In the history of Major League Baseball has there have been a multitude of pitchers, many with different styles.
Some are or have been considered fly ball pitchers, while others are known for inducing ground balls to achieve outs.
There have even been knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey – guys who rely on that slow, dancing floater to fool hitters and throw off their timing.
Conversely, there have been pitchers with the ability to plain old throw it by a hitter, thanks to a fastball that can reach speeds better than 100 MPH.
It has proven to be a useful weapon against opposing hitters who are too slow to react, or simply can’t see the ball whistle by them.
Legends such as Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller were known for their electric fastballs decades ago, while Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson established themselves as two of the most intimidating pitchers of the modern era.
Being able to hit 100 on the radar gun is no mean feat and having enough control over the heater to register strikeouts is quite another. Here are 20 great hard throwing pitchers in baseball history.
20. J.R. Richard
If former major league hurler J.R. Richard were to be compared to a like hitter, he would have been a swing-for-the-fences, all-or-nothing slugger. Why? Because while Richard led the major leagues in strikeouts twice, with 303 in 1978 and 313 in 1979, he was also tops in walks allowed on three different occasions. In addition, Richard, who played all 10 of his seasons with Houston, was the NL leader in wild pitches three times, with a career high 20 in 1975. Wildness aside, at 6’8″ the Louisiana native cut an imposing figure, made even more menacing by a 100 MPH heater that many a former major league batter would attest was one of the nastiest between 1975 and 1980. In his all too brief career, Richard struck out an astounding 1,493 batters in just 238 games, finishing with a SO/9 of 8.4.
19. Bartolo Colon
“Big Sexy” is a free agent and according to sources (i.e. himself), Bartolo Colon isn’t quite done yet. Even well into his 40s — he was 44 as of this writing in 2018 — Colon can bring the gas. Early in his big league career, which began in 1997 with Cleveland, the swarthy native of Puerto Plata used his above average fastball to stun hitters. He was by no means the hardest thrower ever, what with a career SO/9 of 6.7, but his command was better than most power pitchers and injuries did take their toll. In fact, he was the major league leader in BB/9 two years running, 2015-16 with the New York Mets where it he average 1.1 BB/9 and 1.5, respectively. Over his 20 year MLB career, Colon has posted 2,454 strikeouts in 3,315.1 innings.
18. Justin Verlander
Now 34, Justin Verlander might not be bringing the heat like he did during his first few seasons in Detroit, when it was reported his no. 1 reached 102 MPH. Even at his more advanced age, though, Verlander registered 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in a 2017 season split between the Tigers and champion Houston Astros (where he was 5-0 with 43 strikeouts in 34 innings over five starts). The hard-throwing veteran finally cracked the code to winning a World Series too, going 4-1 in the 2017 post-season and fanning 38 batters in 36 innings of work for the Astros. Four times in his career, the 2011 Cy Young winner has led the American League in strikeouts, the most recent being 254 in 2016.
17. Felix Hernandez
A year before Justin Verlander won his first and only AL Cy Young, Seattle’s “King” Felix Hernandez spun enough of his own magic to win it. And by spin, we mean use a deadly accurate 90 MPH (+) change-up to fool hitters on many occasions. Yes, Hernandez is one of the few pitchers in baseball history who had as good off-speed stuff as power pitches. Hernandez has never topped 9.0 SO/9, but he has consistently averaged over 8.0 pretty much his entire career, while being able to keep the homers to a minimum (which can be a power pitchers Kryptonite). The Venezualan had 2,342 regular season strikeout as of 2017, including six straight seasons of 200 or more K’s between 2009 and 2014.
16. Neftali Feliz
Feliz is not a household name in baseball circles. The journeyman reliever and former AL Rookie of the Year played for his fifth team in 10 seasons in 2017, the Kansas City Royals. The big Dominican does have one distinction that sets him apart and that was a fastball clocked at 103.4 MPH early in his career with the Texas Rangers. That ranks him third all-time behind Aroldis Chapman (105.1) and Joel Zumaya (104.8). In his RoY campaign in 2010, Feliz used that blazing fastball to save a career high 40 games in 70 appearances, striking out 71 in 69.1 innings of work. As he’s bounced around a bit the last few seasons, Feliz has become more of a set-up man. For his career the flamethrower has recorded 8.4 SO/9, or 363 strikeouts in 389.1 innings.
15. Kerry Wood
Long before the Cubs shook off the curse of the Billy Goat and won a World Series, the fans still had some things to cheer about. One was the play of young phenom Kerry Wood, who arrived in 1998 sporting 100 MPH speed on his fastball. He got hearts a-fluttering at Wrigley in just his fifth start that year, allowing just one hit and striking out an amazing 20 Houston Astros batters en route to a 2-0 complete game shutout. That watershed season saw him earn Rookie of the Year honors and lead the NL in SO/9 with an incredible 12.6 (233 strikeouts in 166.2 innings). Wood later topped the NL in strikeouts in 2003 and was an All-Star for the first time. Injuries later would hamper his arm speed and derail what was once a very promising career.
