The 28 Hardest Throwers in MLB History
The art of pitching has changed dramatically throughout the history of baseball. Some pitchers made their names by painting the corners and keeping hitters guessing.
Other pitchers, however, just reared back and threw as hard as they good.
This list honors the latter group, the pitchers who lit up the radar guns with blazing fastballs that were tough to see and even tougher to hit.
Here are the 28 hardest throwers in MLB history.
28. Jonathan Papelbon
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Papelbon would’ve been a great starter, but the hard-throwing right-hander makes a pretty terrific closer too. He’s already among the all-time leaders with 215 saves and has nearly 500 strikeouts in just seven short seasons.
Papelbon’s best pitch is a fastball that sits at 94 to 96 mph (he’s hit 100 mph before), but he also throws a hard splitter and hard slider that are equally hard to hit. His career 10.6 SO/9 IP is evidence of that, although he’s up to 11.8 this season.
27. Stephen Strasburg
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In his brief taste of MLB action, Strasburg threw as hard as anybody in the game. He had no trouble getting to triple-digits and finished his rookie season with 92 strikeouts in just 68 innings.
Pitchers don’t usually return from Tommy John surgery with the same velocity, so we may never see the flame-throwing Strasburg ever again. However, he is still just 23 years old.
26. Kerry Wood
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Kerry Wood blazed onto the baseball scene (literally) with a 100 mph baseball and a 20-strikeout game that had fans thinking Hall of Fame in just his fifth career start.
Wood’s career didn’t turn out exactly as planned, as repeated arm injuries robbed him off his explosiveness, but the right-hander is still the active leader with 10.3 SO/9 IP, a mark that is second only to Randy Johnson among starters.
Wood is now blowing away hitters as a full-time reliever.
25. Mark Wohlers
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Wohlers was a failed starter who came out of seemingly nowhere to be a lockdown closer for the Braves in the mid 1990s.
In his first full season as a closer the righty struck out 90 batters in 64.2 innings, good enough for his first and only All-Star selection. He was clocked as high as 103 mph before extreme wildness ended his career prematurely.
24. Dwight Gooden
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It’s easy to forget just how good Doc was with the Mets after his career pretty much fell apart in the late 1990’s. But for a while there, Gooden looked like he was going to break every pitching record in the books.
He struck out 276 batters in 218 innings as a rookie in 1984 and then came back the next season to win the Cy Young award by striking out 268 batters in 276.2 innings. Gooden’s 2,293 career strikeouts are just 46th all-time, but 1,875 of them came in his 11 seasons as a New York Met.
Just imagine where Dr. K would rank if it wasn’t for injuries.
23. Bob Gibson
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Gibson was never much of a strikeout artist. Despite over 3,000 career punchouts Gibson finished his career averaging just 7.3 SO/9 and only led the league in strikeouts once.
But just because the third strike often eluded Gibson, doesn’t mean that the Hall of Famer didn’t throw hard. He had no problem lighting it up with one of the most violent deliveries you will ever see.
22. Felix Hernandez
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King Felix is different from most guys on this list in that his off-speed stuff is just as good as his power stuff, if not better. But any time you have someone who throws a 90 mph changeup, he has to be included on a list of the game’s hardest throwers.
Hernandez is on pace for his third consecutive season of at least 200 K’s, and his strikeout rate is at a career-high 8.5 SO/9 this season.
21. J.R. Richard
Richard threw as hard as anybody in the game and emerged as one of the league’s best pitchers in the late 1970s, leading the league in strikeouts in consecutive seasons.
His story is not particularly well known outside of Houston, but Richard’s promising career as a starter came to an end at the age of 30 because of a life-threatening stroke.
20. Tim Lincecum
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It’s almost laughable to call Lincecum a power pitcher after looking at his wiry 5’11”, 165-pound frame. But The Freak is a monster when it comes to pitching.
He’s led the NL in strikeouts in each of the past three seasons and is a threat to do it again this year. His 10.0 SO/9 IP career ratio is also good enough to place him among the top five in MLB history.
There’s a reason the kid had two Cy Young awards by the time he was 25.
19. Bartolo Colon
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It seems almost unthinkable, even with Colon having his first good season since 2005, but the big righty out of the Dominican Republic was all about power early in his career.
Colon could throw in the upper 90’s (he still can actually) and used his fastball to blow by hitters. At the height of his career (1998-2002), he was striking out more than a batter per inning, and who knows how many strikeouts he might have now if injuries hadn’t derailed his promising career.
