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

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  • Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules View Post
    Then I guess we misunderstood each other. I never said the Dead Ball guys couldn't pitch 90 mph. I was referring to pitching at 98-100 mph.
    Well, there aren't many guys that get it up that high today either.

    There is no way of proving the speed of the great pitchers of the old days, and you know this. It's like as if someone said "I don't believe humans had the ability to smile before 1900 because no photographs exist of people doing it."

    Just use your logic. Nolan Ryan was throwing his tremendous heat in the late 60's. Steve Dalkowski threw just as hard, and probably harder, than Ryan did during the 1950's. 40 years before Dalkowski were the deadballers. 40 years before us right now was Nolan Ryan. Do you honestly think that humans can change in 40 years time?

    I don't see why you have to have strong physical evidence (which you know doesn't exist) on something that simple logic should explain. If a human could do something 50+ years ago, why wouldn't they also be able to do that same thing just 30 years before that?

    If not, when did this miraculous ability to throw 98-100 first occur?
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    • Originally posted by deadball-era-rules View Post
      Ok, I guess you two just want to go at it instead of trying to help one another learn something. I'm trying to bring forth some points to talk about but you guys aren't interested. I'll find another topic to discuss.
      What are you barking at me for? I was in agreement with everything you said in your post, thus I had no reason to comment on it.
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      • You guys are debating something with little utility.

        What we SHOULD be debating is..."Did old pitchers ROUTINELY throw 95+ the way today's pitchers do?"

        And the answer to that question is not likely to be yes. I think there are athletic freaks in every generation...from the dawn of man, people have been capable of things no one else around them were. I think the difference between 1900 baseball and 2000 baseball is MASS PRODUCTION. In 1900, if you were a freak, you could throw it hard. If not...you probably couldn't. Today, the expertise, intelligence and training of hundreds of athletic coaches, families and players is producing 95 mph relief pitchers like Ford produces cars. Today, it's not at all surprising that even the worst teams have three or four guys who can throw it 95+ with good movement (command and good pitch selection may be lacking...LOL). That is almost definitely not going to be true in 1920.

        The other difference is that old time pitchers who WERE freaks who could throw hard naturally didn't choose to throw hard on the vast majority of their pitches. They only reached back for their best fastball in high leverage situations and against the best hitters. Today, game conditions force pitchers to throw hard at least half the time...if not more. Max effort pitchers fill every bullpen in baseball. The starters throw harder and burn out more rapidly. Injury rates are increasing. But the game is much tougher for the the average batter.

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        • Originally posted by SABR Matt View Post
          You guys are debating something with little utility.

          What we SHOULD be debating is..."Did old pitchers ROUTINELY throw 95+ the way today's pitchers do?"
          I think the answer to that question is a definite "no." Having said that, the more important question, imo, is "Does throwing hard constitute being a better pitcher?" The answer to that is also, a definite no." While having extreme velocity will allow you to get away with many more mistakes, essentially just raising your margin for error, considering the lack of time the batter has to see, read and react, it is not a requirement for being a great pitcher.

          Another important point you bring up, is that even though some pitchers had 92-96 MPH ability, why in their right minds would they bring that in routinely, given the state of the game. In a pinch, sure. On certain counts, sure. As a show-me pitch from time to time, sure. But not consistently. That would be foolish.

          When Babe came along, and he stepped into the box, it became an immediate pinch. It became a situation of, you better get this guy out or simply give him a pass. And passing him became all the more dangerous once Lou came around. It must be taken into consideration, that the best, most dangerous hitters back then, faced pitchers who were indeed throwing with their best stuff, and not coasting. So you can say that a guy's OPS+ wouldn't be as high if he played today. But the counter point to that, is that he was already receiving more focus/energy from the pitcher, than most other hitters, which, imo, off-setts some of that OPS+ talk.

          I don't like the javelin comparison. Different motion. You don't use the same muscles. You use your legs and torso much more after having sprinted forward.

          There were all-time outfield arms several decades ago, and those weren't the guys being scouted primarily for their arms. The pitchers were. I see no reason to believe pitchers back then didn't have the ability to throw in the mid-90's, and would have done it consistently, had the game style called for it. Today, pitchers have to give every ounce on every pitch, for the most part, because hitters have never enjoyed more comfort. The environment has never been geared for pitchers to fail more than today. Lucky for them, most hitters take screwed up approaches and slightly decrease an otherwise huge margin for error, allowing some pitchers to thrive.

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          • Velocity isn't REQUIRED for good pitching to occur, no. It does, however, raise the general level of pitching quality in the game when the average velocity of each pitch increases. And IMHO, the "pitch-to-contact" mentality of the deadball era made pitchers considerably less important to the outcome of games and therefore less valuable.

