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The 2021 College World Series was one of the most memorable ones in recent history.
It was the first since 2019 after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 CWS. Mississippi State won its first ever National Championship for any sport in school history. Unranked NC State was one game away from the finals before having to forfeit due to COVID protocols.
The list goes on and on, but one thing many baseball fans remember about this past year’s CWS was the number of pitchers who threw their fastballs at velocities previously unheard of in the college game.
Guys like Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker ran their fastballs up into the mid 90’s as did Mississippi State’s Will Bednar and Landon Sims. The exciting postseason pitching left fans across the country asking themselves, “Do all college pitchers throw this hard?”
Due to the lack of velocity data for all division 1 teams across the country, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact number, but the average velocity of a division 1 pitcher seems to be around 89 miles per hour.
While 89 miles per hour may seem far from the mid 90’s numbers seen in the College World Series, let’s put that number into perspective.
How Important is Velocity?
Before digging into the numbers, let’s address a question that many Division 1 baseball hopefuls want to know: Is velocity really that important when playing D1 college baseball?
The fact is, it is important, but it is not everything.
There are people out there who tell young kids something along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter if you can throw strikes anymore. If you want to play D1, you have to be able to throw ___ mph.”
Those people are wrong.
There are others who will say, “Velocity doesn’t matter at all. Location is more important. Colleges would rather have guys who can hit a spot than throw hard.”
They are wrong as well.
The truth is, college coaches do use velocity to evaluate recruits, and they use it to make decisions on which of their current players get the most innings.
However, there is some complexity to it as velocity measurements are used more as a guide to help the coaches make decisions. It is not the only thing they consider, but it is a piece to the puzzle.
For more on this, take a look at one of our previous articles about high school pitching velocities.
Are Guys Really Throwing Harder Than Ever?
Anyone who follows baseball regularly has noticed a rather large increase in the number of pitchers who have elite fastball velocity. One may hear things like “Pitchers are throwing harder than they ever have before”.
But is it true?
The answer is yes, and this study shared on Let’s Talk Pitching’s website supports it. Before we get into the study, please be aware that it only analyzed pitching data from players who had velocities recorded by Perfect Game in three conferences (ACC, West Coast, and American East) in 2012.
The average velocity for the 122 right-handed pitchers studied in the ACC was 89.2 mph. The average velocity for the 97 right-handed pitchers studied in the West Coast Conference was 87.3 mph. And for the 64 right-handers in the American East, the average was 84.9.
The average from those averages comes out to around 87 mph. That difference of two mph in nine years is more significant than it may seem. This shows that players at the college level are indeed throwing harder.
Again, keep in mind that this study does not reflect velocity data from every single division 1 pitcher in 2012. That type of extensive research across every team and conference just was not available at that time.
However, the study does have representation from Power 5 schools, mid majors, and small division 1 programs. Therefore, while not perfect, it is as good an indicator of average fastball velocity as one will be able to find from that era of college baseball.
While it is still difficult to obtain fastball velocity numbers from every college baseball team, the information is as prevalent in 2021 as it has ever been.
It is very likely that if every pitcher on every team’s velocity was recorded in 2012 the average number could be even lower. The same goes for this season’s average as it could be even higher.
All in all, your eyes are not lying to you, and there are now some data points that prove that pitchers are indeed throwing harder than they ever have.
How Does This Compare to the MLB?
Major League Baseball’s average velocity is much more accurate and much easier to track down than other levels of baseball because every pitch thrown in a season is recorded by their Statcast system.
A Major League fastball averaged 93.7 miles per hour in 2020. Compare that to the 91.7 mph average in 2008. Every several years, it appears that baseball players at the highest levels seem to be gaining a couple miles per hour on their fastball.
By 2030, will 95 be the average? Only time will tell.
What is the Cause of the Increase in Velocity?
There are several factors that are playing into velocity increases at all levels of baseball. We are in the age of information, and there seems to be more research and more people willing to share their knowledge when it comes to gaining velocity.
Ten years ago, training facilities that focused solely on increasing pitching performance were a dime a dozen. Now, they are everywhere.
Young players all across the country can likely drive within one hour of their hometown to find a workout facility dedicated to helping them increase the velocity on their fastball.
They may not even have to drive anywhere as many of these facilities put their training programs online for players to follow at home.
The development of a company called Driveline Baseball has played its part in increasing awareness about new research, techniques, and training methods that help pitchers get the most out of their bodies. It was founded in 2007 and has grown exponentially in 14 years.
Specialization is also something that is contributing to the increase in velocity at all levels. More players at even younger ages are beginning to focus solely on playing baseball, and even within the sport, more players are starting to focus solely on pitching.
Even companies such as Driveline argue that this may not be the best thing for a young player’s long-term health. The fact of the matter is, whether we like it or not, it is happening.
The twelve-year-old kid who used to play basketball in the winter is now seeing a pitching specialist in the winter months; therefore, his pitching velocity is likely to increase for the next spring — as long as he remains healthy.
What is the average velocity of other levels of college baseball?
It is even more unlikely to find the average velocities of D2, D3, JUCO, and NAIA pitchers. While it is difficult to pinpoint a specific number, it is safe to believe that velocities at these levels of college baseball have likely experienced the same two mph increase that D1 and MLB have seen over the years.
Why do right-handed pitchers throw harder than left-handed pitchers in college baseball?
On average, righties do throw harder than lefties in college baseball. The reality is that most lefties who throw at above average or elite velocities end up being drafted and go on to play professional baseball out of high school. Because righties are more common, MLB teams sometimes pass on them out of high school to allow them more time to develop in college.
Should players who throw at below average velocities be worried?
Players whose velocities are “below average” should not worry. There is more to pitching than velocity only. Besides, as mentioned earlier, there has never been more information available about gaining velocity, so pitchers always have room for improvement if they are willing to put in the work.
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