Pitch Speed, Records, History and The Fastest Pitch Ever

On 24 September 2010, Aroldis Chapman is pitching for the Cincinnati Reds at Petco Park in San Diego. During this game, he delivered a pitch at the speed of 105.1 mph to the San Diego Padres player, Tony Gwynn Jr. This pitch’s speed breaks the world records as the MLB recognizes this as the fastest pitch ever delivered. Having files like these set, is making for great conversation and memorable quizzes, but how do they measure these speeds accurately?

The History Behind Using a Radar Gun In Baseball

Danny Litwhiler played for probably one of the worst teams ever. From 1940 to 1942 his team, the Philadelphia Phillies, ended last each year. Even though he had some success himself in the game, his legacy is preferably situated in the inventions and improvements which he brought to the baseball field. One of these is the radar gun. It was 1970, and even though the radar gun was used already since WWII, the police only recently started to use it more regularly, mainly to catch speeding drivers. The assumption is that Litwhiler probably saw the police using these guns and then realized the purpose it could have in baseball training. He wanted to help pitchers improve their game through the accurate measuring of the speed. That is how the JUGS gun became part of the game. After every pitch, the rate is reflected on the board.

How Does It Work?

The word Radar is the acronym for Radio Detection and Ranging. The process is relatively easy to understand and works much like a sound wave bouncing off an object and reflecting the source. The radar gun sends out an electromagnetic wave which bounced off the ball. This way, the distance of the ball can be measured quite easily. In baseball, the range is however not the concerns as much as the speed at which the ball travels. Therefore, the Doppler Effect is used. This is measured when the frequency of the waves send out by the gun, differs from the frequency of the waves send off by the ball.

The Doppler Effect is noticeable at busy highways where one can hear that the frequency of the sound from a vehicle when it is approaching you is higher than when it went past you. The faster something moves, the higher is the frequency of the sound waves which it omits. The radar gun sends out waves towards the ball, which then determines the rate of the waves which the ball reflects. The higher the frequency, the faster the ball is moving.

Radar guns only measure the speed in the direction you point it. Therefore, to have an accurate rate reading for the pitch, you need to direct the weapon towards the oncoming ball. Thus, measuring the speed of a shot is always done from behind the home plate, which is in direct line of the oncoming pitched ball and the only place where you can measure the speed accurately from. That is how record speeds can be captured to be celebrated and remembered.