What Was the Fastest Pitch Ever? It Depends Who You Ask

Pitcher about to throw a baseball from the pitcher's mound
The fastest pitches, both officially and unofficially, are all over 100 mph (161 kph). Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that the pitches thrown in Major League Baseball are seriously fast. In fact, it’s not unusual for pitchers to throw over 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour), and many more hover around the upper double digits.

But you might wonder what the pinnacle is: Just how fast can the very best throw a baseball, and where does the record for the fastest pitch ever currently stand?

How Does the MLB Measure Pitch Speed?

The basic elements of the pitch have been the same since the beginning of baseball: the human body (specifically the arm) and a baseball. However, as in all sports, there is progression over time; human beings have shown a remarkable knack for getting better, stronger, and faster.

Pitching is no exception. Today, pitchers are throwing faster than ever.

But the technology needed to accurately measure pitch speed — and uniform adoption of the tech throughout the sport — is relatively new. To answer the question of fastest baseball pitch records, it’s necessary to look at the different technology that’s been used over time.

Evolving Technologies

A new era of pitch velocity measurement began in the 1970s, when the radar guns that had been developed for clocking the speed of cars were used to measure fast-moving baseballs thrown by major league pitchers. Technology improved over time, leading to more accurate measurements, as well as adjusting the point of measurement closer to the pitcher's hands.

This shift meant that the measured pitch speed was going up, for the simple reason that a pitch slows down as it travels to home plate, due to wind resistance. A ball that leaves the pitcher’s hand at 100 mph (161 kph) might slow down to 90 mph (145 kph) by the time it meets the catcher’s glove.

Compensating for Newer Methods

With the adoption of the Statcast system in 2015, the modern era of baseball statistics began — not just for the fastest pitches, but for the longest home runs as well. While new data was being collected and organized, old data was adjusted to the new measurement standards, so that records could be as consistent as possible across time.

That meant that older pitching speeds were revised upwards to match what they would be with the new technology, which measures pitches as close as possible to the moment the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.

The Fastest Pitches in the Statcast Era

Below is a list of the top 10 fastest pitches thrown in this era, according to Statcast. You’ll quickly notice that Aroldis Chapman’s name is all over this list; that’s because he’s thrown eight of the fastest pitches ever recorded, with Jordan Hicks taking the remaining two slots.

  • No. 8 (tie): Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium, 105.0 mph (169.0 kph), 2018

  • No. 8 (tie): Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 105.0 mph (169.0 km/h), 2016

  • No. 8 (tie): Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium, 105.0 mph (169.0 kph), 2018

  • No. 5 (tie): Aroldis Chapman, Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, 105.1 mph (169.1 kph), 2016

  • No. 5 (tie): Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 105.1 mph (169.1 kph), 2016

  • No. 5 (tie): Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 105.1 mph (169.1 kph), 2016

  • No. 4: Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 105.2 mph (169.3 kph), 2016

  • No. 3: Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 105.4 mph (169.6 kph), 2016

  • No. 2: Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 105.7 mph (170.1 kph), 2016

  • No. 1: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds, Petco Park, 105.8 mph (170.3 kph), 2010

Aroldis Chapman's Dominant Pitching

Aroldis Chapman has had an impressive career. His MLB debut was in 2010 with the Cincinnati Reds, where he immediately began setting records for his blindingly fast pitch speed.

In the decade-plus since, he’s pitched for the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees, the Kansas City Royals and, most recently, the Texas Rangers. All the while, he’s been throwing some serious heat.

On September 24, 2010, in a game against the San Diego Padres, Aroldis Chapman threw what would become the current world record for the fastest pitch recorded. Initially, the pitch was measured at 105.1 mph (169.1 kph), but was subsequently revised to 105.8 mph (170.3 kph), due to the standardization of Statcast records.

Chapman went on to fill out much of the rest of the top 10 records, including an especially hot 2016 season. Only Jordan Hicks, whose MLB debut in 2018 saw him playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, has slots in the top 10 fastest pitches ever. His fastest pitch clocks in at 105.0 mph (169.0 kph).

Unofficial Records for Fast Pitches

While Aroldis Chapman holds the official record for the fastest pitch in MLB history, there are some other fast pitches that often get discussed when the conversation turns to superlatives. Unlike the official records, these pitches were thrown under circumstances that make their speed difficult to confirm.

No. 2: Bob Feller, Cleveland Indians, Griffith Stadium, 107.6 mph (173.2 km/h), 1946

This legendary, blazing-fast pitch wasn’t thrown during major league game play. Instead, before the game began, it was measured by throwing into a device called a Lumiline Chronograph, which had been set up to see how fast Feller was throwing.

His fastest pitch was clocked at 98.6 mph (158.7 kph). Because this was a one-off test, and the precise measurements aren’t readily available, it will always be a matter of speculation.

However, the high-end estimate for what that pitch would be today, using modern measurement standards, is a whopping 107.6 mph (173.2 kph).

No. 1: Nolan Ryan, California Angels, Anaheim Stadium, 108.1 mph (174 km/h), 1974

Nolan Ryan’s smoker was thrown in the ninth inning of a game in which the radar gun was being introduced as a new, groundbreaking technology.

While the measurement on the day was 100.8 mph (162.2 kph), adjusting to the new standard would make that a lighting-fast 108 mph (173.8 kph), easily securing the record of the fastest pitch ever recorded.

Even so, as with Bob Feller’s record, the accuracy of Ryan’s epic heater is hard to know for certain, and some experts continue to dispute this pitch. But Ryan remains one of the most celebrated pitchers of all time, and some believe he was capable of the astonishing feat.

Original article: What Was the Fastest Pitch Ever? It Depends Who You Ask

Copyright © 2024 HowStuffWorks, a division of InfoSpace Holdings, LLC, a System1 Company