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Did Pitchers of Yesteryear Throw With "Much Less" Velocity Than They Do Today?

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  • Originally posted by SABR Matt View Post
    Simple answer to this question.

    Pitchers in 1900 were capable of throwing as hard as they do today, but they only did so when they got into jams and needed it. Just ask Walter Johnson, who famously quipped that anyone who threw their hardest in the first inning was a fool. When you have to throw all nine innings most of the time...you save your energy and you coast your way through games.
    When hitters can't beat you with one big hit, it makes sense. Today power runs deep enough that there is risk. Also, does this raise the esteem for someone like Ruth when pitchers could save their best stuff for him?

    In a thread about a year ago, it was discussed that the top sluggers and walkers got a higher relative percentage of walks, and extra bases between 1920 and 1950 than from the 50s on. Possibly this was due to integration deepening lineups. The only exception would be in the 2000s with the rise of Bonds.

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    • Yes...in the deadball era, with the mushy ball, the BABIP was close to .270...horribly low. Pitchers could coast through a game and accept the .270 average on their balls in play while keeping runs off the board.

      Comment


      • In regards to some of the previous comments being made about modern players being better coached and more well-nourished, while better nutrition and coaching do make a big difference, there are other factors to be considered. We have to ask ourselves how big of an impact the lifestyles of the average pitcher 20/50/100 years ago made on their pitching ability. Pitchers 100 years ago grew up with generally more physically demanding lives. Walter Johnson was like many great power pitchers of the early days. He was raised doing hard physical labor from a young age. These players grow up tough and that's why you've got these great pitchers like Cy Young and Joe McGinnity who were able to throw so hard for so many years and continue to win. In addition, your average kid today grows up spending more time in front of the TV than playing baseball. at the turn of the century, baseball was THE game in America. There was no football or basketball to speak of, no tv, no radio (until the mid 1920s or so) so these kids who would grow up to be big leaguers in the 1910s-1930s learned a lot through hours and hours of actual baseball-playing experience, which in my opinion, is the best coach. I do agree that coaching and nutrition is better today than a century ago, but I don't believe that it adds up to modern pitchers being better than those of the past. Look at many of the great players in the game today. Quite a few of them come from poor areas in the Dominican Republic and probably didn't have elite coaches or proper diets.

        Comment


        • By the way, as far as foot speed, while guys from the early 1900s had poor times in the 100 compared to world class sprinters today, I do not believe that today's sprinters are really that much faster. I think it is due more to field conditions, shoes etc (not to mention anabolics).

          People will look at say powerlifters today and say that hey Bill Kazmaier lifted a combined 2400 pounds in the squat, bench and deadlift, and there are guys today who can do 2800, but these guys do it wearing double thick shirts and supportive elastic suits. I have talked to a guy who trained with someone who benched 1015 pounds. He told me that without supportive gear he sometimes did 550 for 2 reps, and might be able to get 600-650 which is less than Kazmaier did in the late 70s without equipment.

          Not only that, my dad could kick my ass and his dad could kick both of our asses at the same time.

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          • Hahaha, well said brett.

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            • Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules View Post
              I've thought about this a lot. Many have stated that there is a limitation to how fast a ball can be thrown. That is true but did Dead Ball era pitchers come close to reaching that limit? I"m not so sure. Let's look at other sproting events that are somewhat similar to throwing a baseball. The closest I can think of is throwing a javelin. Would anyone argue that a javelin thrower from 1905 can throw as far as a modern javelin thrower given the exact same conditions? No, of course not. The difference is that we have well documented evidence that javelin throwers throw farther today than javelin throwers a hundred years ago.
              I don't understand what your point is exactly. Yes, the records from 100 years ago in most all track and field events have been shattered. But that's not the point. I think most people on here would agree that athletes are better conditioned for their specific competitions today.

              However, there are 170lb high school kids out there who can throw 90+. Are you suggesting that there weren't grown men 100 years ago that couldn't do the same thing? Hell, Billy Wagner is a shrimp and he's hit 100mph.
              sigpic

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              • Originally posted by OleMissCub View Post
                I don't understand what your point is exactly. Yes, the records from 100 years ago in most all track and field events have been shattered. But that's not the point. I think most people on here would agree that athletes are better conditioned for their specific competitions today.

                However, there are 170lb high school kids out there who can throw 90+. Are you suggesting that there weren't grown men 100 years ago that couldn't do the same thing? Hell, Billy Wagner is a shrimp and he's hit 100mph.
                I'm thinking along the same line. Comparing some track and field events, discus throw, javelin and other of those type events, how do we compare those to pitching. Those are strength events with training methods that have probably changed dramatically over the years. Not to dismiss the fact the athletes on average today bigger and stronger but it's not only size, knowledge gained over the years, I don't see the comparison, the advancement over the years to pitching. Yes on average todays pitchers are probably bigger but it's evident that there are some not that big that get in to the mid 90s range.

                Track events, changes over the years can't be used to make the same point about pitching.

                Comment


                • Originally posted by OleMissCub View Post
                  I don't understand what your point is exactly. Yes, the records from 100 years ago in most all track and field events have been shattered. But that's not the point. I think most people on here would agree that athletes are better conditioned for their specific competitions today.
                  Yes, and throwing a baseball is just as specific a competition as throwing a javelin. Why I just don't get is the people agree that athletes today can throw a javelin much further than a hundred yet can't accept that pitchers today throw harder than a hundred years ago. The arm motion for throwing a javelin is very similar to throwing a baseball. If find it hard to believe that pitchers didn't come up new ways to pitch faster just how they refined the javelin throw.

