The Outfielders Who Threw 100

“A pitcher, you throw 100 miles per hour, you are the shit.”

That’s Omar Vizquel, former longtime Cleveland Indians shortstop and current Detroit Tigers first base, fielding and baserunning coach, in a Maxim.com article by Hunter Atkins last month.

Vizquel’s not wrong. We love guys who can throw 100. It’s not much different than throwing 99 — no more different than 99 is to 98, at least. But there’s something about that number, 100, that appeals to us. For a while, there just weren’t that many guys who could do it, so the ones who could really stuck out. Even now, when plenty of guys can do it, the number is enticing. Maybe it’s the third digit. Maybe it’s the fact that the number starts with a one, when all the rest start with sevens, eights and nines. Maybe it’s those nice, round zeroes, their cleanliness and sense of closure. In the Maxim piece, Joba Chamberlain describes it as “sexy.”

So we’ve got 100, this big, clean, round, even, sexy number that pitchers can make appear on a radar gun for which crowds cheer regardless of the result or quality of the 100. But there are times when baseballs travel 100 miles per hour not having been thrown by a pitcher, and those aren’t given nearly the same attention.

This was the year of the exit velocity. It was our first season with Statcast data, and the number that infiltrated the public domain more than any other was batted ball velocity. Hitting 100 off the bat is nice, too, but it isn’t nearly as impressive as a pitcher throwing 100. For exit velo, the holy 100 is more like the holy 110, and that’s not nearly as fun a number. Let’s stick with 100.

Occasionally, an outfielder will get a running head start, whether on a single or a sac fly, and throw a bullet to home plate, just like a pitcher, and it elicits a response. We can see with our eyes that the ball was thrown exceptionally hard, but we don’t see it on the radar gun, so these throws go unrecognized. You’ll hear about “pitchers who can throw 100,” but you never hear outfielders regarded in the same light. The pitchers who can throw 100 have their own exclusive, little clubs. Some can do it, but most just can’t. Outfielders are the same way, just without the club.

This season, there were 24 pitchers who threw a pitch that registered in the triple digits. There were 15 outfielders. Let’s give them their own club.

The names, probably, aren’t too shocking. It’s got to do with defensive excellence, so you had to figure Kevin Kiermaier would be up there somewhere. We knew Carlos Gomez had a cannon. If you’re an Astros or Twins fan, you knew Marisnick and Hicks had cannons. You expected to see guys like Puig and Martin on there. I hadn’t expected Billy Hamilton to be capable of throwing 100, but Reds broadcasters talked about him having a strong arm, so maybe it’s just my perception that was incorrect.

Only 15 outfielders did it, and it happened just 27 combined times in 2,429 games this year, so on first thought, you’d probably think they’re all pretty extraordinary. However, just like with pitches (even the ones that go 100!) they’re all unique in their own way. Aroldis Chapman and Bruce Rondon each throw 100, but their 100’s are very different. One hundred can be straight. One hundred can be way off target. One hundred can be totally unnecessary. One hundred, also, can be totally amazing, and awe-inspiring. That’s the best version of 100, but they’re all worth appreciating.

The Flat-Footed 100

That’s Aaron Hicks, making an obscene 100-mph throw. It’s a truly terrible throw, and those are going to have their own category, but this one stands alone due to the way it was thrown. You see, you’ll soon realize that every other instance of an outfielder throwing 100 is prefaced by a nice running headstart of at least several steps. On this one, Hicks needs only a jump and an abbreviated crow hop to fire triple digits over the head of Kurt Suzuki.

Aroldis Chapman comparison: steps forward with the wrong foot, throws 100 anyway, sails to the backstop.

The Boring 100

You can always tell when an outfielder is gearing up to give a throw home all he’s got. You’ve got a baserunner, either rounding third at full speed or standing on the bag in a sprinter’s position ready to break for home. You’ve got an outfielder, camping under a fly ball with anticipation and enough room to catch it with a running head start, or charging a grounder at full speed while maintaining a sense of awareness as to what’s happening on the basepaths in front of him. As all of this is happening, suspense builds. You could argue that the buildup to the throw is as exciting as the throw itself. But, the throw is still what you’re building up to. And sometimes, even when that throw goes 100, it’s a letdown. Sometimes, when Carlos Gonzalez uncorks a heater from right field, he isn’t even close to having a play at the plate and his infielder just cuts it off.

Aroldis Chapman comparison: batter is granted time mid-windup, Chapman lobs it home, throws 100 anyway

The Unnecessary 100

Sometimes, you just do it because you can. I mean, Kevin Kiermaier didn’t really think he had a shot at throwing out Adam Jones from the star in center field, did he? I guess the rationale would be that it at least opens up the possibility of something good happening if your opponent does something really dumb, and it makes you look pretty cool in the process.

Aroldis Chapman comparison: intentional walk, throws 100 anyway.

The Truly Terrible 100

Watch enough videos of outfielders throwing as hard as they possibly can and you see plenty of throws like these, making you wonder why outfielders ever throw as hard as they possibly can. Sometimes, it’s your only choice. It would have taken a perfect throw to the plate for Aaron Hicks to get Abraham Almonte here, and perfect includes both “throw going 103 miles per hour” and “throw being right on target.” He got one of them, at least.

Aroldis Chapman comparison: morphs into Bruce Rondon, throws 100 anyway, does so poorly.

The Truly Amazing 100

These are the ones you came for. That’s Carlos Gomez, Michael Taylor and three times the Kevin Kiermaier, making unbelievable, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, envy-inducing, ticket purchase-reaffirming throws to home plate that clocked in between 100 and 104 miles per hour. Because sometimes, everything goes perfect, and that’s why you try.

Aroldis Chapman comparison: Aroldis Chapman.

We hoped you liked reading The Outfielders Who Threw 100 by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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jdbolick
Member

This was fantastic.