14. Goose Gossage
With that moustache and a fastball once clocked at 103 MPH (during the 1978 All-Star Game) Goose Gossage was a handful for opposition batters in the late innings. A nine-time All-Star and MVP finalist (1981), Gossage’s hey day was with the Yankees in the late 70s, early 80s, when he made three trips to the post-season and won a World Series in 1978. The Hall of Famer was noted for saves that spanned three innings and for relief work that required him to throw over 130 innings three times in his career. He packed in a 22-year career in 1994 with 310 saves, which ranks him 23rd all-time. Gossage is also just one of five relievers to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
13. Noah Syndergaard
It will be interesting to see how Syndergaard bounces back from a lat muscle injury that limited him to just seven starts in 2017. The young flamethrower is nicknamed “Thor”, both for his flowing blond hair and the fact that he throws a baseball so fast it could be confused for the Mjölnir, the mighty hammer carried around by the Norse god. Just three years into his MLB career with the New York Mets, Syndergaard regularly tops 100 mph on the gun. Even when he doesn’t, his fastball still registers at 98 or 99 mph. He’s already been an All-Star and his small sample size career, as of 2018, included a 24-18 record in 61 starts, as well as 418 strikeouts in just 364 innings. If he can stay healthy, Syndergaard will be giving hitters nightmares for at least the next decade.
12. Bob Gibson
His nickname was ‘Hoot’ but he sure wasn’t fun to play against, or with, for that matter. The dominant pitcher of the 1960s used chin music to establish his dominance of hitters and wasn’t above giving his teammates the gears either. His battery mate, Tim McCarver (who went on to broadcast fame) once went out for a mound conference with Hoot. He brushed his catcher aside, saying to him, “the only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit.” Gibson’s numbers speak for themselves, all bluster aside. He tossed 3,117 strikeouts and posted the lowest ERA in the modern era for a starter, 1.12, with over 300 innings pitched.
11. Sandy Koufax
Koufax had an overhand delivery when everyone else threw three-quarter, and for that reason the Hall of Famer was able to increase the velocity of his pitches upward of 100 mph by some recollections. What made him even more impressive was the fact he was a southpaw. He threw nearly 2,400 strikeouts (2,324 innings pitched) in his brief 10-year career, with four no-hitters on his resume before retirement. Even though he was known to tip his pitches, one great hitter paid him the ultimate compliment. Willie Mays was quoted as saying, “I knew every pitch he was going to throw and still I couldn’t hit him.”
10. Joel Zumaya
Joel Zumaya made the most of his one full season in the majors. As a member of the Detroit Tigers bullpen in 2006, Zumaya became one of the premier set-up men in the league. His fastball was electric. Unfortunately, his rise to stardom was short-lived as he struggled with injuries, leading to his retirement in 2014. However, he did leave his mark in the record books. On October 10, 2006, he set the MLB record for the fastest pitch ever recorded, when he hit 104.8 mph on the radar gun (since surpassed by Aroldis Chapman in 2010). Zumaya played a major role in the Tigers bullpen in 2006, setting up All-Star closer Todd Jones and helping them reach the World Series for the first time in 22 years.
9. Mark Wohlers
Between 1995-1997, Mark Wohlers was a feared closer for the Atlanta Braves. Prior to that, he cut his teeth as an effective set-up man and sometime closer, garnering enough votes in 1992 to finish seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Later, as closer, opposing hitters arrived at the plate in the ninth inning to face a lively fastball which was clocked anywhere between 99-101 mph, every single time. Wohlers was the anchor of a pitching staff that featured Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. He would effectively shut the door in the ninth inning as the Braves made two World Series appearances during his three years as closer, winning it all over Cleveland in 1995. However, by 1998, Wohlers lost command of his pitches, prematurely ending his tenure as an elite closer.
8. Roger Clemens
Roger “The Rocket” Clemens, PED abuse allegations aside, was one of the most dominant pitchers in MLB history. Clemens used his next level fastball to intimidate hitters into backing off the plate. Even though he could hit 100 MPH on the radar gun, Clemens would scale it back a bit for control, relying on a fastball in the high 90s to finish hitters off. Clemens played 24 seasons, won seven Cy Young awards, and is third all-time in strikeouts with 4,672. He led American League in strikeouts on five separate occasions and finished with a SO/9 of 8.6. The controversy surrounding his alleged steroid abuse and his waffling testimony about the contents of the Mitchell Report haven’t helped his Hall of Fame chances, but Clemens will always be remembered as a fierce competitor and quite possibly the greatest pitcher of all time.
7. Billy Wagner
For 14 seasons between 1997 and 2010, Billy Wagner was one of the best kept bullpen secrets in MLB history. Wagner had an electric fastball that could reach 100 mph with ease and used it to register 422 career saves, which was sixth all-time as of 2018. In his career, he pitched 903 innings and accumulated 1,196 strikeouts, to go along with a miniscule WHIP of 0.998. Just for sake of comparison, Wagner has 23 more strikeouts than the legendary Mariano Rivera, in about 400 less innings pitched. Standing just 5’10”, the left-handed Wagner did not look intimidating on the mound, but when he uncorked his fastball hitters knew they were in trouble. A seven-time All-Star, Wagner never did lead the National League in saves, playing second and third banana to guys in his era like Trevor Hoffman, Eric Gagne and Jose Valverde. Hence the reason he was underrated.
