“It’s 100 or nothing. Nothing else matters.” A large-framed, 27-year-old Dominican man talking to a teammate in the bullpen of their home field was emphasizing the importance of being able to hit triple digits off the mound. The bulky, dark-toned player had a protruding lip filled with tobacco and was speaking broken English to an American teammate who, based on his skin tone alone, was obviously not from anywhere near the Dominican Republic. “In Dominican Republic, everyone know your name. Oh, he throw 101. But, HE hit 102. People talk about players that throw fast [in the DR].”
Clearly, this particular pitcher placed an acute importance on the velocity of a pitcher. According to him, not only did high-velo pitches give him a better chance of pitching success, but it also once gave him fame and notoriety on his native island. In his prime, he was able to touch speeds of 103 MPH and consistently throw between 100 and 102. It takes extreme athleticism and natural ability (and some hard work) to be able to reach velocities this high.
Like so many other pitchers who throw that hard, this pitcher’s injury required Tommy John (TJ) Surgery (a procedure named after a former L.A. Dodgers pitcher that replaces the patient’s injured UCL from their elbow with a tendon taken from someplace else in their body). He was currently on a rehab stint and was playing competitively for the first time post-operation. As with any injury, it is always difficult to return from surgery, but this is especially applicable for pitcher’s returning from TJ. He was having difficulty finding the tremendous velocity that he once had and was struggling to adjust to the new pitching persona that he needed to accept to be successful again.
Even though our Dominican-bred pitcher was having some success pitching at this high level of professional-independent baseball, he was still not content. After a 1-2-3 inning, he would come back to the dugout asking what his fastball velocities were in hopes of hearing numbers in the high nineties. Much to his dismay, “91, 92 papi,” was the response he would continuously get from teammates who were recording the speeds of every pitch from that inning. Even though he was getting guys out and having success, the reduction in velocity was still upsetting to him and was even deterring him from wanting to continue pitching competitively.
Similar to when he was in the Dominican Republic, he was again achieving what every pitcher desires most: getting outs. Since he was completing half of his formula to regaining pitching dominance like he once had, what was missing? He was having pitching success, but he was still missing something vital. That something was the power. The power to throw triple digits was equally important as pitching well, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it. The power to talk shit and know that hitters can’t say anything if they can’t touch 100 was missing. The “that dude throws over 100” chatter around whatever baseball world he was in was something that this pitcher could not go without. While it may have distracted him from successfully assimilating to a new pitching style that could have brought him success, it is commendable that he cared for something so much that all of his hard work was focused on achieving this one goal of living his life above 100.
But, do higher velocities automatically equal more pitching success? Can velocity alone make a pitcher more desirable to coaches and scouts? Obviously, there is a lot more to pitching than just velocity, but that is a conversation for another day.