Perception v Reality. Aroldis Chapman and the Fastest Fastball.

batters cage

Before he was famous for smiling incredulously after Jose Altuve smashed his slider over the fence and eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs, Aroldis Chapman was known for one thing:

Slinging heat.

The Cuban flamethrower famously pitched the fastest fastball on record back in 2010. A 105.1-mph heater during a AAA game.

That number is staggering, but it also makes you wonder what it’s like to be on the opposite end of that ridiculous four-seamer.

fastest fastball

What Do the Fastest Fastballs Look Like in the Batters Box?

Before going any further, it’s worth pointing out that any 100-mph-plus-fastball creates the illusion of rising by the time they reach Homeplate. 

What could possibly create such a visual when that’s not actually happening?

Here are some facts about what it’s like for major league hitters to look down the barrel of the most electric fastballs in the league:

  • A 100-mph fastball takes 375-400 milliseconds to reach the plate
  • The blink of an eye takes 300-400 milliseconds
  • The brain identifies the pitch in 75-100 milliseconds

In that lag time, the hitter reaches a decision on where the pitch will land and what pitch it is. This decision is made in the motor area of the brain – which is an instinctive mechanism. The hitter’s brain tracks the ball by taking rapid snapshots of the ball and its trajectory.

fastest fastball
A 100-mph fastball takes 375-400 milliseconds to reach the plate

However, the fastest fastballs may create holes that can’t be processed quickly enough. Meaning, the ball outraces the hitter’s eyes, and they’re unable to track the object in motion with 100% constancy.

But Why do Fastballs Look Like They’re Rising

The above section brought up that fastballs do seem to rise, despite not actually rising in any way.

And while hitters not actually being able to see the ball might have something to do with that effect, there’s a bit more to it:

Frequently, fastballs are thrown with backspin. This technique produces a Magnus effect, which generates an upward force on the ball. As a result, the ball falls less rapidly than expected, leading to what looks like a rising fastball.

The Truth About Aroldis Chapman’s Fastball

Interestingly, just like the rising fastball is something of an illusion, so might be the actual radar clocking of Aroldis Chapman’s heater.

Dr. Glenn Fleisig has explained that pitchers generally throw about 5-mph slower than they’ve been clocked. There are variables with the radar gun (such as manufacturer and positioning) that impact the number.

Though, even if Chapman’s clocked fastest fastball might be inaccurate, it’s accurate to say it’s quicker than the blink of an eye.