Let's talk pitching velocity...
If you're looking for proven ways to increase pitching velocity based on science, you're going to love this article.
A pitcher's ability to increase velocity and maximize ball speed while avoiding shoulder and elbow injuries is an important determinant of a successful career.
For as long as baseball has been played, hard-throwing pitchers have been part of the lore and lure of the game.
We cared about velocity even before we could measure it with modern technology today.
Back in 1912, a pitcher named Leslie Ambrose Bush often walked more batters than he struck out, but he threw so hard he earned the name Bullet Joe.
In 1917, a Negro League pitcher named Joe Rogan became Bullet Rogan and went all the way to the Hall of Fame.
Walter Johnson's fastball "hissed with danger," Ty Cobb once said. A hundred years ago Johnson's fastball was timed not with a Bushnell, Jugs or Stalker radar gun, but rather against a speeding motorcycle and estimated at 97 mph.
Thirty years later, Bob "Rapid Robert" Feller took the same motorcycle test and his fastball was estimated at 104 mph.
MLB's hardest throwers
There's a general consensus that major league pitchers are now throwing harder than ever before. The same is happening with velocity development of amateur pitchers.
If you look at data compiled from MLB's very accurate PitchFX system over the past 10 years, the numbers prove more and more pitchers throwing harder each year.
Here are two things that stand out:
First, the number of MLB pitchers throwing 95+ mph is way up
Let's go back to 2007, the first year advanced technology standardized and began reliably tracking the speed of pitches...
As the chart below shows, in 2007 only 8 major league starters averaged 95 mph or better on their fastball. The number jumped to 15 by 2012 and to 20 in 2014.
The same thing happened with relievers:
In 2007, just 27 relief pitchers were throwing 95 mph or better. In 2014, there were 54 at 95 mph or better – an increase of 100% in just 7 years.
Clearly a lot more pitchers are throwing harder then ever before.
Second, the average fastball velocity of all MLB pitchers is up
If we look at pitching velocity another way, we see that in 2008 the average four-seam fastball in Major League Baseball was 90.9 mph, according to data on Fangraphs.com.
That number jumped to 92.6 mph last season — a gain of almost 2 mph in less than 10 years!
There's no consensus on why pitchers are throwing harder today, but there are plenty of theories:
- Pitchers are getting bigger and stronger than ever before; in many instances, pitchers are now the best athletes on the field.
- Pitchers are throwing with better deliveries learned and perfected at younger ages.
- Pitchers are able to set velocity goals for themselves and measure results to work to meet them.
This combination of good strength while maintaining flexibility, good pitching mechanics, and good throwing programs to build speed, stamina and a strong arm are the main factors to MLB pitching velocities that are truly off the charts.
Let's take a look at the hardest throwers in baseball from 2007 to 2014...
Fastest pitchers in baseball
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|Starters (200 pitch minimum)||Average velocity (mph)|
|Relievers (200 pitch minimum)||Average velocity (mph)|
What's impressive about these 10 pitchers is not just the fact that they're putting up three digits on the radar gun, but rather the consistency of their velocity as well... these numbers are averages.
I think this pic pretty much sums it up:
Which leads us to Noah Syndergaard who seems to be testing the limits of human velocity.
Check out this 99-mph fastball from the Mets' ace:
Over nearly 184 innings in his 2016 season, Syndergaard's four-seam fastball sizzled at a major-league best for starting pitchers.
His average was 97.9 mph — nearly 1.5 mph better than the next best starter.
"I like to say it's controlled violence," Syndergaard said of his delivery that produces his high velocity.
Although data isn't available from earlier eras in baseball, when the mound height and distance were different at times, Syndergaard's average fastball velocity as a starter in 2016 might have been the fastest to date.
Increasing pitching velocity
An explosive fastball alone can still get a pitcher to college and entry in to pro ball, while wowing coaches, scouts, players and fans along the way. (Velocity is a foot in the door. Other variables like good control, command, movement and changing speeds are still needed to pitch at these levels.)
So how can your son develop a better fastball?
In the simpliest terms, pitching instructor Christian Wonders sums it up like this:
Now, let's get into how to increase pitching velocity in a little more detail...
