sox. He became the first player to break the 100-mph barrier." 45.05 m/s

Baseball is the national sport of the United States. No one knows quite how it began. It is believed that it may have come from a similar English game called rounders. In 1845 Alexander Cartwright set up the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York. The rules as he laid them out established a game of nine innings, with teams of nine players each. The baseball diamond would have four bases 90 feet (27.4 m) apart.

When the pitcher throws a ball, he knows that eventually it is going to hit the ground. In order for the ball to go further, he is going to have to keep it in the air longer, before gravity forces it to earth. The way to keep it in the air longer, is to increase the angle of his throw. As soon as the ball leaves the pitchers hand, gravity begins pulling it downward. Even the fastest pitcher's smoke ball may drop as much as 2 feet (60 cm) by the time it reaches the catcher. That is why there is such a thing as a pitchers mound. The pitchers mound is 10 inches (25 cm) above the level of home plate, with a degree of slope from a point 6 inches (15 cm) in front of the pitchers mound to a point 6 feet (2 m) toward home plate. Even with the mound, the pitcher must always aim a little higher than the point where he wants the ball to go. The pitcher knows that the ball will reach a point where its upward velocity will be zero and the ball will start to drop.

The speed of a baseball is measured using a "Radar Gun". Today, in the late 1990s pitchers can throw over 100 miles per hour (160 km/h or 45 m/s). Matt Anderson, has thrown the fastest pitched baseball which measured 103 miles per hour (166 km/h or 46.0 m/s). This time was measured in the past 1999 baseball season.

Pitching is a very important technique in the game of baseball. Without a pitcher, it would be impossible for a baseball game to take place. Winning is the single most important job in the game because you can hit all the home runs you want, but if you don't have a good pitcher then you will give up as many runs as you score. The winning or losing of a game, is always decided by pitching, one way or another!

Lori Grabel -- 2000

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Salisbury, Jim. On Baseball | It's all coming up aces. Philadelphia Inquirer. 23 July 2006. "Zumaya, 21, was an 11th round draft pick in 2002. He had only 44 innings of experience above double A when he jumped to the majors this season. Owner of a fastball that has been clocked at 104 mph this season, he entered yesterday 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in 39 games." 46.5 m/s

Editor's Supplement -- 2006