A Physics Comparison of Great Throws From Years Past – Part II

Vladimir Guerrero unleashed some monster throws in his day (via Evan Wohrman).

Vladimir Guerrero unleashed some monster throws in his day (via Evan Wohrman).

Last week, I wrote an article here at The Hardball Times that analyzed some of the best throws from the past 15 years. Upon posting the article, there were calls to look at throws that occurred even longer ago. The reason this was not done previously was because I thought accurate distances could not be determined from stadiums that are no longer standing. However, in the comments section, I was introduced me to Clem’s Baseball–a website that houses all the dimensions of past and present stadiums. Therefore for stadiums that have been torn down I was able to estimate the distances of the throws. For the stadiums that are still in use, I again used Google’s distance tool.

In addition to the distance, the time of flight is also needed. Again to do this, I counted frames of the videos, as well as used a stopwatch. Once those two parameters are found, we can determine the entire flight of the ball. Once again, I plugged the distance and time values into Alan Nathan’s trajectory calculator to determine the initial speed and angle of the throws. As before, the same assumptions were made regarding the drag coefficient, spin rate, and release height. They were assumed to be 0.350, 1500 rpm, and 6 feet, respectively.

Onto the throws. In these plots, the red dots show the position of the ball in half-second intervals and the bar on the right shows the location and height of the ball when it was caught.

Roberto Clemente, October 16, 1971

Roberto Clemente was one of the best players of his generation, collecting 3,000 hits being a 12-time Gold Glove winner. A main factor in his Gold-Glove-winning-ways may have been his arm which helped him lead the league in putouts three times. One of his most famous throws occurred in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1971 World Series. The game was played at the Oriole’s old stadium, Memorial Stadium. That field was 309 feet to right, and Clemente threw it from the warning track to just in front of home plate, freezing the runner at third. I estimate that the throw traveled 295 feet in 2.79 seconds. After using the trajectory calculator, I find that Clemente released it at 98.6 mph and at an angle of 9.7 degrees.

Roberto Clemente

Joe Ferguson, October 12, 1974

Joe Ferguson was a catcher and right-fielder for the Dodgers in 1974 when they fell to the Oakland A’s in the World Series. However, his memorable play of the series came in Game 1 when he cut in front of centerfielder Jimmy Wynn on a fly ball to throw out Sal Bando at home. I estimate that his throw traveled 280 feet in 2.47 seconds. From these values, I find that he released the ball at an angle of 7.5 degrees with the ball travelling at 103.2 mph.

Joe Ferguson

Dave Parker, July 17, 1979

Dave Parker had a memorable night at the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle as he threw out two runners and was named MVP of the game. On this play, Parker fields the ball in deep right field and fires a strike home to nail Brian Downing. The game occurred in the Kingdome where the right field foul pole is 316 feet from home. Parker is certainly away from the wall and the track and the ball travels on the fly to home, so I estimate the throw to be 260 feet and have a hang time of 2.10 seconds. From there, I find that the ball was released at 109.6 mph and at an angle of 5.3 degrees.

Dave Parker

Ellis Valentine


The throw in question occurs at 3:14.

Ellis Valentine led the major leagues with 25 assists and received a Gold Glove in 1978. His manager Felipe Alou praised his strong arm. His arm strength is on display on this throw as he throws from the right field corner to third base on one hop. The right field line measures 325 feet in Olympic Stadium, and I estimate that the ball bounces 15 feet from third base, giving a total distance of 320 feet. I also estimate that the time of flight is 3.14 seconds. Therefore, Valentine had to have released the ball at 98.7 mph and an angle of 11.8 degrees.

Ellis Valentine

Jesse Barfield


The throw in question occurs at 0:08.

Jesse Barfield led the American League in assists three years in a row (1985-87) and was well known for his arm in the 80s. On this throw, he guns out a runner trying to advance to third on a single to right. I estimate the he threw the ball from 200 feet away and that it only took 1.80 seconds for the ball to get to third base. From these values, I find that Barfield released the ball at 92.6 mph and at an angle of 5.7 degrees.

Jesse Barfield

Bo Jackson, June 5, 1989

Bo Jackson burst onto the baseball scene in 1987 after winning college football’s Heisman Trophy in 1985. A two-way star at Auburn University, he became the only athlete to be named an All-Star in both MLB and the NFL. A legendary moment from the 1989 season was when Jackson threw out speedster Harold Reynolds at home plate (Reynolds had 25 stolen bases that season). The throw from the left field warning track to home plate measures in at 310 feet in the Mariners’ old home, the Kingdome, with the foul pole being 316 feet from home. I also find that the ball was in the air for 3.15 seconds. I find that Jackson had to have released the ball at 96.2 mph and an angle of 12.3 degrees.

