In the 2016 Major League Baseball season, 26 pitches screamed past home plate at 104 mph or higher. Every single one of them came out of the left hand of Aroldis Chapman. The 28-year-old Cuban is baseball’s undisputed king of the the heater, and after a brief stint in the Bronx last season, he’s just guaranteed Yankees fans five more years of gawking at the radar gun.
Chapman’s $86 million deal, the richest ever for a closer, may come as a surprise given his character deficiencies and relative lack of impact as a closer, but his cannon-like arm made it easy for the Yankees to overlook those drawbacks. Over Chapman’s seven-year career, that arm has thrown just over 5,000 fastballs, with an average velocity of 98.9 mph — the fastest in the game. In that time he has racked up 636 strikeouts in just 377 innings, the best strikeout-per-inning ratio in baseball.
But it’s not just his heater that makes him hard to hit. Chapman’s fastball, blazing as it is, moves in a straight line for the most part. If hitters can start swinging early enough, they can catch up. Some can, at least. But Chapman’s slider, also among the fastest in baseball at an average speed of 88 mph, darts around the strike zone like a drunken gnat. After he puts a guy on his heels by blowing 103 by him, the slider is nearly impossible to hit.
Still, it’s the cheese that gets the headlines. And why not? When you can do something no other human can, it hardly matters that it’s not always effective. Take this pitch, thrown to Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy in a game last July.
It was a ball, and not a particularly close one, but it lit up the radar gun at 105 mph. That’s why a YouTube video of an otherwise meaningless pitch has been seen more than 60,000 times.
Turns out, the 105 on the radar gun is underselling the pitch, too. According to MLB’s Statcast, it was actually 105.1 mph, which tied the record for the fastest pitch thrown in the time since they’ve been recording these things. And the pitch it was tied with? Thrown in 2010, by Chapman.