18. Ubaldo Jiminez
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Jimenez is another pitcher who, at just 27 years old, has already raised eyebrows with some of his strikeout totals and radar gun readings. He was once clocked at 101 mph in 2009 and is capable of throwing in the upper 90’s late in the game.
Jimenez doesn’t get much attention as a power pitcher because he walks so many batters (nearly four every nine innings), but when he’s on, there might not be a better pitcher in baseball. At least that’s what the Indians keep telling themselves.
17. Eric Gagne
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When Gagne walked to the mound, you knew he was probably going to embarrass you. The former Dodgers closer once converted a record 84 straight save opportunities and was as close to untouchable as a pitcher will ever be.
During his Cy Young season in 2003, Gagne struck out 137 batters in 82.1 innings for a SO/9 ratio of 15.0. His dominance only lasted about three seasons (2002-2004), but during that time, Gagne was simply overpowering.
His 10.0 SO/9 IP during his career would be fourth all-time if the righty threw more innings.
16. Jonathan Broxton
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Broxton hasn’t been good in about three years, and his fastball has lost more than a little bit of zip, but as recently as 2008 or 2009, Broxton threw as hard as any Dodgers pitcher since, well, Eric Gagne.
He topped 100 K’s in his first full season as the Los Angeles closer and regularly reached triple-digits. His career 11.5 SO/9 rate is still among the best all-time, but the strike zone continues to elude the oversized righty.
15. Neftali Feliz
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Feliz is only in his second full season of pro ball, but already he’s earned a reputation as a phenomenal power pitcher.
During his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2010, the righty struck out 71 batters in 69.1 innings and walked only 18. He was the definition of unhittable and is still only 23 years old.
Feliz’s fastball was once clocked at 103.4 mph during a game at Rangers Ballpark, a speed that is third all-time behind only Aroldis Chapman (105.1 mph) and Joel Zumaya (104.8 mph).
14. Joe Wood
There are a handful of players who will tell you that Smoky Joe Wood was the fastest throwing pitcher in baseball history. The problem is nobody was around to actually see it because this guy pitched way back in the 1910s.
Wood finished his career with just 989 strikeouts in 1,434.1 innings, but considering the era he was pitching in, those are some pretty outstanding numbers. It’s believed he could throw upwards of 100 mph.
13. Sam McDowell
McDowell, otherwise known as Sudden Sam, is another one of the pitchers you’ve probably never heard of unless you grew up as a Cleveland Indians’ fan during the 1960s and 1970s. But maybe it’s time to pay more attention to the guy who always played in Bob Feller’s shadow.
The 6’5” lefty was a true strikeout artist during his heyday, leading his league in K’s five times and twice topping 300. His 2,453 career strikeouts are just 34th all-time, but his 8.86 SO/9 IP are ninth.
12. Steve Carlton
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Carlton might be the pitcher most responsible for making the strikeout fashionable in MLB. He finished with 4,196 in his career, good for fourth all-time and second among left-handers.
Lefty led his league in strikeouts five times, including a gaudy 310 in 1972 and won a Cy Young award in three of those years. He never finished outside of the top nine in strikeouts every year between 1969 and 1984.
11. Roger Clemens
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Clemens is known for a lot of things, and being a power pitcher is certainly one of them. The Rocket struck out 4,672 helpless batters during his career, third all-time. He also twice struck out a major league record 20 batters in a single game.
But what made Clemens great wasn’t his statistical achievements, but rather his approach to the game. He went after hitters and didn’t give them an inch of room at the plate.
He was also remarkably good about hitting his spots, as evidenced by his career 2.96 SO/BB ratio.
10. Billy Wagner
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Wagner is the left-handed National League compliment to Mariano Rivera and was as dominant of a closer as you can find. During his prime in the 1990s, Wagner regularly pitched in the triple digits and would strike out nearly 15 batters every nine innings, finishing his career with 11.9 SO/9 IP.
Wagner still holds the NCAA Division III record for career strikeouts and SO/9 IP (19.3). The most incredible part of Wagner’s story? He’s naturally right-handed.
9. Justin Verlander
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It’s not often you find a starter who can throw up to 102 mph in any inning in any count on any day. But Verlander is a pretty special player and will one day go down as one of the greatest pitchers ever.
Strikeouts are only a part of his dominance, but in just 1,260 career innings, the 6’5” righty already has 1,161 strikeouts and is pitching no-hitters like he’s Nolan Ryan.
