MLB Power Rankings: The Top 10 Fastballs in Baseball History

BrendanContributor IJanuary 31, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: The Top 10 Fastballs in Baseball History

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    Baseball fans have long been enamored with pitchers who have the ability to rear back and throw blazing fastballs by helpless hitters. Power pitchers who hit top-notch speeds often tally huge strikeout totals and are sought-after commodities to lead a rotation.

    As a pitcher in Major League Baseball, it can be difficult to survive without an above-average fastball. Of course there are exceptions, such as plus-40-year-old hurlers Tim Wakefield and Jamie Moyer, but for most pitchers the fastball serves as the base for every repertoire.

    However, these fireballers also come with considerable risk due to the wear and tear put on their arms. Just in the past few seasons we have seen players with 100 mph-plus velocity, like Joel Zumaya and Stephen Strasburg, feel the wrath of the injury bug.

    To make this list a pitcher does not necessarily have to throw the fastest, but rather have the most effective fastball. Obviously pitchers from older eras were not able to dial up and hit triple digits like Aroldis Chapman. However, that does not mean that their fastballs were not among the greatest of all time.

    In the end, it is all relative, and there is something to be said for any player who uses a fastball to dominate hitters during his playing days.

    Without further delay, here is a list of the top 10 fastball pitchers in Major League Baseball history.

10. Curt Schilling

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Some may be surprised to see Schilling on this list, but his numbers cannot be questioned. Schilling ranks 15th all-time with 3,116 strikeouts and relied heavily on his fastball for these outs.

    Schilling's fastball came in hot at around 96-98 mph and was definitely his strikeout pitch for his career.

    Particularly early in his career, Schilling had a bulldog mentality and believed he could throw gas by anybody.

    Later in his career he became known as a player who tediously studied scouting reports and fine-tuned a split-finger fastball to help survive a slight dip in velocity.

    During this time he led the league in strikeouts twice. He also posted an astronomical 11.0 or higher K/9 during two different seasons.

    The fact that Schilling has never won a Cy Young Award, finishing second three times, makes him one of the most underrated players of our generation.

9. Goose Gossage

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    Richard "Goose" Gossage is the only reliever to make the list but still certainly a deserving candidate.

    During his 21-year career, most notably with the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres, Gossage recorded 310 saves with a 3.01 ERA.

    This was in large part due to his electrifying fastball that tormented hitters every time the game was on the line.

    Goose's fastball also played a major role in bringing him to nine All-Star Games and having five seasons with more strikeouts than innings pitched. Overall he posted a K/9 of 7.5 during his dominant career.

    Although Gossage was typically not able to showcase his heater over 200 innings as a starter, and thus does not have huge career strikeout totals, that does not mean belong on this list.

    When it was all said and done, he was the most dominant closer of his era because he was able to use his fastball to punch out hitters.

8. Randy Johnson

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    One could certainly make the case that Randy Johnson deserves to be higher on this list. After all, the 6'10" southpaw won 303 games and recorded an enormous 4,875 strikeouts during his 21-year career.

    He was also a five-time Cy Young Award winner and led the league in strikeouts nine times. This was mainly because his fastball sat in the high 90s and was consistently around 100 mph during his younger days.

    Based on this résumé, it would seem the Big Unit deserves to be higher on the list.

    However, what holds him back is the fact that many would consider his lethal slider his go-to pitch.

    With that in mind, it is entirely possible that Johnson's fastball was so effective because hitters were constantly on their toes worrying about his slider in the low to middle 90 mph range.

7. Bob Gibson

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    Bob Gibson's 3,117 strikeouts rank him 14th on the all-time list and helped earn him a spot in Cooperstown.

    On top of that, Gibson won an MVP in 1968 and was a two-time Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series MVP.

    This was all in large part thanks to his devastating fastball that scared hitters from digging in too close to the plate.

    Obviously due to the era that he played in, there is a lack of pitch by pitch numerical data to back up Gibson's case.

    That being said, his fastball was the driving force behind his historical 1968 season that could very well be considered the greatest single season of all time. That year his 268 strikeouts and 1.12 ERA were both tops in baseball.

    Gibson also gets a major boost from some of the performances he put in while on the biggest stage. He holds the Major League record with 35 strikeouts during a World Series and with 17 during a single World Series start.

6. Steve Carlton

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    Carlton's fastball was the pitch that elevated him to fourth all-time in strikeouts with 4,136. At times during his career he was actually the leader in career strikeouts while him and Nolan Ryan continued to add to their totals.

    He was a four-time Cy Young winner and led the league in strikeouts five times.

