The Most Startling Trend in Baseball

Since 2008, PITCHf/x has collected six years of detailed pitch information. A raw search I just did shows 1,991 pitches over that span thrown at at least 100 miles per hour. Of those, 469, or just under 24%, were thrown in 2013. That one season represents just under 17% of the data. That’s…kind of interesting, and a little bit meaningful, but I probably shouldn’t have started with this. I probably should have started with this:

This year’s postseason was littered with hard-throwing starters and relievers. It seemed like bullpens were trotting out hard-throwing reliever after hard-throwing reliever, and if you’re at all active on Twitter, you might’ve noticed a few conversations taking place among certain big-leaguers. Prominent among them was Brandon McCarthy, who noted a few times that the landscape didn’t used to look like this, even just a few years ago. The feeling now is that every team has a handful of flamethrowers. The feeling used to be that a flamethrower was something special, something extraordinary to be cherished. The feeling, basically, is that yesterday’s 92 is today’s 96.

The feelings are more or less correct. I, of course, am not the first person to examine this, and people have been aware of rising average velocities for a number of years. But this is a trend I feel doesn’t get quite enough attention. Below, a very simple graph. Presented are numbers on a rate basis of pitchers with a low innings minimum who had average fastballs of at least 95 miles per hour. Starters and relievers are separated for what ought to be obvious reasons, and the window covered is 2007-2013, since not much changed between 2002-2007. According to Baseball Info Solutions, anyway. Here’s the image:


The trend is right there, staring you in the face, especially in the case of relievers. In 2007, 13 different relievers averaged at least 95 with the fastball. This past season, the total was all the way up to 46. Also, nine starters averaged at least 95, coming close to the 2007 number for arms in the bullpen. There are indeed more hard throwers, presumably than ever before. League-average velocities are rising. Compared to 2007, there are three times as many guys reaching 95 and above, so a hard fastball isn’t what a hard fastball used to be, in the same way that a dollar isn’t what a dollar used to be. Except that a hard fastball is still just as hard, and tricky to hit.

It isn’t simply that there are more young pitchers in the game, now. Velocity starts to decrease from a young age, so a sensible theory would be that the game today is just younger than it was. But the young pitchers themselves are throwing harder as a group. For pitchers 25 and younger, they averaged 90.8 with their fastballs in 2007. In 2013, they averaged 92.5. In between, the number was steadily rising. And in 2007, young pitchers actually threw more innings than they did this past year. Velocity’s up for young pitchers, it’s up for medium pitchers, and it’s up for old pitchers. Velocity’s just up, for all pitchers and all pitches.

Of course, velocity helps. The harder you throw, the greater your margin of error. And it’s impossible not to notice that, as velocities have increased, strikeout rates have increased. But the former doesn’t have everything to do with the latter. Here are the strikeout rates by year for relievers averaging at least 95:

  • 2007: 24.3%
  • 2008: 24.9%
  • 2009: 23.2%
  • 2010: 24.3%
  • 2011: 24.6%
  • 2012: 25.9%
  • 2013: 25.5%

Starters are left out because of the limited sample sizes. Even within the reliever group, you can see slight gains in strikeouts, suggesting other stuff is also amiss. Many people have pointed to the fact that the strike zone keeps getting bigger and bigger, and I buy into that theory. The numbers don’t lie, and more strikes means more effective pitching. Strikeout rates are up due to some combination of a bigger zone and pitchers throwing harder, and assuredly other things. That has also been examined.

What ought to be examined more is where these hard throwers are coming from. Some people have long been aware that average velocities are on the rise, but few have paused to consider how startling that is, given how quickly this has happened. I’ll repeat: there are three times as many hard throwers now as there were just six or seven years ago. Trends in baseball don’t happen that fast, and it’s not like teams are more selective for pitchers who throw hard. People in the game have always valued heat, probably too much. Hard throwers have always gotten priority. Now there are a lot more of them, on just about every staff.

Part of the explanation, I imagine, has to do with improvements in weight training and workout regimens, all the way down to high school and below. Maybe there’s greater understanding now of pitching mechanics. And an element is probably improvements in keeping professional pitchers healthy. It could be that hard throwers were always present in great numbers, but they used to get hurt more. At least, that could be a part of it. Never bet against progress when you’re dealing with such a profitable industry.

But there are trends, and there are trends over just a few years. You’d expect baseball players to keep getting better and better. You’d expect that process to be gradual, and the trend with hard throwers has been anything but. Between 2002-2007, not a whole lot of anything happened. Since 2007, hard throwers are on the rise, and if this trend continues, then come 2020 a quarter of all relievers will be averaging 95 miles per hour with their heat. I don’t know if it’s fair to expect the trend to continue, but to answer that we need to understand the trend in the first place. The trend is what’s so interesting and what’s so mysterious. Here’s baseball. POW! Here’s baseball, better. This is remarkable and significant and beyond my present understanding.

