Leave it to Major League Baseball. Not only do they keep track of pitch speeds, they also keep track of how fast pitches appear to batters.
They don’t always call it “pitch speed,” although they measure it in miles per hour. Baseball’s number crunchers generally call it “velocity” and how fast a pitch seems to the hitter is referred to as “perceived velocity.”
Here are each team's average and perceived average pitching velocities in graph form:
It sounds like a Vin Diesel movie, but perceived velocity considers where a pitcher releases the ball. A pitcher must start his windup on the rubber, which is sixty feet, six-inches from home plate, but that’s not necessarily how far the ball travels.
One pitcher may release the ball six feet from the rubber while another let’s it go at seven. The ball will reach the batter in less time when released closer to the plate and thus appear to the batter to be traveling with more rapidity.
The stat for where pitchers release the ball is called “extension.”
When you’re dealing with fastballs traveling at, or near, 100 miles per hour, I’d think a foot or two wouldn’t matter. Heat is heat.
It must matter or baseball nerds wouldn’t have it as a stat. Besides, when you’re making millions of dollars hitting a baseball, you can probably discern when the ball is missing a stitch not to mention traveling 12 fewer inches to the plate.
Pitch speeds seems a little salacious. It’s sort of the home run distance for pitchers.
Who cares how far a home run travels as long as it’s a home run. Who cares how fast you can throw a a ball as long as you get the batter out.
My all-time favorite pitcher, Greg Maddux, was never known for his fastball. He finished his career lucky to hit 87 MPH on the radar gun, but he won 355 games and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
There is, however, something that fascinates us about pitch speeds, something primal.
In Little League, when you returned to the dugout after seeing a new pitcher, your teammates didn’t ask about movement or break. They asked how hard he or she threw.
So far, in 2017, the pitchers most associated with heat are New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Trevor Rosenthal.
Of the top ten fastest pitches, Chapman threw four of them (102.1 MPH, 102 MPH, 101.6 MPH, and 101.4 MPH) and Rosenthal tossed three (101.7 MPH and 101.4 MPH [twice]).
Rosenthal has the second-highest average velocity at 97 MPH. Chapman is third at 96.2 MPH.
Number one is Tampa Bay Rays righty Ryne Stanek. He has an average velocity of 99.3 MPH, but has only thrown nine pitches (all but one was 99 MPH).
Neither Chapman nor Rosenthal threw the season’s fastest pitch. On April 28, Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Kelly threw a two-seam fastball 102.2 MPH. Anthony Rizzo fouled it off.
For perceived velocity, nine-pitch Stanek is also number one (99.23 MPH), but Chapman is two (96.47 MPH) and Rosenthal is three (96.38 MPH).Chapman’s higher (albeit slightly) perceived velocity might be due to his height. He’s six-foot, four inches while Rosenthal is six-foot, two inches.
For many of Chapman’s fastest pitches, his extension equals, or exceeds, seven feet. Rosenthal’s fastest pitch of the season had an extension of just five-point-four feet.
When it comes to entire pitching staffs, the Colorado Rockies have the league’s highest average velocity (90.4 MPH) and highest average perceived velocity (90.22 MPH).
In both average velocity and average perceived velocity, the Rockies are followed by the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Rockies, Mets and Pirates are the only teams with an average velocity over 90 MPH. The Rockies and Pirates are the only teams with an average perceived velocity over 90 MPH.
The Mets average perceived velocity is 89.92 MPH.
Fast fastballs are one thing, but what we really want to know is the team with the slowest average velocity. Perhaps channeling Greg Maddux, the Atlanta Braves lay claim to the Majors slowest pitching staff.
The Braves average velocity is 86.7 MPH. Their pitching staff throws the ball five percent slower than the Rockies.
Rounding out the bottom three for average velocity are the San Diego Padres (87.3 MPH) and your world champion Chicago Cubs (87.3 MPH).
For average perceived velocity, the Braves slow down by more than a mile per hour, 85.66 MPH. Once again, the Padres are in second place at 86.26 MPH, but Joe Kelly’s Red Sox lumber into third at 86.60 MPH.
As always, the extremes are interesting, but the middle is not. For average velocity, 26 teams are between 87.3 MPH and 89.6 MPH. For average perceived velocity, 25 teams are between 86.26 MPH and 88.94 MPH.
Does velocity, or perceive velocity, equal winning? Surely, teams with flame throwers are heating up their divisions.
At the time of writing this article, the three teams with the highest velocities—Rockies, Pirates, and Mets—are first, last, and smack-dab-in-the-middle of their respective divisions.
Of the four teams with the slowest velocities—Braves, Padres, Cubs, and Red Sox—half own losing records.
Three of the top four teams in terms of winning percentage—New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Rockies—are within the top ten of average velocity and average perceived velocity.
On the other hand, the Houston Astros have the best record in the Majors, but they’re near the bottom in velocity and perceived velocity. Their perceived velocity (86.93 MPH) is nearly a mile per hour slower than their actual velocity (87.7 MPH).
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Astros, who are one and two, respectively, in the league in ERA and WHIP, are in the bottom twelve in both average velocity and perceived velocity.
If you average all of the above team pitching velocity averages, it comes out to 88. So the average pitching velocity in the MLB at the beginning of the 2017 season is 88 MPH, which is why we added that particular number to the speed gun in the header image above.
All statistics used in this article were accurate as of 5-24-2017.