January 8, 2007


Zoooomaya and speed guns (John Beamer, January 08, 2007, Hardball Times)

[L]et's turn our attention back to the question of whether Joel Zumaya really is the fastest pitcher in the game. First, take a look at 2006 data for the average speed of a fastball (data courtesy of John Dewan and BIS):

Player Avg Fastball
Joel Zumaya 98.56
Billy Wagner 96.47
Bobby Jenks 96.29
Kyle Farnsworth 96.2
Ambriorix Burgos 96.04
Brad Lidge 95.78
Francisco Cordero 95.75
Daniel Cabrera 95.74
Derrick Turnbow 95.68
Mark Lowe 95.61

Wow! Zumaya's gas is over 2 mph faster than Billy Wagner's. Is that a statistically robust result? Absolutely. Running a simulation of pitch speeds for a typical reliever shows that the standard deviation of a fastball is around 2 mph. That gives a sample standard deviation of about 0.2mph, which yields a difference of about 10 standard deviations between the two hurlers.

But while this tells us that Zumaya consistently had the fastest arm in the game in 2006, it doesn't tell us with how much regularity he broke the 100 mph barrier. Before tackling that, the first question is how easy is it for your Joe Average hurler to break the aforementioned 100 mph mark? The short answer is that it isn't:

Season #of 100 mph pitches
2002 106
2003 204
2004 82
2005 134
2006 335

To give an idea of relative magnitude some 3.5 million pitches are tossed in the majors each year of which 75% or so have accurate speed measurements. Two things jump out. First, the very low number of 100+mph pitches (less than 0.01% of all balls pitched), and second, the spike in 100+mph pitches in 2006. Yup, you've guessed it; the 2006 spike was caused by the emergence of one man: Joel Zumaya. If we look at pitch speed leaders each year we see that Zumaya was responsible for nearly 70% of the 100+mph fastballs in 2006, and, incredibly, his individual total exceeded the league total in each of the previous four years:

Season League Leader #of 100 mph pitches
2002 Billy Wagner 42
2003 Billy Wagner 159
2004 Kyle Farnsworth 30
2005 Daniel Cabrera 37
2006 Joel Zumaya 233

Just received our copy of the Hardball Times Baseball Annual and it's loaded with great stuff, including numbers on the best and worst outfield arms of the past half century or so, which demonstrates how underrated Manny Ramirez's arm is and how awful Johnny Damon is at this point in his career.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 8, 2007 12:04 PM

Griffey hit one out off Zumaya that was 104 mph: simply incredible.

Zumaya is the most entertaining baseball player in the world today.

Posted by: Palmcroft at January 8, 2007 4:58 PM