- ESPN MLB insider
Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”
PHILADELPHIA — In the fifth inning of the first game of this World Series, a barrel-chested left-handed reliever named Jose Alvarado jogged out of the Philadelphia Phillies’ bullpen, ascended the mound to face the middle of the Houston Astros’ lineup and secured three outs on seven pitches. The first was a sinker that bore in at 99.4 mph, the next another at 99. That was merely an appetizer: Three more sinkers clocked in at 100.6, 100.8 and 101.2 mph before Alvarado threw his version of an off-speed pitch, a 95 mph cutter. He finished his scoreless outing with one last sinker at 99.9 mph and decamped for the bench, job complete.
Teammate Brad Hand marveled from the bullpen, not just at what Alvarado did but at how triple-digit fastballs are no longer the domain of a select few. This postseason, buoyed by Alvarado and 13 other pitchers who have cracked the 100 mph threshold, average velocity has jumped to 95.3 mph. In the first two games of the World Series, it’s 95.6 mph, a number that once was unimaginable to Hand and David Robertson, his veteran teammate in the Phillies’ bullpen.
“Me and D-Rob joked about how there need to be two different plates,” Hand said. “One if you throw 95-plus, and another one a little closer if you don’t, just to make it fair.”
Welcome to Major League Baseball, 2022 style, where if you don’t throw hard, you probably don’t throw much at all. Gone with few exceptions are the nibblers and soft-tossers, relics of a time when only the finest fastballs kissed 90 mph, replaced by live arms that reliably launch bolts. Back in 2008, the first year MLB tracked all pitch data, pitchers threw three fastballs of 100 mph or greater in the playoffs. This year, there have already been 164. And with Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park postponed because of rain in Philadelphia, the teams’ rested bullpens will only add to the list.
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