Bo Jackson

Bo Jackson, August 31, 1993

Bo Jackson was an incredible athlete and physical specimen, but a hip injury in 1991 derailed his potentially illustrious career. In 1993 while playing for the White Sox, he delivered a strike to third base off a fly ball to right (My favorite part of this video is when his teammates come over to congratulate him and Bo’s arms are twice as big as Tim Raines’). Old Yankee Stadium was 385 feet to right center and 314 feet down the right field line, but Jackson was not near the wall. Estimating the distance on this throw was tricky, but I find it to be 285 feet. Also, I estimate the time of flight to be 2.60 seconds. From these values, I find that ball was travelling at 100.5 mph and came out at an angle of 8.2 degrees.

Bo Jackson 2

Vladimir Guerrero, June 3, 1997

Finally, we finish with another throw by Vladimir Guerrero. This throw occurred in the spacious Shea Stadium which was 341 feet to the right field pole. Guerrero throws the ball from near the right field corner to home on one hop to get Todd Hundley out. I estimated that the ball bounced 15 feet from home, thus giving the throw a total distance of 310 feet. I also find that the ball was in the air for 2.73 seconds. Based on these values, Guerrero released the ball at 106.7 mph and at an angle of 7.8 degrees.

Vladimir Guerrero

Comparison

The table below summarizes all of the information presented above for easy comparisons. Note that the average horizontal speed is just the distance divided by the time.

Comparing the Great Throws
Player Date Ballpark Distance (ft) Time (sec) Avg Horiz Speed (mph) Catch off ground (ft) Release speed (mph) Release angle (degrees)
Roberto Clemente 10/16/71 Memorial Stadium 295 2.79 72.1 0 98.6 9.7
Joe Ferguson 10/12/74 Dodger Stadium 280 2.47 77.3 2 103.2 7.5
Dave Parker 7/17/79 Kingdome 260 2.10 84.4 4 109.6 5.3
Ellis Valentine ? Olympic Stadium 320 3.14 69.5 0 98.7 11.8
Jesse Barfield ? Kingdome 200 1.80 75.7 2 92.6 5.7
Bo Jackson 6/5/89 Kingdome 310 3.10 66.1 1 96.2 12.3
Bo Jackson 8/31/93 Yankee Stadium 285 2.60 74.7 0 100.5 8.2
Vladimir Guerrero 6/3/97 Shea Stadium 310 2.73 77.4 0 106.7 7.8

Also, the graph below overlays all the throws onto one another for quick comparisons.

Eric Lang

What I find surprising is the speed at which Dave Parker released the ball. 109 mph is very fast and he did it at such a low angle of 5.3 degrees. He was able to get his whole body around the ball and get a crow hop though, which certainly helped him. Bo Jackson’s throws are impressive as well because it doesn’t appear that he steps into the throw that much. His throw in Yankee Stadium happened after his hip surgery and delivered a strike after being flat-footed.

As with the last article, I do not wish to declare a winner, only to present the metrics of these outstanding throws and hope that these numbers can offer a new direction to analyze throws over word-of-mouth arguments.

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Comments

  1. The Stranger said...

    Like the previous installment, a fascinating article. Parker’s 109-MPH throw got me wondering, though – what are the error bars on that? I ask because that’s a speed Aroldis Chapman wishes he could reach, and while an outfielder does have the ability to step into the throw more than a pitcher, it’s still damn impressive if it’s accurate. But it seems like it’s probably tricky to estimate the distance traveled when the player isn’t standing right next to the wall.

    Which isn’t to take anything away from the fun of looking at these throws, I was just curious how accurate you felt like the numbers were.

    • Eric Lang said...

      The distance was certainly tough to calculate in the case of Parker’s throw because the Kingdome has been torn down and Parker isn’t very close to a wall. 260 feet may be a little long and I agree that 109 mph was shocking when I saw it. If instead I say that Parker threw the ball 250 feet, then the launch speed is changed to 105 mph. So 10 feet can certainly make a difference

      • tz said...

        Is a pitchers speed the release speed, or the average speed from release until home plate?

        If Parker released the ball at 109mph but the average speed over 260 feet was 84mph, then it would mean that the average speed over the first 60 feet would be about 103mph (if the deceleration is constant). So it’s not necessarily true that Parker threw that ball harder than any of Chapman’s pitches.