                  However, there are 170lb high school kids out there who can throw 90+. Are you suggesting that there weren't grown men 100 years ago that couldn't do the same thing? Hell, Billy Wagner is a shrimp and he's hit 100mph.
                  I'm suggesting that we can't just assume that there were such grown men 100 years ago. Maybe they existed, maybe they didn't. As for Billy Wagner he's listed as 5'10" 180 pounds. That is not that small. And a hundred years ago he would have been considered at least an average size if not bigger. Frank Baker is listed at 5'11" and 173 pounds. I'd never heard anyone refer to Baker as small.
                  Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 07-21-2008, 08:32 PM.
                  Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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                  • well maybe there was more of a difference 100 years ago. But its been accurately recorded that almost 70 years ago Bob Feller was hitting the high 90's and sometimes 100+. Thats just one example but im sure there are others as well.
                    "He is the greatest natural hitter I ever saw." -Ty Cobb

                    "I copied Jackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He's the guy who made me a hitter." -Babe Ruth

                    "Everything he hit was really blessed. He could break bones with his shots. Blindfold me and I could still tell you when Joe hit the ball. It had a special crack." -Ernie Shore

                    Comment


                    • I agree, we've already talked about how baseball is the only sport where modern athletes can truly be compared evenly with players of 100 years ago (It seems at least). I say forget the track stuff. I don't want to dive into this without my resources at hand, but I have read Walter Johnson's biography "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train" and in it there is detailed documentation of an attempt to clock Johnson's pitching speed. I'll do the best I can without haveing the book in my hands to directly quote it, but I'll dig it up asap. Anyway, late in Johnson's career a group got together to try to clock Johnson's speed with an extremely crude radar gun. The gun didn't work at all like a modern one. Instead Johnson had to throw a ball into a can about the size of a coffee can from the pitching mound and inside this can there were a series of strings. The way the things worked was that they measured the time between each string being broken to measure how fast the ball was moving. Johnson threw a lot of pitches but was unable to get a hard-thrown ball directly into the can. Finally, he eased up to gain accuracy and they managed to get a direct hit reading (I'm pretty sure) about 88 mph. I'd say considering Johnson was doing this late in his career and with less than full power than it's safe to say that in his prime he could hit over 100 mph. Don't quote me yet, because I still need to go back and reread some info (I will do it, just give me a few days), but off the top of my head I think that's what I remeber reading.

                      For what it's worth, I also wrote to Bob Feller himself asking who the fastest pitcher of all time was, and he wrote back that Johnson was. I personally think Feller has probably seen more pitchers than just about any living person today, and he's still sharp as a tack. That is just one Hall of Famer's opinion, but it is the great Feller himself so make your own assessment.

                      Comment


                      • Originally posted by SHOELESSJOE3 View Post
                        I'm thinking along the same line. Comparing some track and field events, discus throw, javelin and other of those type events, how do we compare those to pitching.
                        Sorry, but throwing a javelin is NOT a strength event. The javelin weighs 1.76 lbs. It's very similar to throwing a baseball and takes as much skill. If you look like a modern world class javelin throwers they are hardly big men. Pitchers like Roger Clemens, Mark Prior, A.J. Burnett, etc. are huge compared to a lot of javelin throwers.
                        Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                        Comment


                        • Originally posted by kgrifeyjr30 View Post
                          well maybe there was more of a difference 100 years ago. But its been accurately recorded that almost 70 years ago Bob Feller was hitting the high 90's and sometimes 100+. Thats just one example but im sure there are others as well.
                          Please post a link that details these events. When did Bob Feller hit 100+ mph? And how do we know the recording is accurate?
                          Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                          Comment


                          • Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules View Post
                            Sorry, but throwing a javelin is NOT a strength event. The javelin weighs 1.76 lbs. It's very similar to throwing a baseball and takes as much skill. If you look like a modern world class javelin throwers they are hardly big men. Pitchers like Roger Clemens, Mark Prior, A.J. Burnett, etc. are huge compared to a lot of javelin throwers.
                            I don't see it that way, it may not be 100 percent strength but it's an athlete who trains for that few seconds to heave that javelin as far as he can. I don't see the comparison to an athete throwing a baseball, a great number of pitches. Either a pitcher can throw hard or he can't, the other the javelin thrower does what ever training he can to improve distance, he improves over time. It's obvious over time with advancements in training track athletes move ahead more so than a pitcher over the years.

                            Track is a whole different world than baseball.

                            Comment


                            • Ok, we really need to get away from javelin toss and back to baseball. Similar throwing motion? Yes. 100 percent relatable? Absolutely not. A baseball only weighs 5.5 ounces and of course it's shaped very differently. Let's get back on track here, or should I say off track (No pun intended)?

                              Comment


                              • Originally posted by SHOELESSJOE3 View Post
                                I don't see it that way, it may not be 100 percent strength but it's an athlete who trains for that few seconds to heave that javelin as far as he can. I don't see the comparison to an athete throwing a baseball, a great number of pitches.
                                But this thread is NOT about throwing a great number of pitches. It's about how hard a pitcher can throw at maximum effort just like throwing a javelin. And the arm motions are very similar.

                                Either a pitcher can throw hard or he can't, the other the javelin thrower does what ever training he can to improve distance, he improves over time. It's obvious over time with advancements in training track athletes move ahead more so than a pitcher over the years.
                                So a pitcher throws hard or he can't? There is no possible exercise or training that a pitcher can do to throw harder? But a javelin thrower can train to improve his distance? How does that work? Improving a javelin distance is really increasing how hard one can throw it at the point of release, just like throwing a baseball.

                                Track is a whole different world than baseball.
                                I'm not talking about every single event in track, just one. And that one event is such that it is very similar to throwing a baseball.
                                Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                                Comment

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