I think the answer to that question is a definite "no." Having said that, the more important question, imo, is "Does throwing hard constitute being a better pitcher?" The answer to that is also, a definite no." While having extreme velocity will allow you to get away with many more mistakes, essentially just raising your margin for error, considering the lack of time the batter has to see, read and react, it is not a requirement for being a great pitcher.
Originally Posted by SABR Matt
Another important point you bring up, is that even though some pitchers had 92-96 MPH ability, why in their right minds would they bring that in routinely, given the state of the game. In a pinch, sure. On certain counts, sure. As a show-me pitch from time to time, sure. But not consistently. That would be foolish.
When Babe came along, and he stepped into the box, it became an immediate pinch. It became a situation of, you better get this guy out or simply give him a pass. And passing him became all the more dangerous once Lou came around. It must be taken into consideration, that the best, most dangerous hitters back then, faced pitchers who were indeed throwing with their best stuff, and not coasting. So you can say that a guy's OPS+ wouldn't be as high if he played today. But the counter point to that, is that he was already receiving more focus/energy from the pitcher, than most other hitters, which, imo, off-setts some of that OPS+ talk.
I don't like the javelin comparison. Different motion. You don't use the same muscles. You use your legs and torso much more after having sprinted forward.
There were all-time outfield arms several decades ago, and those weren't the guys being scouted primarily for their arms. The pitchers were. I see no reason to believe pitchers back then didn't have the ability to throw in the mid-90's, and would have done it consistently, had the game style called for it. Today, pitchers have to give every ounce on every pitch, for the most part, because hitters have never enjoyed more comfort. The environment has never been geared for pitchers to fail more than today. Lucky for them, most hitters take screwed up approaches and slightly decrease an otherwise huge margin for error, allowing some pitchers to thrive.
"By common consent, Ruth was the hardest hitter of history; a fine fielder, if not a finished one; an inspired base runner, seeming to do the right thing without thinking. He had the most perfect co-ordination of any human animal I ever knew." - Hugh Fullerton, 1936 (Chicago sports writer, 1893-1930's)