8/4/2014 9:34 A.M. ET
For Chapman, it's fast, faster, fastest
No one comes close to Reds reliever in throwing fastballs with record-setting velocity
By Joey Nowak / MLB.com
When it comes to hitting triple digits on a radar gun, Reds closer Aroldis Chapman is truly in the 99th percentile.
Statistics calculated and collected by PITCHf/x show that no pitcher in Major League Baseball this year -- or in the past seven seasons, for that matter -- has dominated at high velocity the way Chapman does.
As the fireballer threw a scoreless ninth Friday night to record his 102nd career save and an MLB-record 47th straight appearance with a strikeout, it's an appropriate moment to reflect on a career that has been emblazoned with heaters.
Chapman has not only thrown the fastest recorded pitch since 2008 (105.1 mph on Sept. 24, 2010 against San Diego's Tony Gwynn Jr.) but he's thrown 35 of baseball's fastest thirty-seven pitches in the past seven seasons. Remarkably, the two fastest -- the second coming at 104.1 mph -- came in that same at-bat to Gwynn. Not surprisingly, Gwynn struck out.
"He's amazing, and he doesn't even realize how good he is, you know?" said Reds catcher Brayan Pena. "It's sick, I'm telling you. He goes in and puts on some ice and sits down like nothing happened. He's special."
But no one comes close to threatening Chapman's majority this season. While the Rangers' Neftali Feliz (103.4 mph on Sept. 1, 2010) and the Marlins' Henry Rodriguez (103.2 on Sept. 15, 2010 while with the A's) lay claim to the two outliers among the fastest 37 pitches thrown since 2008 (both at the misfortune, coincidentally, of Mike Aviles), Kelvin Herrera (101.1 mph) is baseball's only other pitcher to top 101 mph this season.
Of the 139 fastest pitches thrown this season, ranging from 100.8-103.8 mph, 136 came out of Chapman's left hand. Herrera, Carlos Martinez and Matt Capps (both 100.9) are the only others on the radar.
"That's why I get all the TV I can with him, because one day, when people don't know who I am, somebody will go, 'Hey, that's Pena [with Chapman]!'" Pena said. "This kid is unbelievable. How can a human being throw all those pitches at more than 100 mph?"
In Cincinnati's 3-0 win over Arizona on Tuesday, Chapman eclipsed 100 mph on 11 of 16 pitches, after hitting triple digits on the gun on 15 of 20 pitches on Monday. En route to his 100th career save, Chapman threw Didi Gregorious and Gerardo Parra each four pitches faster than 100 mph, while Martin Prado saw three in addition to one at a measly 99.5 mph. And this all came after Chapman threw 15 of his 20 pitches between 100.6 and 103.8 mph the night before.
"I think I'd still like to face him instead of catching him, to be honest," said the D-backs' Miguel Montero, who caught Chapman in the All-Star Game and struck out against him on Monday. "You can see the reaction from [catcher Devin] Mesoraco. Every time he caught the ball he was like, 'Ah!' like he was in pain."
Over his streak of 47 relief appearances with a strikeout -- dating back to Aug. 21, 2013 -- Chapman has struck out 95 batters in 48 2/3 innings. His 102 saves have come in 117 chances (87 percent), and the 115 opportunities he needed to get to 100 are the eighth fewest in Major League history needed to reach the century mark in saves converted.
Twenty-nine years ago, Sports Illustrated pulled an April Fool's gag on the country's baseball fans by running a cover story about a pitcher named Sidd Finch, whom author George Plimpton claimed could throw 168 mph.
Finch, of course, was fictional. But Chapman is the closest thing to him anyone has ever seen.
"I can't tell you what was different or why [I was throwing even harder than usual]," Chapman said through translator Tomas Vera on Monday. "With a couple days off, I felt loose, I felt better. You're just pitching; you can't control how hard you throw."