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            • I've posted this elsewhere on BBF, but I had the pleasure of seeing RJ pitch in person at Fenway a while ago, and he was hitting 93-94 with a motion that reminded me very much of film I've seen of Walter Johnson...fairly "low energy", wasn't bring the back leg around at all. As the game progressed, he started bringing the back leg around and throwing a tad harder...he was also out of the game after 6-7 or so innings.
              I firmly believe that a physical prodigy such as WJ could easily have thrown high 90s as a young man with his low energy delivery (as far as the lower body is concerned)...but, as SABR Matt says, the man was expected to finish every game he started, so he would have paced himself and those super fast pitches would have been few and far between. As a result, they would have been mind boggling to the hitters when they were thrown. Christy Mathewson emphasizes pace and only throwing at full effort when absolutely required in "Pitching in a Pinch", and even ridicules pitchers who are dumb enough to throw "hard" on every pitch.
              Guys like Vance, Grove, and Feller...well, they have "modern" high energy deliveries and I'm sure they threw hellacious fastballs, but I'm not sure if they paced themselves in quite the same way. I would guess that they did to some degree to be able to throw so many CGs, but I'm not sure. Can't we ask Mr. Feller directly somehow? I'm sure he'd share his opinions...
              "I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base." - Preacher Roe on pitching to Musial

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              • Originally posted by Sultan_1895-1948 View Post
                I don't like the javelin comparison. Different motion. You don't use the same muscles. You use your legs and torso much more after having sprinted forward.
                It's a poor example, not the least because technological changes in the javelin itself and thrower's running track, plus stylistic overhauls in throwing mechanics have made it a whole different ballgame:

                http://www2.iaaf.org/TheSport/sport/jt/intro.html
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Javelin...ion_and_throws


                Originally posted by hellborn
                Christy Mathewson emphasizes pace and only throwing at full effort when absolutely required in "Pitching in a Pinch", and even ridicules pitchers who are dumb enough to throw "hard" on every pitch.
                On the other hand, such a remark indicates that there were indeed pitchers at that time who were throwing hard on every pitch; and there's no reason to suppose only mere journeymen were following this practice. Walter Johnson confessed that prior to 1910 he went all out on every pitch, and Joe Wood expressed a similar description of his fireballing style.

                I'll repeat from my OP that, four years later, I still see no good, defensible reason why hurlers as much as 100 years ago or more were not or could not bring the heat like today's mound aces do under normal game conditions.
                A swing--and a smash--and a gray streak partaking/Of ghostly manoeuvres that follow the whack;/The old earth rebounds with a quiver and quaking/And high flies the dust as he thuds on the track;/The atmosphere reels--and it isn't the comet--/There follows the blur of a phantom at play;/Then out from the reel comes the glitter of steel--/And damned be the fellow that gets in the way.                 A swing and a smash--and the far echoes quiver--/A ripping and rearing and volcanic roar;/And off streaks the Ghost with a shake and a shiver,/To hurdle red hell on the way to a score;/A cross between tidal wave, cyclone and earthquake--/Fire, wind and water all out on a lark;/Then out from the reel comes the glitter of steel,/Plus ten tons of dynamite hitched to a spark.

                --Cobb, Grantland Rice

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                • Originally posted by HitchedtoaSpark View Post
                  ...

                  On the other hand, such a remark indicates that there were indeed pitchers at that time who were throwing hard on every pitch; and there's no reason to suppose only mere journeymen were following this practice. Walter Johnson confessed that prior to 1910 he went all out on every pitch, and Joe Wood expressed a similar description of his fireballing style.

                  I'll repeat from my OP that, four years later, I still see no good, defensible reason why hurlers as much as 100 years ago or more were not or could not bring the heat like today's mound aces do under normal game conditions.
                  I think that Christy was implying that such dumb pitchers wouldn't make the majors. It is interesting that '10 was Walter's first big year...ERA+ went from 109 to 183, CGs from 27/36 to 38/42, record from 13-25 to 25-17, Ks from 164 to 313 (in about 74 more innings pitched, to be fair). If that was really when WJ stopped throwing full effort on every pitch, maybe that's good evidence that Christy's advice was good for that time.
                  But, it also shows that Walter probably was gunning high 90s heat in there pitch after pitch for a great many complete games for a few years, which backs up your point. Maybe it just didn't work so great for him due to the fatigue it brought on.
                  Last edited by hellborn; 07-22-2008, 08:28 AM. Reason: clarification
                  "I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base." - Preacher Roe on pitching to Musial

                  Comment


                  • Originally posted by hellborn View Post
                    I think that Christy was implying that such dumb pitchers wouldn't make the majors. It is interesting that '10 was Walter's first big year...ERA+ went from 109 to 183, CGs from 27/36 to 38/42, record from 13-25 to 25-17, Ks from 164 to 313 (in about 74 more innings pitched, to be fair). If that was really when WJ stopped throwing full effort on every pitch, maybe that's good evidence that Christy's advice was good for that time.
                    Such pitchers did, however, reach, and even thrive in the majors (and still do) following this approach. (The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.) In the context of how atrocious his batting support was, and how heavily his decimated staffmates leaned on him that year, Johnson's 1909 season is actually a tremendous achievement.

