Radar guns were first used to measure velocity of pitchers in the major leagues some time in the 1960’s, although it was extremely rare and was deemed far from an exact science. On August 20, 1974, The Guinness Book of World Records measured a fastball thrown by Nolan Ryan of the then named California Angels officially at 100.9 mph, a record that stood for at least a couple decades.
Within the past 20 years, MLB broadcasts on all the major networks have been showing radar gun readings on every pitch. This craze has escalated to the point where MLB Network has a clip of a commercial for their major league coverage showing gun readings at stadiums. Play by play broadcasters have made radar gun readings a just as much a part of their deliveries as balls, strikes and outs.
Sadly, arm injuries have increased as much as average fastball velocity has in the past several years. Tommy John Surgery is the most common arm related injury for pitchers, and the frequency of elbow reconstruction has skyrocketed over the past decade. An updated list of Tommy John surgeries, courtesy of Joe Rogele, provides support of this claim.
New York Mets ace pitcher Noah Syndergaard‘s recent injury spurred more discussion in baseball circles about the perils of starters throwing pitches at maximum effort instead of pacing themselves throughout the course of a game.
On NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed baseball writer Jeff Passan, who provided excellent in-depth information on what a pitcher experiences when pitching through pain, from his mentality to physical results, he discusses Tommy John himself, and how baseball has evolved into the billion dollar industry that it is today. Also discussed are the measures now in place to help protect children from injuring their arms when pitching in Little League and going forward as they grow. The transcript from this interview can be found here, it’s well worth the time to read.
Both Kaat and Graves know of what they speak. Kaat pitched in MLB from 1959-1983 and Graves from 1996-2006, with neither having an overpowering arsenal at their disposal. They each had to pitch to succeed and they did just that, with Kaat winning 283 games and Graves was a fixture at the back end of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, earning 182 career saves.
A good example for children to watch and learn from in today’s world of flamethrowers is Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs. Illustrated below is a breakdown of his pitches from yesterday’s game against the New York Yankees. The graph below that shows each pitch’s velocity in the order he threw them. His fastest pitch of the game was a fastball clocked at 87.1 mph.
Hendricks has drawn some comparisons to former Cubs and Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux, and I have to agree. Watching him pitch in the 2016 playoffs, he looked to me like a young Maddux with his two-seamer running back in to left-handed hitters and catch the inside corner. His command is almost as good as Maddux, too.
For the sake of today’s young pitchers and young kids learning to pitch, I hope they focus less on radar-gun readings and max-effort pitches and more on command, more on learning how to truly pitch.