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Is there a speed limit for pitchers?

Sep 17, 2013, 11:38 AM EDT

Speed Limit

An interesting story at the New York Times about the research into injuries to pitchers who throw hard:

Fleisig, a biomedical engineer, knows what an arm can handle, and years of research give him the confidence to answer one of baseball’s more intriguing questions: Is there a limit to how fast a human being can throw?

His answer: Yes, there is.

And, he adds: That limit already has been reached.

Physics, man. It’s like, such a bummer sometimes.

Thing is, guys will still go crazy over the gun readings because even if you risk a Matt Harvey/Stephen Strasburg injury situation to your young fireballer, you always could get lucky and get a Nolan Ryan.  In other words: there will always be freaks who get hurt a lot and there will, maybe less occasionally, be exceptions too.

  1. magnusmagnolius - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    Joel Zumaya learned this firsthand.

  2. baseballfandrew - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Bummer man. What if someone had a bionic arm though?

  3. DelawarePhilliesFan - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Uhhhh….I believe Sidd Finch reached 168 MPH.

    In all seriousness though, it is folly to make sucha frim prediction, IMO. In the 50’s there was a study that concluded the Wolrd High JUmp record would never exceed 7’4″….it’s currently 8′ 1/2″.

    While it is safe to say no one will throw 150 MPH, I don’t think 110 is out of the questions

    • spursareold - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      If jumpers had never started going over the bar backwards like Dick Fosbury, it probably would have never exceeded 7’4″. Unless the entire mechanics of pitching changes, this theory is probably right about the top end pitching speed.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:33 PM

        Again, I believe Sidd Finch already addressed this :)

        The mechanics though is what I meant. Not there will be a wholesale change ala the Fosbury Flop, but grips, leg motion, wind up, etc.

        Clearly there are limits – the World Record in the High Jump is unchanged in 20 years. So maybe we have hit a limit with pitching. Just noting it can be folly to say it with certainty

  4. The Dangerous Mabry - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Is there a limit to how fast a human being can run? Yes. And it’s physically impossible for someone to break a 4 minute mile.

    Oh wait….

    Forgive me if I question the veracity of any claims on the limits of the human body, because they always seem to end up wrong.

    • chadjones27 - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      But these claims were made and these limits broken long before, due to modern medical science, we were able to fully study how the human body works. I think we have a greater understanding now as to the limits one can reach than we did when the 4 minute mile was broken. At some point, there’s no amount of stretching, strengthening, conditioning, etc that one could do to push a certain limit. And that point is where the fastest of fast balls lies. If we currently aren’t there, it can’t be much faster.

  5. rbj1 - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    186,000 miles per second. Of course, I’d hate to be that catcher.

    • voteforno6 - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      Especially considering that as velocity increases, so does mass. So, a baseball thrown at that velocity would pack quite an oomph. Yeah, the catcher might need some extra padding in his glove.

    • kopy - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:18 PM

      It’d probably be a little like this:

      Who caught the highest pop up ever?

      If you asked catcher Joe Sprinz he would likely admit he wasn’t too excited after winning the honor in 1939. As a publicity stunt for the defunct minor league San Francisco Seals team, Sprinz caught a ball let loose from a blimp floating 800 feet above. The force of the ball slammed his mitt back into his face smashing at least four teeth and breaking his jaw, according to an account of the feat. Sprinz’s catch came a year after a couple of players managed to hang onto baseballs dropped 700 feet from a Cleveland skyscraper. A baseball plummeting earthward reaches a terminal velocity of 95 M.P.H., physicist Peter J. Brancazio told the authors of the syndicated column Strange but True.

      -Mike Stevens

    • Reflex - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:19 PM

      It would not be as hard as you think, after all that’s only the speed in a vacuum. Why they would play baseball in a vacuum is beyond me however.

      • piratecaptain12 - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        I don’t know, maybe you should ask the rays that?

