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The List: Baseball's Hardest Throwers

So, Stephen Strasburg's fastball has some giddy-up, as the old scouts say. He reportedly has been clocked as high as 103 mph and is said to be consistently in the high 90s. (On the two occasions I've seen him pitch in person, he was more like 95-98, but who am I to quibble?)

In baseball, we are fascinated with velocity. Much like the 100-meter dash, the speed of a pitcher's fastball offers some sort of secret into the outer limits of the human body's capability. But the stress on the arm created by 98- to 100-mph pitches is extreme, which is why it is rare to see a starting pitcher go that high. Indeed, according to fastball-velocity data at Fangraphs.com, among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched this season, the top seven in average velocity, and 10 of the top 12, are exclusively relievers. The fastest fastball belongs to Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, at 97.6 mph.

Here are the five hardest-throwers this season among starting pitchers:

5. Edwin Jackson, Tigers. 94.4 mph. This appears to be the year Jackson, at age 25, finally fulfills his vast potential -- he sports a 6-3 record and a 2.16 ERA. If so, it will be largely due to his fastball, which is up nearly half an mph over last year and has been far more effective for him. (See the first column, wFB, under the "Pitch Type Values" field.)

4. Josh Johnson, Marlins. 94.9 mph. After Tommy John elbow surgery cost him much of the previous two seasons, Johnson is back with a vengence this year. He's throwing 3 mph harder than he did in 2006, his last healthy season, and 1.4 mph harder than he did last year when he returned from surgery.

3. Felipe Paulino, Astros. 95.3 mph. This flamethrowing rookie has bounced between the Astros' rotation and bullpen, and is 1-4 with a 6.18 ERA this season. Maybe he needs to throw more fastballs -- he only throws it 60.9 percent of the time, compared with 70.3 percent for Johnson.

2. Justin Verlander, Tigers. 95.4 mph. Between Jackson, Verlander and relievers Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, the Tigers might have the hardest-throwing pitching staff in recent history. Verlander (6-2, 3.26 this year) regularly dials up 99 and 100 on the gun, and not surprisingly leads the AL in strikeouts, with 97.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies. 95.4 mph. This big right-hander emerged as a force during the Rockies' run to the 2007 NL pennant, but has struggled with his command (103 walks in 2008, and 31 already this year) since then. If he ever learns to throw strikes, watch out.

By Dave Sheinin  |  June 10, 2009; 10:56 AM ET
 
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Comments

"If he ever learns to throw strikes, watch out."

That's probably inscribed on a lot of tombstones in the Pitcher's Graveyard.

Problem is, most of them never do.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 10, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

The fact is that throwing strikes is exactly what makes Strasburg special, not just his velocity!! He has control and movement on his pitches which is why he is the #1 pick. Everyone knows that major league hitters can hit any speed if it's just coming in straight.
Pointless article!!!

Posted by: dckidwell | June 10, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

"Everyone knows that major league hitters can hit any speed if it's just coming in straight.Pointless article!!!Posted by: dckidwell"

Sort of true. Most major league hitters can hit any pitch -- provided they can time it. If they can time you, they can hit you. That's why Leo Mazzone taught his Braves' hurlers to throw strikes and change speeds. Movement on a fastball is nice if you have it, but not the key.

Of course, if you're talking about a Suzuki or a Pujols, they'll probably hit you anyway.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 10, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

He's only gone 11 innings, but Daniel Bard's 96.5 would be second only to Bard among relievers on that list. nice to see Manny Delcarmen make the first 35, too. With a change that's 13 or so MPH from the fastball, and a curve that's 18 slower, it's easy to see why the price for him is high.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | June 11, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

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