Something is causing this. Something or somethings. And what we observe is an unusually rapid change within a population. This is happening, and it’s happening faster than you might’ve thought.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

125 Responses to “The Most Startling Trend in Baseball”

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  1. Matthew says:

    Meeting the dreaded Tommy John at 16?

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    • Dorf says:

      Tommy John surgery is becoming more and more common among high schoolers because of the rapid increase in velocity.

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      • Tom says:

        Have fun supporting that with any evidence whatsoever.

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      • jerusalem_artichoke says:

        According to Dr. James Andrews, tommy john surgery does not result in increased velocity. This is one of his ‘top myths’ in his recent book, Any Given Monday. The increase in velocity is entirely due to reconditioning and physical therapy the pitcher has coming off the surgery.

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        • tgm says:

          You’re taking an average over all pitchers who are still able to pitch. Tommy John takes pitchers who cannot pitch because of a torn UCL and turns them into pitchers who can pitch. There are two ways for Tommy John surgery to increase average pitcher velocity. One is for Tommy John surgery to increase the velocity of pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery. The other is for harder-throwing pitchers to need Tommy John surgery more often, thus increasing the population of hard-throwing pitchers.

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      • Boston Phan says:

        TJ must have something to do with it, but I don’t think it is the results of the surgery (or rehab) thaat increases velocity. High velocity pitchers used to get hurt and not be able to come back. Now with TJ, the majority of them come back. I think I heard on TV during the playoffs that 1/3 of all pitchers in the majors had TJ at some point? That seems too high, but even so if TJ did not exist imagine how much worse the pool of pitchers would be.

        Either way, TJ has been around for a while and I’m not so sure the surgery or success rates vastly improved in 2007 such that there should be a strong league-wide increase in velocity thereafter.

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        • Jim says:

          Bleacher report put together a list of players undergoing tommy john by year (see link below), which demonstrates the trend well. The number of pitchers undergoing the surgery has skyrocketed.

          As Boston Phan suggested, the total number of flamethrowers born and the number of flamethrowers who maintain their health and ability long enough to reach the major leagues are not the same. A spike in tommy john surgeries might be bringing these two numbers closer together, and likely explains at least a portion of the effect Jeff is seeing.

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    • Tim says:

      I’m not sure it is “dreaded” today. Surgeons are very good and have made major advances in this in the last 5 years. Many guys come back stronger. Having talked to numerous college pitcher that have had it, are facing it, or are healthy, the general thought is get it done now and get it out of the way; its only a matter of time and it makes the elbow ligament stronger.

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  2. SecondHandStore says:

    “Something is causing this. Something or somethings.” Gamma radiation.

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  3. Brian L says:

    I’ve also thought it may have a lot to do with better injury prevention, particularly prior to the majors. And it does seem like the trend has happened too quickly for it to be a systematic flowthrough of better weight training, usage monitoring, stretching, etc. across the entire baseball landscape from little leagues up through the majors – but on the other hand, it was only 10 years ago that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were throwing 140+ pitches a game. I could envision a pretty believable timeline where concerted efforts and progress in the minors over the last 10-15 years has finally just resulted in more of those high velocity guys getting through to the majors over the last few years.

    What’s even more exciting is that if injury prevention is one of the key drivers, imagine how much more heat we’ll be seeing as these techniques filter down into college, high school, traveling ball, etc.

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  4. mike gahalla says:

    i read a comment in the bill james stat book that said the increase in mph was partly due to newer radar guns. the new ones are able to pick up the ball closer to the release point rather than a few feet later.
    the idea was that ball velocity is as much as 5 mph higher closer to release.
    like yor articles.

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    • AK7007 says:

      That would be disappointing if that were true. And all pitchers would suddenly get an uptick. As in, one day I’m throwing 93. Tomorrow with a new gun I’m at 95. You would think the guys like McCarthy would notice and say that instead of “where the hell is this heat coming from?” League averages are up, but did individuals experience a sudden increase?

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      • Roger says:

        It’s common for certain guns to be known to “run hot.” Usually we think of this as a calibration issue, but what if it’s due to these new models filtering into circulation? I don’t have a clue whether or not that’s the case, but it would be interesting to see a scientific study.

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    • DavidKB says:

      If this is true we should be able to see pitchers who were active over the whole period increase their measured velocity, or at least decline more slowly than expected due to age. Perhaps that would require data prior to the PITCHf/x era though..

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    • nickkappel says:

      I read this in the “Preface to the Baseball Prospectus Edition” of “Dollar Sign on the Muscle.” I guess it helps explain why velos are up since the 1980s, but not the drastic spike in the last year.

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    • joser says:

      PitchFX data doesn’t use radar, so that would have nothing to do with the trend in this article. It’s possible something changed with PitchFX, but that seems very unlikely.

