Ask BA: History’s Best Fastball; Traded Padres vs. Current Padres

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When you see brilliance night after night, it's easy to become jaded about just what you're seeing.

Aroldis Chapman is brilliant. Not just because he's one of the best relievers in the game--he's struck out 15.3 batters per nine innings for his five-plus major league seasons, he's posted a 2.24 career ERA and has a sub-1.0 WHIP. As good as those numbers are, they are matched by Craig Kimbrel.

Chapman's greater brilliance comes from one of the best fastballs the game has ever seen. Yes, we don't have accurate modern radar gun readings for Bob Feller, Walter Johnson or Steve Dalkowski and it's hard to even equate the early radar guns that measured Nolan Ryan to the modern radar guns and Pitch FX we have now. That being said, there is a very good chance that Chapman is the hardest thrower baseball has ever seen.

We are in the greatest era of velocity baseball has ever seen. There are more pitchers with plus-plus fastballs than ever before, to the point where some teams have decided to bump up their scouting scales.

And in that group, Chapman has been the hardest thrower in baseball since the day he debuted on Aug. 31, 2010. His half-decade run of velo supremacy is truly remarkable.

Looking at a chart at pitches thrown 101 mph or harder over the Pitch FX era sees Chapman standing like Robert Wadlow over the field. Thanks to www.baseballsavant.com for its Pitch FX database query tool.

101 mph fastballs1

There's probably a better way to illustrate it by combining everyone else in baseball and comparing them to Chapman.

101mph fastball 2

Baseball has a tendency to romanticize past players beyond that of any other sport. In track and field, we can marvel at Jesse Owens' performance at the 1936 Olympics while also realizing that his best times wouldn't qualify for the Olympics today. The best football players of the 1950s would struggle to stay on the field with the bigger, stronger, faster players of today. But there is often a belief in baseball that the hardest throwers from 75 years ago threw as hard or harder than those of today. It's possible, but highly unlikely.

HOW THEY’VE FARED
Pitchers with 10 or more 101-mph+ pitches since 2008.
Pitcher Health
Aroldis Chapman Healthy
Joel Zumaya Career-ending injuries
Bruce Rondon Recovering from TJ
Henry Alberto Rodriguez Released for wildness
Kelvin Herrera Healthy
Bobby Parnell Recovering from TJ
Justin Verlander Currently on disabled list but generally quite healthy
Neftali Feliz Recovered from TJ
Andrew Cashner Missed time with shoulder/rotator cuff/elbow injuries

When it comes to fastball velocity, Chapman throws harder than anyone else in the game and he does it freer and easier than almost everyone else in the century club. It's probably not a coincidence that he's also been healthier than most. Joel Zumaya is the only other pitcher to have more than 50 pitches of 101 or better, but Zumaya did it with a max effort delivery that led to plenty of walks and plenty of injuries. Zumaya topped 40 big league innings only once in his brief career. Chapman has topped 50 innings every year since he settled in to a big league job.

There are nine pitchers with 10 or more 101-mph pitches in the Pitch FX era. Four have had Tommy John surgery. One couldn't hold a big league job because of wildness. Two other have had shoulder injuries. Only three (Chapman, Kelvin Herrera and Justin Verlander) have been relatively healthy.

Nolan Ryan has the best arm baseball has ever seen because of his ability to maintain one of the best fastballs the game has ever seen for a 27-year big league career. And Steve Dalkowski has the game's most legendary fastball because it’s referenced in stories that seem fresh from a W.P. Kinsella novel.

But if you are looking for the best pure fastball in baseball history, it's Chapman's. Chapman has the fastest pitch ever record-105 mph on Sept. 14, 2010. In the Pitch FX era, there have been 38 pitches of 103 mph or harder, Chapman has 36 of them.

He’s both the hardest thrower we’ve every seen and he’s had a lengthy run of success. It’s an amazing combination, and something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.


Q: Which top 10 prospect list is better, the current Padres top 10 or the top 10 Padres traded this offseason (including Trea Turner)?


Jeff Arkin
El Cerrito, Calif.

TRADED PADRES TOP 10
1. Matt Wisler, rhp, (No. 34 overall)
2. Trea Turner, ss (65)
3. Joe Ross, rhp (96)
4. Max Fried, lhp
5. Zach Eflin, rhp
6. Jace Peterson, 2b
7. R.J. Alvarez, rhp
8. Jake Bauers, 1b
9. Mallex Smith, of
10. Dustin Peterson, of
CURRENT PADRES TOP 10
1. Hunter Renfroe, of
2. Austin Hedges, c
3. Cory Spangenberg, 2b
4. Rymer Liriano, of
5. Fernando Perez, 2b
6. Michael Gettys, of
7. Jose Rondon, ss
8. Casey Kelly, rhp
9. Elliot Morris, rhp
10. Cory Mazzoni, rhp

BA: There aren't many teams where you can put together a Top 10 of prospects traded in the offseason. In the Padres' case, you could put together a top 15 (if you include  Keyvius Sampson, who was designated for assignment).

We won't go that deep, but we can put together a Top 10 that would rank better than some organization's actual Top 10s. The traded Top 10 has three Top 100 prospects. The current Padres Top 10 has one. The depth of the traded Top 10 is also better. Six of the Top 10 Padres prospects from the Prospect Handbook list have been traded and another three from the 11-16 range.

The current Padres Top 10 hews quite closely to the Handbook rankings for the prospects who weren’t sent elsewhere.

Austin Hedges has had a very encouraging start to the 2015 season in his jump to the Pacific Coast League. If he can show that his bat is in anyway catching up in any way to his outstanding defense, he could crack the midseason Top 50 Prospects list (which do remember is thinned by graduations and the fact that 2015 draftees don't qualify). But it's hard to see anyone other than Renfroe and Hedges and possibly Michael Gettys making next seasons Top 100 Prospects list among current Padres prospects.

At the back end of the current Padres’ list, it’s a struggle to find 10 good names. Cory Mazzoni jumps into the 10th spot as he joins the big league bullpen. He leapfrogs over shortstop Franchy Cordero. Cordero is struggling in his second taste of low Class A. The biggest concern with Cordero is whether he will have to move to the outfield eventually. His 11 errors in 14 games at shortstop this season is not alleviating those concerns.

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