Fastball Not Found
This week I watched the documentary Fastball (2016) on netflix, that saddly does not have a post of wikipedia for me to post a picture from.
This is a really interesting movie about the history and science of measuring fastballs in baseball. There are profiles of Goose Gossage, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan and a look at Aroldis Chapman. Oddly, the night I watched this documentary Aroldis Chapman equaled his radar gun record of 105.1 mph, and set a new record in the new era of the stat tracker.
The movie also gives a look at anecdotal evidence of the guy who grew up in New Britain, Connecticut who went on to pitch in the minors, excell for one spring training before getting injured and never making the majors. I recall stories from articles in Connecticut papers growing up that all told the same story. He was possibly the fastest pitcher ever but also had control issues to a historical level. He had whole seasons with 18 strikes outs per 9 innings and as many or more walks. There were fears that he would kill someone if he ever hit someone with a pitch in the head, and hitters were glad that his only control issues were up and down and not side to side.
This is a very well done documentary although I was sceptical of the final results of their pitch speed analysis and the explanation of it. I don't dispute the speeds calculated for Bob Feller or Nolan Ryan (whose speeds were measured in a different spot in the trajectory of their pitches than current measurements). Rather that Walter Johnson's only measured speed was taken by the military measuring system where the ball broke through a mesh of metalic wires then traveled through space before hitting a metal plate. The speed was measured between the wire and the plate.
It would seem from the movie that the only methodology issue in this measurement was the distance from Johnson's hand where the speed was measured, not that the speed was only taken after hitting an obstruction aside from air friction, or that Johnson seemed to only throw one pitch to be measured. Drag from air is never mentioned in the movie, and it is mentioned that for Nolan Ryan, his fastest pitches were often in the later innings of games when he might have thrown 180 pitches or more and not on his first warm up pitch.
I am not surprised that older pitchers were able to hit speeds closer to what pitchers throw today because the throwing mechanics have not changed much through the history of baseball, and the specific mechanics don't seem to make a difference because they vary so wildly from pitcher to pitcher, ranging from submarine pitchers like Brad Ziegler to directly over the top pitchers like Josh Colmenter, just to name a couple of Diamondbacks alumni that exhibit extremes of form.
This movie could have been a series, then again, I always want to see more of well produced baseball documentaries.