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  5. Greg W says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by contests where the opponents are allowed to observe the accomplishments of their fellwo competitiors before attemtping to beat their performance. The show ‘Fear Factor’ almost always ended with a time challenge, and what seemed like a good time for the first or second competitor was very often beaten by someone who knew that they had to go ‘just a little faster’ or ‘just a little longer’ to win.

    Is there a mental aspect to the hard throwers refining their technique now that they know it is possible to throw even harder than was generally accepted? I would point specifically to Aroldis Chapman as an example. When he was throwing at 103mph, with regularity, in 2010, did that provide a mental boost to other hard throwing pitchers?

    I don’t have an answer, but visualization is an accepted coaching philosophy… is it easier than it’s ever been to visualize throwing 100mph?

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  6. jacaissie says:

    This is interesting, and I’m glad you used some actual velocities, but I’d suggest that 95mph is maybe an arbitrary cutoff? What does the graph look like when you do something like 93mph or 97mph? It could be that relievers are throwing harder every year, but now a large cohort of them happen to be crossing 95mph since 2007.

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    • 93 MPH

      15.6% of pitchers in 2007
      30.6% of pitchers in 2013

      97 MPH

      0.4% of pitchers in 2007
      1.2% of pitchers in 2013

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      • Roger says:

        What if you go back to 2002? Did significantly more pitchers cross 93 between 2002 and 2007?

        I would’ve liked to have seen a chart of the 2002-2007 data anyway rather than simply a statement that it didn’t change much. Show me that it didn’t change much.

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  7. Stefan says:

    One possible explanation is staring everyone directly in the face. Performance enhancing drugs. In track and field in the late 80’s, the numbers jumped dramatically in a short amount of time and that’s just one of hundreds of examples in sports at different times since the soviets began the whole “steroid era.” Testing is still a joke, it’s said that the people who test positive are just stupid or that samples are spiked because it really is that easy to pass tests. Also, the tests can only test for what is know. When Victor Conte began giving athletes “the clear”, it was relatively unknown and therefor untestable. Many people think that a large majority of MLB players are using steroids.
    Steroids have more benefits than just strength increases. They allow faster recovery times as well, which would allow pitchers to tax themselves more and continue to throw hard. It would be very interesting to see how pitchers velocities changed as compared to the drug tests, for example, whether they rose directly after tests. Although many other factors would be in play, such as arm lag over the course of a season or the rest provided by the all star break, I couldn’t think of any other factor that could help increase pitchers velocity after the team drug test if that were to be the case.
    Furthermore, the real “gains” made by athletes on steroids are said to occur in the offseason, where the MLB’s testing seems to be a bit lacking. Some steroids can be in and out of your system in days or hours. And again, any new and therefor untestable steroid would kick the whole system in the teeth anyway.
    I just want to add that I’m completely pro steroids. When used properly, they have very little side effects and the benefits can be enormous. The AMA was completely against the steroid bans of 1990 and 2004 and for good reason. Steroids are demonized routinely in the press which seems to heavily sway public opinion against them. Also, Im not accusing any players of taking steroids, Im just saying its a distinct possibility that’s shared by many “experts” if you will.

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    • cass says:

      I was going to make a joke post with this answer, but alas, you beat me to it.

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    • Mike Axisa says:

      meh… the steroids issue is so ponderous. also: anyone have a basement sublet in NJ available?

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    • james wilson says:

      The bike tour is the gold standard of example because they must cheat to compete, there’s big bucks involved, and they’re white. If you are intelligent, or at least fastidious about following rules, you will know exactly what and how much can be done at a high level of sophistication while still escaping detection. If you are stupid, and especially if you lack impulse control, you will be caught. The MLB Baseball players who have been busted are not the sharpest tools in the shed with one possible exception, and now I wonder about him.

      When I was a pitcher in the dead ball era, if something had been available to make my right arm feel anything like normal, I’d have taken it and broken the rules to do it, performance enhancing qualities aside or included. At some level, most of these things are still medicines.

      My vote, there is even now more performance enhancement going on in MLB than the Miss Universe pageant.

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      • Bigjonempire says:

        I cind your comment disturbingly close to saying non-whites lack intelligence.

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        • james wilson says:

          You can choose, Big. White baseball players are rarely caught because
          a) they don’t cheat, or
          b) they are more likely to follow a regime and not make mistakes doing it.

          But under no circumstances can you be disturbed. This must not happen, ever.

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        • Jacob says:

          james’s comment probably doesn’t deserve a response, but here’s an alternative hypothesis: Hispanic players have a much larger economic incentive to cheat, and are thus behaving rationally. This seems a much more plausible explanation.

          (I’m assuming the subtext here is about Hispanic players… without reviewing the evidence, it doesn’t seem like black players are more likely to be caught cheating.)

