Pitching by numbers: Fastball provides scientific looks at baseball
Fastball, a baseball documentary three years in the making, debuted Monday night at the Tribeca Film Festival. Produced by Thomas Tull and directed in association with Major League Baseball by Jonathan Hock (director of an impressive slate of award-winning 30-for-30 films on everything from the NC State Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA tournament run to forgotten football player Marcus Dupree,) Fastball celebrates baseball’s signature pitch and aims to definitively answer the age-old debate: who threw the fastest fastball of all-time?
The resulting documentary, narrated by Kevin Costner, is a fascinating dive into the history, physics and mythology of the game – full of gorgeous slow-mo pitching footage, interviews with Hall of Famers from Goose Gossage to Bob Gibson to Hank Aaron, a rare appearance by fastball cult figure Steve Dalkowski, and enough chalkboard math equations to earn the viewer a Ph.D. in baseball science. You might not be able to throw heat, but next time you’re chucking peanut shells on the ground at your local ballpark, impress your friends with this guide to the most memorable facts and figures dissected in the film:
- It takes a 100 mph fastball 396 milliseconds to cover the sixty-feet, six-inch distance between the mound and home plate.
- The 50-millisecond difference between trying to hit a 92 mph fastball versus a 100 mph fastball is immense: “At 92 miles per hour, you can see the seams and MLB logo on the ball, at 100 mph it becomes a golf ball,” says Cleveland Indians second baseman Brandon Phillips.
- Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson’s 1968 season ERA of 1.12 is 35% lower than any other number in the live-ball era.
- The Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman, may have thrown a 105.1 mph fastball in 2010 to set a Major League record, but (SPOILER ALERT) when you correct for radar gun placement, Nolan Ryan’s legendary 1974 heater clocked at 100.9 was really the top speed ever, at a blazing 108.5 miles per hour.
- And that, folks, is about the outer limit of human ability; any faster and the force required would literally rip the pitcher’s arm off. (Whoever said physics wasn’t cool?)