    • Joe - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:24 PM


      • Kevin S. - Sep 17, 2013 at 5:59 PM

        “A careful reading of official Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) suggests that in this situation, the batter would be considered “hit by pitch”, and would be eligible to advance to first base.”

        I died there.

    • umrguy42 - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:04 PM

      If you ignore the terminal velocity, you’d hate to be anyone within like a couple miles of the stadium.

      • umrguy42 - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        Dang. Joe beat me to it (don’t ask me how I missed it! Silly browsers.)

  6. beefytrout - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Meanwhile, Greg Maddux threw about 87 mph, but he knew exactly where that ball was going.

    • gloccamorra - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      Maddux had a low-mid 90s fastball when he started with the Cubs. He learned that his pitches had more movement if he didn’t throw them so hard, and while he knew where his pitches would end up, the batters didn’t. Didn’t Smokey Joe Wood say as much?

      • schlom - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:20 PM

        Isn’t it weird that everyone forgets just how hard Maddux threw when he was younger?

  7. m3dman3 - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    Apparently thus scientist has not seen the movie “Rookie of the Year”, and movies are real man!

    • gloccamorra - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      You jest, but a lot of people think movies ARE real. A girl I knew said ‘good riddance’ when James Gandolfini died, because he was a GANGSTER! People like her are the reason actors shy away from certain roles.

      • m3dman3 - Sep 18, 2013 at 3:51 PM

        Oh my… I don’t even know what to say to that lol

  8. titansbro - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:11 PM


  9. someguyinva - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

    churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged left a comment on that article that quotes an article from 2008 with research done as ASMI then.

    • gloccamorra - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      We’ve been in the neighborhood, but now we’re checking out the trash in a different alley.

  10. coloradogolfcoupons - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    There will be a giant of a man, a foot taller than Randy Johnson, and 200 pounds heavier…that will break 110. Take it to the bank

    • NatsLady - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      Agree. Each generation of Americans is taller and stronger than the previous generation. Look in a museum that shows 18th or 19th century humans and their clothes. They were small.

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:16 PM

      7’10” and 425 pounds?

      • senioreditor2 - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:47 PM

        Sure, why not. There was a 6’8″ little leaguer a few years ago……….

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Sep 17, 2013 at 3:15 PM

        Yea, but he was actually 25 :)

  11. chiadam - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    OK, so there is a limit except for times when there isn’t. I’ll write that down somewhere important.

  12. worldseriestiger - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    according to Hawk Harrelson, in a broadcast against the Tigers earlier in the year, he played with a pitcher that routinely threw over 110mph (and all the coaches and players could verify it!)

    So, ya know, if Hawk says it, it has to be true.

  13. crackersnap - Sep 17, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    This is what I was getting at back in this Calcaterra post:

    When Calcaterra wrote:
    “Finally Moore and his ilk fail to recognize that guys throw much harder today with much more violence done to the arm and shoulder. Nasty hard sliders and split-finger pitches and cutters and what have you, with overall velocity — like all measurable athletic acts — improving and increasing as time goes on.”

    I responded with:
    “I am not so sure that today’s pitchers throw harder than yesterday’s. If there is one thing that has not kept pace with the other advancements in human physical achievement, it’s how fast and how far a person can throw a baseball. Over the past 100 years, we are still within the 100-104mph range…Just because your third and fourth starter can also now throw hard doesn’t mean everyone on your staff throws harder than before.”

    Pretty much trying to raise the point that, yeah, physics is a bitch. Even if one is trying to not pay any attention to it.

  14. babyfarkmcgeezax - Sep 17, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    Once again Craig strikes with pure foolishness. What would give a pitcher special distinction to not have a speed limit when everyone else has one? How would a cop even know if the person driving the car is a pitcher or not? You have to wonder what runs through Craig’s mind sometimes. Just a few weeks ago he actually asked where his popcorn is, as if any of us would know.

    • nbjays - Sep 17, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      You would, because you probably stole it.

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