Here are 22 ways to improve pitching velocity to point you and your son in the direction of success:
1. Increase body mass
When I was growing up, I was tall but skinny so my Dad used to preach Mass = Gas, which usually meant it was time for another peanut butter sandwich.
Mass = Gas was a long-running joke between us throughout my baseball career.
But research has now proven there's a lot of truth to this statement.
Gaining weight through both growth spurts and eating 500 extra calories per day can help to improve a pitcher's ability to throw harder.
However, it's important to remember that adding mass is a slow process.
According to the Mayo Clinic and the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois, a healthy weight gain is 1/2 to 1 pounds per week.
Adding 10-15 pounds of lean mass can take 6-8 months or more.
Love this quote from Eric Cressey of Cressey Sports Performance:
2. Speed up the time from stride foot contact to maximum external rotation of the throwing shoulder
The hardest throwing pitchers in baseball go from stride foot contact (SFC) to maximum external rotation (MER) in less than 3-tenths of a second, or 0.244 seconds to be exact.
I'll cover MER in greater detail shortly.
Source: Werner 2008
3. Get the glove arm involved
Good glove arm action helps proper shoulder alignment, trunk arching and flexion, and good trunk rotation—all of which generate arm speed and ball velocity.
There are two basic methods of developing effective glove arm action:
- Fire the glove and lead arm toward the plate
- Lead the elbow directly at the plate
For both methods, once the stride foot makes contact with the ground, actively whip the glove and elbow down and back outside the lead hip. Do not allow the glove to go too far behind the lead hip.
4. Eliminate the "balance point"
Have you ever watched Justin Verlander pitch? If you have, you'll notice that he doesn't stop or pause at any point during the peak of his leg lift.
The path of his knee is a fluid continuous motion up, down and out.
A 2004 study compared pitchers who used a balance point and those who did not. Researchers found that pitchers using a balance point had more head movement which resulted in lower velocity and decreased accuracy.
This led the researchers to conclude, "we cannot recommend the indiscriminate practice of the balance-point position..."
Having a balance point during the leg kick does the following:
- Creates an un-athletic posture
- Decreases quickness to the plate, reduces momentum and causes slower velocity
- Slows delivery tempo, leading to poor timing and decreased accuracy
Source: Marsh 2004
5. Raise lead knee to a minimum of 60% (but not more than 70%) of pitcher's overall height during leg kick
Research indicates that the hardest throwing pitchers have a maximum lead knee height between 60 and 70 percent of their standing height.
If the lead knee isn't raised high enough (< 60 degrees), it prevents the pitcher from getting good momentum with the stride leg toward home plate. If the lead knee is raised too high (> 70 degrees), the momentum down and toward the plate can be arrested or started too late.
Source: Boddy 2011
6. Increase knee flexion at foot strike
Research indicates the more the front knee is bent at stride foot contact (SFC), the higher a pitcher's velocity. This requires the pitcher to be quick with the hips to get more weight onto the front leg at SFC.
The average bend in the front knee at SFC is 48 degrees for the hardest throwers.
Source: Werner 2008
7. Increase elbow flexion at stride foot contact
The more the throwing elbow is bent at foot strike, the higher the velocity. The average bend in the throwing elbow at stride foot contact is almost 90 degrees for the hardest throwers.
Source: Werner 2008
8. Keep the head behind the lead hip longer
Keeping the head behind the lead hip longer (which is why we lead with the front hip with no balance point during the leg kick) also produces less stress on the shoulder.
Source: Werner 2002
9. Don't rush
When a pitcher rushes his delivery, it means the body has moved forward towards the plate too early, causing the arm position to be too low at the time of stride foot contact with the ground and arm acceleration.
This low arm position reduces pitch velocity.
What I have observed in most power pitchers is that the weight is held back over a firm posting leg until the lead leg starts downward. The lead foot comes downward a little more than shoulder width apart and side along the ground to the contact area. The upper body and the head stays at the top center of the widening triangle of the body. The body has only drifted, or fallen forward. There is no major push or drive during this phase.