    Remarkably, some of Carlton's better strikeout seasons came with the Philadelphia Phillies after his 35th birthday.

    His fastball also set the table for his 329 career wins and 10 All-Star Games.

    Without his dependable fastball, Carlton would never have remained major league-worthy for an elongated 23 years.

5. Sandy Koufax

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    Sandy Koufax may be slightly overlooked in this discussion for two main reasons. First, and most prevalent, is that he only struck out 2,396 hitters during his career. Second is the fact that his best pitch was arguably his curveball.

    With that said, it is important to consider that Koufax only pitched 10 full seasons in the Major Leagues and retired at just 30 years old. At the time he was coming off consecutive seasons where he led all of baseball in strikeouts.

    Koufax used his fastball to win an MVP and three Cy Young Awards. He also led baseball in strikeouts four times and had the highest K/9 in the majors on five separate occasions.

    His career 9.3 K/9 also points to a pitcher who could throw a ball by any hitter when he really needed.

    While his curveball certainly played played a significant part, it is impossible to have this kind of strikeout dominance without a fastball that is equally as dominant.

4. Lefty Grove

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    Lefty Grove is another player who does not have an overwhelming number of career strikeouts, just 2,226, but deserves to be on this list nonetheless.

    However, he also posted these totals during a much different era in baseball. He led the league in strikeouts during the first seven years of his career, but at times this only amounted to 116 K's.

    Grove also won an MVP and led Major League Baseball in K/9 five times. This all happened during a time when a pitcher had to have a plus fastball to survive.

    The fastball was the pitch Grove relied on the most during a time when complete games came to be expected. His was reliable enough to lead the league in complete games three times.

3. Nolan Ryan

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    Many readers will probably think this list loses all credibility because Ryan is not No. 1, or at least No. 2 on this list. After all, he is the all-time strikeout king with an impressive 5,714 K's.

    The Ryan Express also led the league in strikeouts 11 times and had six seasons with over 300 strikeouts. All of this was done with the fastball as his clear primary pitch.

    Even with all of these insurmountable numbers, Ryan never won a Cy Young or finished in the top 15 of MVP voting. This was in large part because as dominant as his fastball could be at times, it could be equally as erratic.

    Nolan Ryan's fastball was at times tougher to locate than regular season baseball fans in Tampa Bay. It was the reason he led the league in walks eight times.

    He obviously racked up impressive numbers during his career, but these astounding totals are also partly due to the fact that he played 27 seasons in the major leagues.

    While Ryan certainly had an excellent fastball, his inability to control it prevents it from being the best in the history of baseball.

    That being said  he still ranks number three on this list for a reason. His fastball was not completely unhittable, but it was pretty close. Ryan led baseball in hits per nine innings 12 different times.

2. Roger Clemens

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    With a nickname like "The Rocket," it is almost impossible not to put Roger Clemens this high on the list. The fact that he ranks third all-time with 4,672 strikeouts certainly does not hurt his case either.

    Clemens got to such heights while relying almost exclusively on his blazing fastball that helped him strike out an MLB-record 20 hitters in 1986 while a member of the Boston Red Sox.

    He also won seven Cy Young Awards and a Most Valuable Player Award, while leading the league in strikeouts five times in his career.

    Some of Clemens' numbers may not be tainted, as there have been numerous reports that suggest rampant steroid use during his career.

    However, you cannot take away the fact that during his playing days it was his fastball that made him one of the top pitchers in baseball for over two decades.

    Other players on this list may have more impressive résumés in terms of strikeouts from season to season. However, few of them did so while using their fastball as much as Clemens.

1. Walter Johnson

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    The top spot on this list probably comes as little surprise to most readers. Like Grove, Walter "The Big Train" Johnson also played during a time when a fastball was a pitch every pitcher had to rely on.

    Johnson threw his fastball often and with unmatched success. He had 3,509 strikeouts during his illustrious career and led the league in K's 12 times. That includes a stretch where he led the league for eight consecutive seasons.

    On top of that, Johnson posted incredible career numbers in other categories that were all fueled by his dominant heater.

    He won 417 games in his career and finished with a minuscule 2.17 ERA. The Big Train won two MVP Awards and had the Cy Young existed during his playing days, he undeniably would have several of those as well.

    When it comes to fastballs, Johnson really is the cream of the crop. His ability to start and finish games while throwing fastball after fastball makes him the measuring stick for other fastball pitchers.

    It is for these reasons that Walter Johnson finds himself ranked No. 1 on the list of the best fastballs in Major League Baseball history.