        Being old enough to remember seeing that throw live, I have to admit I’ve never seen a throw from the outfield with so little arc. It’s neat to see that I remembered this correctly.

      • The Stranger said...

        The other piece of the equation would be wind. While obviously not a factor in the Kingdome, I could see wind making a difference of a few MPH either way in an open stadium.

  2. Ron said...

    I will take the Strong and Most Accurate Throws to second, third, and home from Al Kaline every time.

  3. said...

    Sorry I missed your original article, I was on vacation last week.

    Else I would have shared one of the greatest, if not the greatest, throw I’ve ever seen live in a game. It was 2002, Shinjo was playing CF, not sure who was RF, and I believe it was the Expos in Montreal. There was a runner and the batter hit a flyball to the RF gap and the RF took the lead in fielding the ball, but the ball got by him, so – fading memory – I recall the ball bouncing off the wall, going by RF, Shinjo barehanded grabs the ball, spins around in one motion, and throws out the runner at home plate.

    I hope you can find that video, I regret deleting that off my Tivo. Oh, I found game articles, eh, my memory, these accounts tell the proper sequence (but I was right it was the Expos), but it was still amazing to see:

    http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20020512&content_id=23412&vkey=news_sf&fext=.jsp&c_id=sf
    http://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Shinjo-s-arm-saves-Giant-win-2838329.php

  4. 87 Cards said...

    I hit Baseball Ref seeking the details on Ellis Valentine’s throw @ 3:14. Here is what I have: August 5, 1976, game 1 of DH in Montreal, lefty Ross Grimsley on the hill. Speedy Frank Taveras of the Mets led off the 3rd with what was scored a double, retired at 3rd base Valentine to SS Chris Speier to 3B Larry Parrish. The video cuts off Speier’s assist; I speculate the SS never touched the ball and Ellis threaded the wicket right to Parrish.

    I believe that to be Chuck Cottier on the ground as Mets’ third-base coach and umpire Andy Olsen raising his out thumb.

    The only other candidates with Grimsley/Valentine-Parrish assist/Olympic Stadium were 4-22-78 vs. Phillies (runner does not look or scoot like Jerry Martin) & 5-27-79 vs. Cards (runner does not look or motor like Ken Reitz #44).

  5. 87 Cards said...

    Jesse Barfield’s throw occurred on April 27, 1983 in Texas at old Arlington Stadium. In the 7th inning, 23-year old Barefield took over for Hosken Powell in RF. Leading off the bottom of that inning, Bucky Dent flied out to Lloyd Moseby in CF for the first Ranger out against Jim Clancy. Wayne Tolleson then singled. Mickey Rivers dribbled a ball to Barefield who gunned down Tolleson with Rance Mulliniks with the putout and umpire Joe Brinkman with the call.

  6. 87 Cards said...

    Barefield’s second throw on the video was also from his third season in 1983; August 3 vs. the Yankees at old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
    Two outs, bottom of the eighth, Yankees down 5-1, Jim Clancy again on the bump for the Jays, Griffey Sr. on second and Oscar Gamble on first. Butch Wynegar singled toward Barefield who steamed a strike to C Buck Martinez; Umpire Mark Johnson with the emphatic call at the plate; Steve Kemp #21 on deck. Others in the video; Gamble #17 on second and Alfredo Griffin #4 for the Jays.

    In the second inning, Barfield had popped his fourteenth HR off Ron Guidry. (Barfield had 11 RBIs against Gid; only five players had more).

  7. said...

    Eric, This is fascinating material and even though I don’t understand the math, it’s amazing to me this can be calculated. I have a request, if there is any way it can be done. Most baseball fans are familiar with Willie Mays making his over the shoulder catch with his back to home plate to rob Vic Wertz of a probable triple, or inside the park home run, in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. Perhaps even more astonishing than “The Catch” was the throw Mays unleashed back to the infield, which prevented the man on second base from scoring. The catch was made approximately 415′ from home plate, according to Bill Deane in a “Baseball Digest” article from 2005. In the classic baseball book by Arnold Hano, “A Day in the Bleachers”, Hano describes Mays throw as “a howitzer made human”. Anyway the film footage of Willie’s catch exists and is easily seen on YouTube. Whether the film footage is sufficient to provide any form of analysis on the throw Willie made, I do not know. In my opinion, this throw should not be forgotten in the wake of a catch perhaps only Mays could have made. Can this throw be properly analyzed? I hope so! Thank you for reading this, at any rate. Cheers!

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