10. Increase maximum shoulder external rotation
Maximum external rotation (MER) describes the angle at which the forearm "lays back" during the pitching delivery. This is due to a rapid turn of the shoulders as the inertial mass of the baseball pushes the hand and forearm back.
Stressing flexibility, the further the throwing arm rotated back, the higher the velocity because of the increased stored energy (think of a slingshot).
The pitchers who throw the hardest have a maximum external rotation of 160-180 degrees.
11. Increase elbow flexion velocity
Once the throwing arm is cocked, relaxed and ready, the arm must also have good elbow flexion.
This elbow flexion means the ball is inside the elbow, which will allow the arm to move into MER faster because of the shorter arm path due to the increased elbow flexion.
12. Increase upper trunk (torso) and pelvis rotation velocity
Rotation + Extension = Power. This is why it's so important for pitchers to be quick with all movements to the release of the baseball, using trunk rotation to build velocity. The speed and strength of a pitcher's torso is another key element in throwing velocity during the pitching delivery.
I believe it was Coach Bill Thurston from Amherst College back in the early 90's who was one of the first pitching instructors to emphasize that pitching velocity was the result of the rotational forces of the entire body working together as efficiently as possible by throwing with good mechanics.
He discovered that a pitcher's ultimate velocity was dependent on how quickly he can transfer energy from the lower half of the body (legs) into the rotational forces of the torso that bring the arm through to release the ball.
In other words, how can a pitcher quickly get his belly button from facing sideways as he strides forward, to facing the hitter upon landing into ball release?
In the September 2003 edition of Coaching Management magazine, former White Sox Strength and Conditioning Director Vern Gambetta, acknowledged that the torso plays a key role in getting the arm in the proper throwing position.
In addition to Gambetta, Arnel Aguinaldo, from Children's Hospital San Diego, conducted a study, which proposed that larger body segments create most of the velocity in throwing. Speed of the trunk is not the only aspect of torso that needs to be developed. Late trunk rotation is a movement that can help increase force applied to the ball along with keeping the arm healthy and safe.
Jordana Bieze reported in the June 2004 issue of Biomechanics that collegiate, high school, and youth pitchers rotate less than 15% of their way through the pitching motion. Rotating too early can produce added strain to the arm and shoulder.
Additionally, Stodden and colleagues (2001) studied the effects of the pelvis on velocity and concluded that with a higher pelvic velocity a pitcher could throw harder during his delivery.
13. Increase knee flexion at ball release
Pitchers who throw the ball hardest have their front knee bent to 60 degrees or more at ball release. So their front knees went from 48 degrees bent at stride foot contact to 60 degrees or more at ball release.
This is commonly called "bracing up" against a firm front leg.
Studies show that a pitcher's front leg absorbs twice their bodyweight on their front leg as they pitch. Those with the highest velocity had the best bracing up of their front leg.
The stronger your front leg, the harder you throw.
In 1998, Bruce MacWillams conducted a study that examined ground reaction forces (GRF) during the pitching motion. The study's results indicated that leg drive is a significant factor in pitcher's throwing velocity. They found that greater resultant ground reaction forces resulted in a greater wrist velocity at release. Thus, they established a link between leg drive (the leg motions of the pitcher) and arm velocity. However, the forward motion in the delivery is not the only important action of the lower body. The lead leg that blocks forward movement is also an essential element in a pitcher's throwing velocity. This demonstrated that the ability for the subject to drive the body over a stabilized front leg was characteristic of the fast-throwing pitchers.
Elliott et al. (1988) demonstrated that the ability for the subject to drive the body over a stabilized front leg was characteristic of the fast-throwing pitchers.
What's more, in a 2001 study, Matsuo found that high velocity throwers were able to plant and extend the lead knee to provide stability to the pitching motion.
In addition, the Lexington Clinic was provided an outline evaluating kinetic movements. They included a .89 correlation between throwing velocity and lower body strength.
14. Increase forward trunk tilt at ball release
Increasing forward trunk tilt doesn't mean bend the back or follow through.
In fact, at ball release the back is actually straight while the hips are bent. All the flexing that occurs happens at the hips, NOT the back; the back stays straight through ball release.
