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White Sox Prospect Michael Kopech Throws 110-MPH Fastball

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One hundred ten miles an hour - that's how fast a minor league pitcher just traded to the Chicago White Sox is seen throwing in a video that hit the internet this week. Now, Michael Kopech was not throwing a regular-weight baseball, and he get a running start. But even so, 110 miles per hour is pretty fast, and Kopech has been clocked at 105 in a real minor league game. To talk baseball in the offseason, I'm joined now by Jonathan Hock. He's a documentary film director whose credits include last year's "Fastball," which is about what you might think it's about. Welcome back to the program.

JONATHAN HOCK: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: What do you know about this kid, Michael Kopech?

HOCK: Well, oddly enough, when we were filming the documentary, we filmed a national high school showcase game. And Michael Kopech was the kid who hits 95 as a high school senior. And you see all the scouts holding up their radar guns, and there's this sort of collective gasp at this big, burly kid who's got the thing that they came to see. Will it translate into success? Well, how can he command it in game situations? We'll see, but he's got the velocity. The question remains what he does with it, and that's the difference between the greatness and the ones we forget about.

SIEGEL: It seems that during baseball games, we see more guys throwing 95, 96 miles per hour. Have pitchers actually gotten faster over the years?

HOCK: Well, pitchers haven't gotten faster in terms of the top velocity. But the way the game has changed now in terms of advanced metrics and the whole "Moneyball" thing - for pitchers, the strikeout is valued much more highly than it ever was in the past. The other trend is starting pitchers being taken out of the game at a hundred pitches, which means they don't have to pace themselves for 150, 170 pitches the way pitchers used to, so they can throw harder. And then the relief pitchers changing every inning - they can throw as hard as they can.

So you have this premium on the strikeout, which equals a premium on speed. And then you have the way the managers orchestrate the game so the pitchers can basically throw as hard as they can the whole time. And you see many, many, many more pitches up around 100. That doesn't mean these guys threw harder than Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller and - but it means they throw as hard as they can a lot more often.

SIEGEL: But you've got to admit - under any circumstances, throwing a ball 110 miles per hour - that's pretty fast.

HOCK: You know, one of the major changes in the fan experience at a Major League Baseball game now is the fact that every pitch - in big, bright lights, the numbers on the scoreboard - the speed is lit up - 97, 99, 102. The hundred-mile-an-hour fastball has become baseball's slam dunk. It's not so much the home run anymore. It's that hundred-mile-an-hour fastball. That's, in many ways, is the most exciting part of the game for fans these days.

SIEGEL: That's film documentary director Jonathan Hock, who's movie about baseball was called "Fastball." Thanks for talking with us.

HOCK: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.