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        • TKDC says:

          Which of Ryan Franklin, Mike Morse, Jason Grimsley, Jay Gibbons, Dan Serafini, or Ryan Braun was the one “smart” player busted?

          This doesn’t include white players busted in the minor leagues, of which there are also plenty.

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    • Eric Walker says:

      Read this:

      “Do Steroids Give A Shot in the Arm? Benefits for Pitchers Are Questionable”, an article from the April 30, 2006 Washington Post. It quotes people from from Dr. Frank Jobe to Dr. Mike Marshall.

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    • joser says:

      So you’re saying there’s more PED use now, when there’s more testing, than there was in 2007 when there was less testing?

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    • BaseballSplits (Twitter) says:

      …apparently hitters have forgotten to get their injections, then? Look at the numbers put up by leading hitters 1998-2003 and compare them to 2008-2013. It’s night and day. Guys around the turn of the century were putting up otherworldly numbers — not just Bonds/McGwire/Sosa, but many others too. It was quite literally a different “era”.

      Maybe there was a secret agreement during the ’94 Strike that the hitters would run wild for a period time, then the pitchers would get their turn!

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    • IDontThinkSo... says:

      I actually think it might be the exact opposite taking place – that is, the current lack/limiting of steroids in the game is possibly the causation we are looking for

      In years past, hitters would use PEDs to help them heal faster and feel better on a day to day basis. All of a sudden they were closer to peak ability most of the time. Now they are recovering slower from bumps and bruises though, likely altering their reaction time and accuracy on pitches they see.

      So in the past, hitters would be able to get around on a 97mph fastball with limited movement much easier, thereby limiting that pitchers effectiveness overall. Now though, well hitters just cant do it any longer so straight flamethrowers with little deception are near max effectiveness as long as they can hit the zone.

      Would be interesting to see if we could figure out the movement of pitches which are seeing these increased speeds, and see if they have much less deceptive tendencies then prior seasons. Slash-lines/BABip marks off the higher speed pitches might also key us into whether hitters are possibly the ones truly showing the real difference.

      It could very well be that these (I suspect, straight-throwing) flame-throwing capable pitchers were always around, but previously they just weren’t that effective against their juiced-up competition, thereby drastically decreasing their chances of making and especially sticking in the majors. Now that hitters bats are negatively affected though, the floodgates could have just opened for them to rise to the top.

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  8. Troy says:

    In a way though, I think it IS related to more young pitchers in the league. That is to say, young pitchers are being brought up to the majors faster and sooner than ever before. Since GMs are realizing that young, cost-controlled pitching is so incredibly valuable, they are rushing guys to the majors who are 22, 23, 24 years ago. Guys like Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Jose Fernandez, Andrew Cashner, Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Strasburg, Price, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Martinez, etc. All guys who throw really hard and were born around 1990. Since velocity does tend to decrease with age, we’re getting younger pitchers with their higher velocity since they’re not being wasted in AA/AAA for 4 or 5 years.

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    • dustin says:

      Did you miss this part from the article?

      > And in 2007, young pitchers actually threw more innings than they did this past year.

      Maybe you’re saying that despite there being less young pitchers in the game, the pitchers themselves are younger and therefore throw harder? I think that’s a tough sell, unless you think the age distribution has a double-hump.

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      • Troy says:

        Yes, I think that’s what I’m saying. Teams are bringing up their highly drafted flamethrowers earlier in their career, thus the upward trend in velocity since hard throwers are in MLB rather than AA/AAA. Stricter pitch counts and better injury management also helps since those hard throwers are throwing innings rather than sitting on the DL.

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  9. Stefan says:

    Or I could be wrong, and maybe some of the new flame throwers stumbled upon the extract of a certain newly discovered plant from new guinea that increases the muscles’ elasticity and make act like giant rubber bands. Maybe radar guns completely changed over the course of the last couple years. Who knows.

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  10. David Rasmussen says:

    I understand teams have always valued heat. But, have they really? I follow a team that has not valued heat… a team that wanted Francisco Liriano to “pitch to contact”. A team that now has the worst ERA in MLB. The Minnesota Twins.

    What has changed is knowledge. Pitching is not so much a black art any more. Teams no longer see so much magic in ERAs that are luck based. Teams value the strike out more. Teams have figured out that it is better to take a risk on a 23-year old flame-thrower than give another year to someone who operates based on reputation. Would Wacha, Martinez and Rosenthal been given the key roles that they were given based on a pre-2007 understanding of the game?

    4 or 5 active pitchers per year in MLB bullpens (total) is the rate of change. Faster for St. Louis. Slower for Minnesota.

    Does the use of 95 mph relievers correlate with winning? Looking at Boston and St. Louis, it sure looks like it does.

    I do not believe baseball people have always understood this to the degree they do now.