The researchers felt that extending the front knee at ball release (from 48 to 68 degrees) helped increase the forward tilt of the upper body at ball release.
Source: Werner 2008
15. Thrust your chest at the target during maximum external rotation of shoulder
The kinetic chain from the back leg to the throwing hand in maximum external rotation will demonstrate a reverse "C" position.
The latissimus dorsi, given its origin and insertion anatomic position and contraction through the lumbopelvic kinetic chain linkage, generates the greatest force during acceleration and positively increases ball velocity.
Source: Calabrese 2013
16. Increase stride length
For a pitcher's stride striding toward home plate, aim for 90 percent of the pitcher's height, with a goal eventually of reaching 95-100 percent of his height.
The combination provides plenty of momentum to carry him into a long stride length that his 83% of his height (elite pitchers are 75-90%), and maintain force production up the chain.
But you still want to land on a flexed front leg.
Measuring from the front edge of the rubber to the toe of the stride foot, the length of the stride should be close to the pitcher's standing height.
Aim for as long a stride as possible where the pitcher can still get his head and shoulders over the lead leg at the time of ball release. As the pitcher's foot lands, look to see that he is on the ball of the stride foot, or flat footed. The toes should point slightly in a close position. If the pitcher lands hard on the heel, the foot will usually fly open which causes the hips and trunk to rotate open too soon. It may also cause the pitcher to get onto a stiff front leg too early which causes recoil action, or puts him out of balance and alignment during the accretion phase—both of which negatively affects control and pitch velocity.
Stride faults in direction and length can affect trunk rotation velocity and inclination and contribute to the throwing arm lagging behind the scapular plane and increase stress on the shoulder and elbow.
The late cocking and acceleration phases generate the highest segmental velocities and these phases are implicated in the majority of pitching injuries.
The stride is initiated from the point of maximum lead knee height to the point of foot contact. Approximately 50% of ball velocity in the pitching motion is the resultant forces accumulated in the stride and trunk rotation.
17. Finish with a "flat back" position
Acceleration‐Demonstrating humeral adduction, trunk inclination between 32° and 55° prior to ball release towards home plate and an extending lead leg.
Source: Calabrese 2013
18. Use a four-seam grip
The best grip for velocity and control on the fastball is across the 4-seams grip. The ball is balanced and consistent finger pressure allows for good control and this grip imparts the fastest ball rotation.
Remeber, generating velocity requires you to apply force to the baseball.
Source: Ellis 2014
19. Use the wrist
The wrist is a very important lever in the pitching motion. In fact, Norihisa Fujii from the University of Tsukuba concluded after a 2002 study that wrist flexion and strength are major contributors for increasing throwing velocity. In addition, many pitching coaches have incorporated a "wrist flick" during their throwing warm up progression.
The Lexington Clinic reported that the wrist accounted for 10% of the force applied to the baseball during the pitching delivery.
Source: Kreber 2011; Ellis 2015
20. Use the forearm
The forearm is vital to achieve high velocity in the pitching delivery. In Will Carroll's 2004 book Saving the Pitcher; he discussed the use of the forearm in the pitching motion.
During the acceleration stage, the pitcher's forearm will pronate, giving the ball its last bit of energy. Dr. Joshua Dubin explained in his Injury Management Update on Pitcher's Elbow, how a flexed wrist will activate the forearm flexors during the release of the baseball.
Even the most inexperienced pitcher can tell that the forearm lends to force during the pitch. By keeping a hand on the throwing forearm and moving the throwing fingers, a pitcher can feel the movement inside the forearm.
By developing the forearm muscle, pitchers will be able to powerfully pronate their arms during this stage in the delivery.
Source: Kreber 2011; Ellis 2015
21. Build leg strength to improve ground reaction forces
Leg strength is all important to an efficient weight shift. It's the lower half that initiates movement down the hill and creates energy in the system.
And it's the lower half that puts the brakes on to transfer the created energy up the chain and convert linear momentum into rotational momentum. The more abruptly the brakes are applied, the greater the energy that gets transferred (and that can translate to better velocity and less wear and tear on the arm).
The more efficient this is, the less other parts of the body need to be recruited.
