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Chapman's pitch fastest ever? Maybe
Here’s what we know: Cincinnati Reds left-hander Aroldis Chapman threw a pitch that registered 105 miles per hour on the PETCO Park radar gun Friday night.
Was it the fastest pitch ever?
That’s impossible to say. Bob Feller could have turned an Iowa barn into kindling with a 106-mph heater during the 1930s, without anyone knowing. There isn’t a searchable, clickable log of every pitch in modern history, as there is for home runs.
But was this the hardest pitch in a major-league stadium during the era in which triple-digit fastballs have become commonplace?
That certainly seems to be the case.
According to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com, Chapman’s fastball on Friday night was the fastest pitch in the majors since 2008, which is as far back as the site's records go. That is based on Pitch f/x data compiled and distributed by Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
Oh, and Cameron said the precise reading was 105.1 miles per hour, not 105.0.
Chapman reached that apex during the eighth inning of Friday’s pennant-race-crucial game in San Diego. According to the Padres media relations department, he hit 105 once — on the fifth pitch to Tony Gwynn Jr.
It’s unlikely that there was a glitch. The scoreboard radar gun is linked to the same Pitch f/x technology that uses a system of cameras to track every pitch in the majors.
And actually, a 105-mph pitch isn’t entirely unexpected given what we know about Chapman’s prized left arm.
Cameron, the prolific FanGraphs.com writer, provided the following details:
• Chapman is responsible for the six fastest pitches in the major leagues this year — and 18 of the fastest 21.
• Of the 25 pitches Chapman threw on Friday night, the slowest was 99.6 miles per hour. (In other words, he didn’t attempt a single slider or changeup.)
• Chapman’s average fastball velocity this season is 100.3 mph. Second on the list is Detroit’s Joel Zumaya, at 99.3.
• Roughly 40 percent of Chapman’s pitches this year have topped 100 miles per hour (70 of 176).
Meanwhile, the database at Baseball-Almanac.com now shows Chapman as having thrown the fastest observed pitch in the majors — ahead of Zumaya’s 104.8 during the 2006 American League playoffs.
However, it’s difficult to put too much stock in data obtained prior to the implementation of Pitch f/x several years ago.
For example, one statistical service contacted by FOXSports.com on Sunday said it had one 105-mph pitch on record, in addition to Chapman's. It was thrown by Chris Mears of the Detroit Tigers against the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 1, 2003.
The service cautioned that the information was “very unofficial.” And there is a good reason for that qualifier: Chris Mears could never throw a pitch 105 miles per hour. I know that because Chris Mears told me.
“I can safely say that if I could throw a ball 105 miles per hour,” Mears said over the phone on Sunday, “I would not be scouting right now.”
Mears, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2003. He was regarded as a sinker/slider pitcher who topped out in the low 90s. He now works as an amateur scout for the Boston Red Sox.
“It might have been 105 — off the bat,” he said. “I never came close to throwing that hard. I had a pretty good chuckle when you said that.”
So, can we know for certain that Chapman’s fastball on Friday was the quickest in major-league history? Of course not.
But let’s put it this way: If there was a faster one, no one knows about it. Not even Chris Mears.