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    • pft says:

      Bostons closer had a 90 mph FB. They did not have a single pitcher with an average velocity of 95 on the post season roster although a couple of them could hit 95 from time to time. Only 1 was under 25 (Workman). Its not a real young staff, or particularly hard throwing.

      Cardinals are a different story, lot of young heat there.

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    • Kruegere says:

      Steroids really help rate of recovery, though.

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  11. cass says:

    Pitch counts!

    Not just in MLB, but in college, in high school too. Better training methods due to a freer flow of information. Pitching used to be more mysterious, it seems to me, but not anymore. Part of that is because of pitch f/x – we all don’t have to worry about arguments about what kind of movement a cutter has. We can just look at the numbers.

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  12. Mr Punch says:

    I’ll vote for the “more young pitchers” theory. Teams have always signed guys who throw hard, but quite suddenly they’ve acquired a new understanding of aging, and realized that to get maximum value from a young flamethrower they shouldn’t wait for him to “learn to pitch,” because he may lose the velocity they signed him for.

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  13. pft says:

    So there seems to be no adverse effect on FB velocity as a result of the alleged elimination of steroids and amphetamines.

    Maybe FB pitchers get better results with the expanded zone so teams are selecting more of them when it comes to call ups.

    I also wonder at the use of Toradol. Papelbon said it worked wonders for him, as did Schilling. This could allow relievers to offset the wear and tear of frequent use over a long season and maintain velocity. If Toradol use is increasing, this could help explain the average velocity increase among relievers over a season.

    I suppose we have to trust the accuracy of pitch f/x. I mean, how is velocity independently verified?

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    • Utah Dave says:

      I believe they verified Bob Feller’s velocity by having a motorcycle drive past when he released his fastball. For real. But I am not advocating doing that now. Just sayin’.

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  14. bcbryan says:

    I feel like you could write an entire article solely based around the fact that no starters average 95+ in 2008…

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  15. Hank says:

    Is bullpen usage evolution also part of the trend (and also management of workload as the younger guys move through the farm system)

    Anecdotally (read: no data whatsoever), it seems like teams are spreading out reliever usage better over time. More “1 inning guys”, more bullpen usage rules (trying to avoid usage 3 days in a row, 4 appearance is 5 days, etc).

    Is another part of the increase due to better usage patterns by managers around baseball (and also throughout the farm systems)?

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  16. Kris Gardham says:

    As with any trend, I’m sure there’s quite a few things involved. My pfx computer isn’t currently assembled, so I don’t have the queries to back up any of the following speculation.

    First off, there’s going to be a trend of fastballs getting faster each year. The players dropping out are pitching slow, and the players coming in are pitching faster. Training methods probably have something to do with this. In turn, the shorter the average mlb career, the faster the average velocity will rise.

    I would imagine that this loop feeds itself. If velocity leads to injuries (fact checked? nope!) then we’re going to see more pitchers enter the league earlier and leave the league earlier. Arguably, the perfect storm for average velocity increases.

    Furthermore, the one question that’s burned into my brain after reading this article: Have we seen an increase in the number of pitchers that meet the minimum requirements set out in the article? Quite simply, do we have a larger pool to choose from?

    Personally, I think it’s a little bit from column A, B, and C. First off, people are training better. Secondly, we’re seeing more injuries and thus stocking the pitching pools with younger, harder throwing kids. Finally, there’s probably a selection bias now that it’s become a bit clearer that velocity leads to strike-outs and strike-outs are very good at preventing runs.

    So yes, it’s a shocking rise in velocity. However, I’m sure when you examine the DL usage, you’re going to find an equally shocking trend. The rest is probably accounted for via training methods and selection bias which includes the particular traits that teams scout for and develop once signed.

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    • Rita Art Tickle says:

      This isn’t about average velocity, it’s about the number of pitchers in the league who throw 95. Theoretically, as younger pitchers enter the league, aging players should be losing velocity. Even if that led to an increase in flamethrowers, you’d expect it to be much more gradual than the trend being observed.

      And the size of the samples doesn’t matter so much, since the graph shows the trend in terms of percentage of pitchers. Doubt it’s all that different anyway, since roster sizes haven’t changed in the last 6 years and there hasn’t been a paradigm shift in the way teams use those spots.

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      • Kris Gardham says:

        I believe a couple of those trends aren’t particularly gradual. Maybe in terms of the sample we’re looking at, but overall, I believe they’re larger.

        Anyways, I haven’t read anything on this year’s statistics, but the previous few years have seen rather large increases in terms of DL-days lost.

        We’re also looking at a decrease in the average age of the pitcher over the last couple of years. A sizable one at that.

        If I had to hazard a guess, as I mentioned, we’re getting more injuries and teams are calling up harder throwing kids to fill the gaps. The increased role of the reliever certainly doesn’t hurt this idea.