6. Walter Johnson
Anyone who studies baseball history will know that Walter “Big Train” Johnson pitched for the Washington Senators from 1907-1927. The radar gun hadn’t yet been invented to track the speed of his pitches, but those following baseball then regarded him as one of the fastest throwing pitchers in the league. So good, in fact, that he was a one-pitch pitcher for many years before developing a curveball. With his sidearm delivery and fierce fastball, Johnson struck out 3,509 hitters in his career and maintained an impressive 2.17 ERA. Ty Cobb once said that Johnson’s fastball, “hissed with danger.” If this is how one of the greatest hitters of all-time describes Johnson, then he must have been a thrill to watch on the mound. With two MVP awards (no Cy Youngs then), he is the measuring stick by which modern day pitchers like Roger Clemens are compared.
5. Randy Johnson
If you had to guess which sport Randy Johnson played – based on his appearance alone – you might assume that he was a basketball player. Standing at a towering 6’10”, Johnson was one of the most intimidating pitchers to ever take the mound. Not only was he a left-handed pitcher, but he also threw upwards of 100 MPH during his prime. The “Big Unit” toiled for 22 MLB seasons, winning 303 games, five Cy Young awards and leading the American League in strikeouts four times and the National League five. He is second to only Nolan Ryan on the all-time strikeouts list with 4,875, which is over 200 more than third place Roger Clemens put up. He was truly one of a kind, and Major League Baseball may never see another left-handed pitcher with the stature or fastball that Johnson possessed.
4. Steve Dalkowski
Baseball lore is filled with many strange and wonderful stories, from 3’7″ dwarf Eddie Gaedel taking an at bat in 1951 to pitcher Dock Ellis spinning a no-hitter in 1970 while high on LSD. Steve Dalkowski’s story is no less filled with intrigue. Small in stature and said to throw a fastball that even Ted Williams was frightened of, the left-handed Dalkowski spent his entire career in the Orioles farm system, from 1957-1966. Williams recalls standing in the batter’s box against Dalkowski and never seeing the ball before it hit the catcher’s glove — it was that fast. The late Earl Weaver even said that he threw faster than Nolan Ryan. Other stories suggest that he once threw a ball through a wooden fence, as well as a backstop. It was believed that when he was at his best, his fastball could reach speeds over 105 MPH. If there was one set of stats that could sum up his live arm, but tendency to be wild, consider that during the 1960 season in Baltimore’s farm system, he struck out 262 and walked 262 in 170 innings pitched.
3. Bob Feller
If Bob Feller had pitched in a generation where radar guns were present, and deemed reliable, he may have recorded the fastest pitch ever thrown. He enjoyed a successful 18-year career with the Cleveland Indians between 1936 and 1956 (he also served three years in the military during that span). Everyone regarded Feller’s fastball as one of the best they had ever seen. In 1946, he threw a pitch that clocked in at 107.9 MPH, but with the technology back then, no one is sure of the accuracy of this reading. Major League Baseball does not recognize it as an official record, either. Even though he had great stuff, striking out 2,581 batters in 3,827 innings, Feller was also a bit wild. While he was tops in Ks seven times in his Hall of Fame career, he also led the American League in walks four times. That bit of wildness, combined with the gas he could bring, sure was intimidating.
2. Aroldis Chapman
As of 2018, Chapman owned the record for the fastest pitch ever officially clocked at 105.1 MPH. The top shelf closer/set-up man recorded that feat on September 24, 2013, in a game against the San Diego Padres. The way he goes to work, the big left-handed Cuban could conceivably be called the bullpen version of Randy Johnson. He is sol electric on the mound that after just about every pitch, fans look to the video board to see just how fast he is throwing. Over the course of eight seasons, Chapman has garnered four All-Star nominations, and saved 204 games, while striking out 705 batters in just 427.1 innings for a ridiculous SO/9 of 14.8. This is made even more outrageous by the fact that his career WHIP is a tidy 1.009, meaning that not only can he bring the smoke, but he’s got control of it, too.
1. Nolan Ryan
Over his illustrious 26-year career, Nolan Ryan was one the most dominant hard-throwing pitchers to ever play in any era. Although it was difficult to track just how fast Ryan was throwing, teammates and opponents vouched that no one threw the ball with more velocity. New York Yankees famous slugger Reggie Jackson once said, famously, “he’s faster than instant coffee.” In 1974, a device was used to officially register the speed of Ryan’s fastball. What players had been saying all along was correct, Ryan’s fastball was indeed superb. He set the Guinness World Record for fastest pitch at that time, at 100.9 MPH. Some suggest that he reached 108 MPH at one point in his career, but there is no official reading. Even after he surpassed the age of 40, Ryan was still, miraculously, throwing in the high 90s. He is currently the all-time leader in strikeouts with 5,714 – a record that will be tough to beat. He also has a helluva right hand. Just ask Robin Ventura.