                    Nonetheless, Christy's advice was indeed absolutely good for the time; and still is today, despite the fact that changes in usage patterns have rendered this practice not nearly as critical as it used to be.
                    A swing--and a smash--and a gray streak partaking/Of ghostly manoeuvres that follow the whack;/The old earth rebounds with a quiver and quaking/And high flies the dust as he thuds on the track;/The atmosphere reels--and it isn't the comet--/There follows the blur of a phantom at play;/Then out from the reel comes the glitter of steel--/And damned be the fellow that gets in the way.                 A swing and a smash--and the far echoes quiver--/A ripping and rearing and volcanic roar;/And off streaks the Ghost with a shake and a shiver,/To hurdle red hell on the way to a score;/A cross between tidal wave, cyclone and earthquake--/Fire, wind and water all out on a lark;/Then out from the reel comes the glitter of steel,/Plus ten tons of dynamite hitched to a spark.

                    --Cobb, Grantland Rice

                    Comment


                    • It wouldn't surprise me. Players and people in general, are just bigger, stronger, and healthier today and pitchers have better conditioning targeted at maximizing their arm's potential (not to mention are working hard at early age with focused training to develop their pitching). Plus, with things like radar guns, there is something palpable to reach for - instead of just trying to throw hard, you're trying to shoot for a specific number. Also, hitters used much heavier bats way back when, which could suggest that they didn't need as much bat speed as today to catch up to pitches.

                      I'd actually be surprised if pitchers say from 100 years ago threw as hard on the whole as pitchers today. Doesn't mean that no one back then could throw as hard as modern pitchers, but on the whole, I would think there's more velocity now.

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                      • I agree. I think that there are a lot more high velocity fastballs being thrown today that 50/100 years ago. I don't, however, think that pitchers 100 years ago were incapable of hitting the high 90s. I think that even with pitchers throwing more high-speed fastballs today, if I was a manager of an MLB team I would be more worried to see Lefty Grove warming up in the opposing teams bullpen than a lot of modern pitchers.

                        This argument is similar to trying to argue whether players during the deadball era could hit for great power since there were far less home runs. Everyone knows that would be an outrageous claim. Of course Wagner and Cobb could swat the ball as far as many of the top modern sluggers, but there's no way to prove it 100 percent.

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                        • Originally posted by leecemark View Post
                          --I think an important point about Feller's 98.6 MPH clocling is that it came in 1946 and probably did not represent his top speed. I've read comments by Feller to the effect that when he returned from the War he started throwing the slider more and that accounted for his strikeout record in 1946. Batters simply weren't prepared to deal with a very good slider in additon to the great fastball - and a pretty damn good curve. Another comment by Feller that suggests he was not throwing as hard then, although more effectively, is that he used a very high leg kick early in his career but abandoned it after several years. The high leg kick gave him a little extra speed, but hurt his control. I'm fairly confident that had Feller been timed before the War he could have hit 100+.
                          I remember reading an anecdote by Billy Goodman (AL batting champ, 1950), probably in an old issue of Baseball Digest, concerning his first AB against Feller in 1947 as a pinch-hitter.

                          After not even seeing the ball, he went back to the bench and heard veterans saying, "What a shame Feller has lost his fastball."

                          Goodman supposedly said, "Whatever he lost, he doesn't NEED!" Apparently Feller still possessed a very impressive fastball 10 years after his major league debut, and after 4 years off as a gunner on a battleship.

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                          • Originally posted by deadball-era-rules View Post
                            I agree. I think that there are a lot more high velocity fastballs being thrown today that 50/100 years ago. I don't, however, think that pitchers 100 years ago were incapable of hitting the high 90s.
                            I would amend this to say that some pitchers could hit the 90s, but there were certainly many pitchers who could make it in that era with control and change of speed. Since pitchers could be successful throwing various speed stuff from 60-80, I think that most pitchers of the deadball era could not throw close to 90. Basically there was more variety of pitching styles.

                            What batters FACED on average was pitchers who probably topped out in the low 80s.

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                            • If y'all haven't seen it yet, check out my video for Bob Feller. At the end of it you get to see Feller make Greenberg look absolutely stupid with his fastball thrown from the stretch.

                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAm5fwb1Psw
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                              • Originally posted by SABR Matt View Post
                                And IMHO, the "pitch-to-contact" mentality of the deadball era made pitchers considerably less important to the outcome of games and therefore less valuable.
                                But they individually pitched so much more than today's pitchers that the 3 day rest, 3 or 4 day rotation guys at least as valuable as today's 5 man, 5 day rest guys.

                                In fact, "at least" isn't even accurate; the greatest pitchers of the pre-1920 era were certainly more valuable and important to their teams in comparison to today's greatest pitchers.

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