        This is obviously a mystery, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that teams have to go into the well more often, and they’re picking the guys that can huck it. When you’re forced to call up a solid chunk of players, it makes perfect sense to err on the side of velocity after you’ve exhausted your one or two guys that are more seasoned.

        Also, seeing is believing. We’re seeing hard-throwers succeed, so teams are much more comfortable doing it.

        All just guesses.

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        • Simon says:

          Except the article says that there were more young pitchers in 2007 than there were this year, and that pitchers of all ages are throwing faster nowadays than they were then.

          Also, I’d like to see evidence that there are more pitcher injuries now than in 2007. From memory, I thought the opposite was true.

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  17. isavage30 says:

    It might be interesting to take every pitcher who throws 95mph and see what % of that population has had Tommy John surgery. I don’t think injury recovery is all of it, but it has to make a significant impact. I follow the Indians, and 100% of their pitchers who averaged at least 95mph have had Tommy John: Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Allen, Blake Wood. The next-highest average fastball was Nick Hagadone’s 94.1, so that makes their top 5 all Tommy John graduates. When this surgery didn’t have such a high success rate, these guys would be out of baseball, and there’s also the fact that velocity often jumps post-surgery. Carrasco’s fastball was at 92.5 last he was pitching pre-surgery, and was at 94.9 this year.

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  18. Carson says:

    I think it’s mostly newer training regimens as well. I graduated HS a few years ago and I experienced coaches with “old school” techniques and coaches with more modern ones and I noticed all the older coaches used things like long toss as the be-all end-all arm strengthening exercise. While younger coaches had a specific workout for seemingly every muscle and tendon in the body. I feel like this younger class of flame throwers has just been taught the most efficient routines we’ve had yet

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      I think you are on to something. It’s a fact now that kids are coming out of high school in both football and baseball with much more advanced physical tools than they did in prior decades. I think the awareness around pitch counts and “pre-hab” for pitchers at the lower levels has really helped the development of top-flight arms. In the past the best arms that made MLB had a survivor’s bias, due to the abuse many of them would accumulate at lower levels. That has greatly changed in the past 15 years.

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  19. Mike says:

    I think Hank is pointing out the real trend. All teams carry additional relievers than they ever did in the past (cheap labour). Relievers enter the game and throw as hard as they need to knowing they will only pitch a single inning. The end result is that there is less bench players for pinch hitting/running. less options available to the manager to create runs later in the game. American league style baseball (BORING)

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    • joser says:

      Are you saying that NL teams are more likely to come from behind and win games? Do you have any data to back that up?

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  20. jruby says:

    I was kind of hoping the “startling trend” would be something like “dramatic uptick in on-field grizzly bear attacks due to deforestation” or something. But this is startling too, I guess…

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  21. Ruki Motomiya says:

    If I recall correctly, pitchers get a boost in velocity when going to the bullpen, right? Maybe teams are putting pitchers in the bullpen younger and that little uptick pushes them up over the edge? Not sure. Real fascinating piece. Most likely explanation would probably be training and maybe injuries.

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  22. Duane Sjoberg says:

    How about the fact that big strong young men are specializing in baseball rather than in say football due to increasing awareness of injury risk in the contact/collision sports. The guys are selecting out of football and into baseball and producing the athletes we are seeing…

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  23. Dreads fan says:

    Two data points for consideration:
    1) the CArdinals have a lot of these hard throwers
    2) Wacha gained velocity after being drafted by the Cardinals

    Is there something player development related the Cardinals have figured out?

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    • jdbolick says:

      It’s not uncommon for pitchers to gain velocity after being drafted. For instance, Robert Stephenson has gained 5+ mph.

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    • Go Nats says:

      The cardinals have done this for years. All through LaRussa’s tenure it seemed every player they signed had fewer injuries and more power as a Cardinal than anywhere else. Of course is wasn’t all, but it sure seemed more often than any other team for years.

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    • larsbenders says:

      Bingo on the Cardinals! But no, not player development, but PED’s. LaRussa and the Cards have a LONG tradition of involvement in PED’s. Now it appears they are ahead of the rest of the league in using new, non-tested PED’s that primarily benefit pitchers. And no, I’m not kidding.

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  24. Jeroen Blok says:

    Was there any research done towards other pitcher attributes like command and control, if these have gotten worse over the same time frame than maybe heat has higher priority nowadays.

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  25. Michael says:

    I may be over-simplifying but the answer seems fairly obvious to me. The explosion of social media (primarily Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) has allowed incredible increases in communication. It is far easier to spot these hard throwers than ever before. This, combined with the increase in proper and effective weight training techniques, could cause this velocity gain. I’m not saying social media has caused and increase in better players, but it could certainly make it easier to find players with raw, individual, measurable, physical stats that have nothing to do with the competition such as velocity of a fastball or, I might guess, runner speed. If the average running speed of hitters has increased as well, my theory is more plausible. If not, you may have wasted your time reading my comment.