He’s a lock to reach 3,000 if he stays healthy, and at 28 years old, he may just be getting better.
8. Satchel Paige
You won’t find Satchel Paige in any of the MLB record books because the right-hander only played six seasons in the majors, and they were all after he passed the age of 40.
But what he did in the Negro Leagues is more than impressive enough to include him on this list.
Paige struck out a Negro League record 176 batters in 1929 and then set the single-game record by striking out 17 hitters on April 29 and then 18 hitters less than a week later. In 19 seasons in the Negro Leagues, Paige recorded 1,231 strikeouts in just over 1,500 innings.
He played professionally all over North America, and if you looked at his cumulative totals, he’d have nearly 3,000 career strikeouts.
7. Joel Zumaya
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Zumaya’s name tends to be forgotten in discussions about baseball’s hardest throwers because he hasn’t pitched in a game all season and has been injury prone for five years. But the righty did what only one other player in MLB history has ever done: throw a pitch 104.8 mph.
The official reading was in 2006, and it’s doubtful that Zumaya can come anywhere close to that figure now, but for a time, you could call Zumaya the hardest thrower ever.
6. Aroldis Chapman
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Chapman is the owner of the fastest ever recorded pitch at an incredible 105.1 mph. It’s not a fluke either. Chapman is capable of hitting 105 repeatedly and may still be developing physically.
Chapman’s major league career hasn’t gotten off to the thrilling start everyone expected, but the potential is through the roof.
If he harnesses all his pitches and learns to throw strikes consistently, there’s no reason he can’t one day pass the next guy on this list in career strikeouts.
5. Randy Johnson
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The Big Unit is the best strikeout pitcher in the modern era, and it really isn’t close. The 6’10” left-hander topped 300 K’s five times in his career (including an eye-popping 372 in 249.2 innings in 2001) and led his league in K’s nine times in 22 major league seasons.
His 4,875 strikeouts rank second all time, and his 10.6 SO/9 IP is first all time by a healthy margin. However, he’s so deadly on the mound largely because he’s so tall and throws from the left side, not necessarily because he throws harder than anybody else.
4. Bob Feller
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Many hitters claim that Rapid Robert is the fastest pitcher who ever lived. It’s hard to disagree considering that the righty piled up 2,581 strikeouts (26th all-time) during his career and led the AL in K’s seven times from 1938-1948.
The true speed of Feller’s fastball is a subject of great debate. The fastest official speed is 98.6 mph, but there are those who believe he once threw a ball 107.9 mph during a demonstration.
Whichever is accurate, Feller absolutely dominated hitters during his time.
3. Walter Johnson
Randy’s namesake was a pretty good power pitcher too; just in a completely different era. The Big Train, as Walter Johnson was known, did his damage in the early part of the 20th century as a starter for the Washington Nationals.
Johnson’s 3,509 career strikeouts (ninth all time) don’t look too impressive when you consider just how many innings he threw (nearly 6,000), but there’s no doubt about his arm. He’s still considered one of the best to ever throw a baseball, and it’s estimated his fastball could reach 100 mph.
2. Steve Dalkowski
Dalkowski never actually made it to the majors because of serious control issues (1,354 walks in 995 minor league innings, plus 1,396 strikeouts), but those who actually faced him say he’s the fastest pitcher ever.
Ted Williams once took a spring training pitch from the 5’8” Dalkowski and reportedly never saw it. An official reading is unavailable because Dalkowski pitched in the 1950s and 1960s, but some have estimated his fastball could reach 105 mph.
His greatest accomplishment is probably striking out 21 batters in a minor league game and walking 21 batters in another.
1. Nolan Ryan
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There have been pitchers who can throw harder than Ryan’s 100.9 mph fastball. But there will never be another strikeout pitcher who played as long as Ryan did (27 seasons) for as well as he did.
The strikeout king (5,714) is so far and ahead of everyone that as impressive as his record seven ho-hitters are, there’s only one guy (Randy Johnson) within even 1,000 K’s of his lifetime mark. Ryan finished his career with 9.5 SO/9 IP (fourth all time) and led the AL in strikeouts 11 times.
He redefined what it meant to be a power pitcher and laid the groundwork for guys like Clemens and Johnson to take over the league.
Power is only part of the pitching equation, and Ryan scores higher than anybody else in MLB history.
Dmitriy Ioselevich is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for all your MLB news and updates.