Leg strength also figures into stamina.
Remember, over the course of a game, a pitcher's lower half starts and then brakes over and over again...
Start–brake. Start–brake. Start–brake.
Maintaining tempo to put a consistent amount of energy into the system and consistently putting on the brakes to transfer a consistent amount of energy up the chain all help to create a consistent, repeatable delivery. But without stamina, all of this deteriorates as the game goes on. I also agree strong legs provide a stable base to help maintain posture and balance.
So to me, leg strength doesn't just relate to one or two things — it figures into a lot of things that all can contribute to better performance and health.
22. Build rotator cuff strength
Underdeveloped musculature in the rotator cuff may lead to difficulty controlling throwing-arm deceleration, causing an increase in horizontal adduction across the torso.
The rotator cuff is a key contributor to the overhand throw. Pitchers must maintain a strong and healthy rotator cuff if they want to be successful on the mound. In fact, in an outline of kinetic movements by the Lexington Clinic, they found that the shoulder is responsible for 21% of the force placed on the ball. If a pitcher can strengthen this muscle, it is easy to see how pitch velocity can be added.
A University of Hawaii review of literature can back up this claim. It was reported that Toyoshima conducted a study and concluded that 53.1% of an overhand throw velocity was due to the action of the arm. In another 2001 study by Galloway and Koshland, their worked focused on finding a pattern in shoulder or elbow centered activities.
Their findings suggested that shoulder-centered activities were illustrated with straight or curved finger paths. Since the pitching motion requires straight and curved finger action, strengthening the shoulder and corresponding tendons should provide optimal velocity results.
Pitching velocity chart
How hard does your son throw? Do you know how hard he should be throwing?
Use this youth pitching velocity chart to find out how your son's velocity compares to other pitchers his age throughout the U.S.
For fun, I've also included my own pitching velocities at different ages—from Little League Baseball and Babe Ruth all the way to the Chicago Cubs, where my top velocity was 96 mph but I sat at 93-94 mph.
Pitching velocity by age in the U.S.
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|Age||Average Velocity¹||Your Goal²||My Velocity||How To Throw Harder³|
|8||39 MPH||40 MPH||N/A||TUFFCUFF Jr|
|9||44 MPH||45 MPH||TUFFCUFF Jr|
|10||47 MPH||50 MPH||TUFFCUFF Jr|
|11||52 MPH||55 MPH||TUFFCUFF Jr|
|12||55 MPH||60 MPH||64-66 MPH||TUFFCUFF Jr|
|13||62 MPH||65 MPH||68 MPH||TUFFCUFF Jr|
|14||68 MPH||70 MPH||70-74 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
|15||70 MPH||75 MPH||72-75 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
|16||76 MPH||80 MPH||78 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
|17||80 MPH||85 MPH||84 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
|18||83 MPH||88-90 MPH||86-89 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
|19||85 MPH||90-91 MPH||88-90 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
|20||87 MPH||91-92 MPH||90-91 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
|21+||89 MPH||93+ MPH||93-96 MPH||TUFFCUFF Pro|
¹ Average fastball speeds for amateur baseball pitchers in the United States as of 2017.
² I use the following formula to determine goal velocity: Pitcher’s Age x 5 = Your Goal Pitching Velocity (MPH)
³ This is my recommended pitching velocity program to help pitchers exceed their top velocity.
Pitching velocity training
Lastly, when it comes to improving baseball pitching velocity I want you to remember this:
The biggest cause of failure is NOT whether you long-toss or only throw from a mound or use weighted baseballs or strength train or ice your arm after you pitch or listen to some guru or use some velocity program or whatever else the internet would have you believe is a determining factor in building velocity...
...the biggest cause of failure — is quitting.
It's a constant process; never stop improving, never stop learning, and never stop working hard.
Learn about my youth pitching program
While there aren't many pitching workouts that are age-appropriate and safe for kids 7-14, there is one that provides youth pitchers with a daily routine to improve mechanics, increase functional strength and keep their throwing arm healthy.
What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
Are there any pitching velocity tips that I missed?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this list even better.
Either way, leave a comment and let me know.Tweet