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  26. Bustacard says:

    Being a STL fan, I’m reminded of how Lance Lynn’s velocity jumped midway through the 2010 season while in Memphis. Or how Kevin Siegrist went from 5th starter prospect to fireballing back of the bullpen guy. Is it, and has it been, a commonly held precept that pitchers throw faster out of the pen than out of the rotation? Is there a trend around the league in recent years of using your young starting pitching prospects in the bullpen before they get into the big league rotation (I’m thinking here of C.Sale, N.Feliz, Lynn, Rosenthal, C.Martinez)?

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  27. jdbolick says:

    Is there a resource where we could find similar data on Japanese leagues? It might form a useful comparison for those who suggest that greater reliance on pitch counts in the U.S. is preserving arm strength.

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  28. kevinthecomic says:

    Just pondering here, but, is there any chance this is a post-steroids era selection criteria? Could flame throwers not have been as valuable during the steroid era because hitters were more able to catch up to the fast stuff and, when they did, the ball went a long, long way? Again, just spit-balling here (pun!!!!), but I wonder if hard throwers are more valuable now than they used to be?

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    • Jim Price says:

      Sorry that doesn’t make sense. Why would you purposely avoid using a guy who throws 95?

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      • Just a fan says:

        Because he doesn’t have much movement on his fastball and/or his secondary pitches aren’t good.

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      • kevinthecomic says:

        Again, just a premise, but maybe hard throwers were more hittable in the steroids area and less hittable now.

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  29. tz says:

    Is this trend a byproduct of teams changing their pitchers’ repertoire to minimize injury risk?

    I’d love to see the graph of slider% thrown over the same period.

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  30. Hurtlockertwo says:

    As an old school HS and College pitcher we were told to resist “full effort” pitching because we needed to learn how to throw strikes, and be a “pitcher” not a thrower. You can certainly get people out without max velocity, look at Greg Maddux and other successful pitchers. I also think radar guns are not calibrated to any standard.

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    • Maddux said he threw as hard as he could every pitch.

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      • Go Nats says:

        Maddux was a master of messing with the other players heads, and i doubt he ever stopped trying to get that edge. So, of course he claimed to be throwing all out on every pitch when clearly he wasn’t.

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    • TKDC says:

      In his prime, Maddux through his 2-seamer in the high 80s, touching 90, with a great deal of movement. Are you saying he could have thrown in 95? Maddux had a very fluid, natural delivery, which I think fed this myth that he was not throwing as hard as he could (obviously within the confines of his delivery, but he wasn’t taking MPH off his pitches on purpose).

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  31. Michael Allen says:

    I’ve often wondered if more tightly wound and raised seams had anything to do with the recent increase in velocity.

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  32. Kevin says:

    Decline in overall worth of starting pitchers/realization that bullpens are important and grooming young arms for pen instead of starters/starting younger pitchers in the bullpen before they transition back into a starter.

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  33. Cus says:

    What about height? Has the average height increased proportionally? Is sure seems like there are a ton of 6’5+ relievers now. Leverage isn’t necessarily the main cause of velocity, but it surely has an effect.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      I agree with this. Look at the premier (HOF) pitchers of old, Koufax at 6’2″ was considered tall for the time. Don Drysdale was 6’5″ and considered the one of the tallest pitchers of his era. Drysdale might actually be the shortest on some current MLB teams of pitchers.

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  34. tgk says:

    In other words, hitters are screwed.

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  35. Baginasouris says:

    Pitch fast more gooder

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  36. I don’t think it’s more young pitcher, I think it’s young pitchers who are better taken care of. The hard pitch count rules in little league started something like 7 years ago. There had to be a trend of people wanting it before. If we say 2002ish was when these 11 and 12 year olds were coming up with more protection, then those kids are he guys in the majors now.

    Are younger pitchers throwing harder than before?

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    • tz says:

      I do think there are more big healthy kids who physically mature around age 16 at 6’2″ to 6’6″ and 180-210 lbs than ever before.

      And it also seems that more kids in that size range choose baseball vs. football or basketball. A 6’6″ 210lb. high schooler is deemed too small nowadays to be an Division I lineman or basketball forward.

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      • Specialization in general I’d hypothesize. Maybe 20 years ago the 6’6″ kid plays all 3, doesn’t get real good at any. Maybe plays D2 basketball somewhere. Now he plays one of the all he time and gets really good at it.

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  37. Dirck says:

    The 100 MPH pitch total is a small enough number to be easily skewed by a couple of hard throwers joining the league . Just 2 guys who throw 50 pitches each over 100 MPH in the course of a whole season could raise the number by more than 20% .

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  38. John C says:

    Yes, this is a trend, and as long as it continues, you’re going to see more and more pitchers getting hurt and going under the knife. Most pitchers can’t throw that hard without their arms blowing up on them.

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  39. Kyle says:

    Is it possible this might also play into an explanation for why older hitters are beginning to fall off more quickly?

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  40. bertrecords says:

    Agree that training, pitch counts, and whatever the Cardinals do are factors. Smarter management based on more data is also definitely a factor. And, the idea that it doesn’t require much experience to be a reliever has been shown true,though not every team has figured this out. The younger pitchers throw harder.

    Thinking further, Francisco Rodriguez– the 20 yr called up for 5 2/3 regular season innings prior to his 2002 post-season success, might have been at the early end of this trend toward younger, high velocity relievers. Okay, 93.5 mph in 2002, but it seems like he touched significantly higher and the use of the young rookie in the key place was a precursor to Rosenthal, C. Martinez, etc.

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  41. mike says:

    The cost of creating and storing videos has plummeted. Pitchers and coaches can look at mechanics more carefully and tweak things they might not have noticed without good videos. I’d wager that’s the cause of all this.

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  42. Sman says:

    I am sure the increased focus on international prospects since 2003 has nothing to do with this. Nor does a growing global population lead to more people with an ability to throw 95.

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  43. Erik says:

    Am I the only one who remembers the mid/late 90’s when seemingly EVERY pitcher was hitting 95? I remember seeing pitchers throwing in the low 90’s and thinking they weren’t going to be able to cut it.

    Velocity had seemed to be drastically down starting around the time of the steroid crack down, and only recently had I noticed that it seemed to be going back up. Unfortunately this is all pre-pitch/fx.

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  44. Conor says:

    Very interesting stuff.

    Using the parameters set by Jeff (guys with a minimum of 10 IP and average velocity 95 mph or better), that gives us a total of 201 player seasons, according to FanGraphs’ data.

    Fernando Rodney is the only one to show up in all five seasons with average yearly fastball velocities from oldest to most recent, as follows: 95.8, 95.6, 95.5, 96.1 and 96.5.

    Aroldis Chapman, Bobby Parnell, Brandon League, Craig Kimbrel, Felipe Paulino, Henry Rodriguez, Jason Motte, Jordan Walden, Kevin Jepsen, Matt Lindstrom, Matt Thornton and Stephen Strasburg all have four seasons on the list. Alexi Ogando, Andrew Cashner, Daniel Bard, Greg Holland, Jeremy Jeffress, Joel Hanrahan, John Axford, Justin Verlander, Mark Lowe, Mitchell Boggs, Neftali Feliz and Tom Wilhelmsen all have three. Twenty-three guys have a pair of 95+ mph seasons and the rest (66) show up once each.

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  45. Just a fan says:

    The reason more pitchers are throwing harder now most likely is a combination of reasons.

    Bigger pool of players- More players around the world are being looked at.

    Better taken care- Limited pitch counts at all levels.

    Better mechanics- players can watch videos and work on their mechanics.

    Medicine- Doctors have more knowledge, Tommy John performed more often.

    Radar guns- Newer guns measure velocity differently.

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  46. Joebrady says:

    Some of this is probably a repeat of what others wrote, and one I would like to think unique.

    1-Early training. For my entire life almost, there were virtually no weight-training exercises for throwing. Swinging a weighted bat has always worked, and that’s been followed up with some cool swing-simulated weight training. You could throw a weighted ball, but you could hurt your elbow real fast.

    2-PEDs. I think PEDs used to be seen as an aid to hitting, with pitchers worried about being muscle-bound. I think training enhancements and PEDs have probably complemented each other.

    3-This one is mine. As the BP has developed, have we done a better job of converting starters to RPs, or just creating RPs to start with? 40 years ago, RPs hardly existed. It might only be 20 years since setup guys were created. Now, as starting innings are being limited, teams are looking for a 6-1-1-1 model. So are low-ceiling SPs being targeted early in the minors and converted before the have wear-and tear?

    And related to this is the fact that RPs are being ‘born’ this way. When I grew up, virtually all RPs were failed SPs. It’s possible that we are replacing starters that failed because they only had a 94 mph FB, with guys that entered the field already throwing 97. 30 years ago these guys were probably starters.

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  47. Thomas Au says:

    The so-called Millennial Generation (born 1982 and thereafter) was raised as a more “soldierly” group than people born before. This group started turning 25 in 2007, and thereafter.

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  48. bust0ff says:

    Are talented prospects made into relievers when just a few years ago they would have been made into starters? It stands to reason that workload would correlate with velocity. Perhaps the answer is that teams are changing what they choose to do with pitching prospects during their development.

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  49. Jason says:

    Seems like the most obvious explanation is:
    (a) Start measuring MPH consistently; make the rankings transparent
    (b) Find value from added mph (more K, fewer R)
    (c) Work (train, exercise, etc.) to improve MPH

    Repeat (a) to (c) to the limits of human capacity. This is sort of how improvement comes in any discipline. Why not here?

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