Cumberland Times-News

Columns

November 2, 2013

Science has big role in the game of baseball

Baseball is a sport that lends itself to mathematical analysis. The below numbers are from “All the Right Angles,” a comprehensive compilation of studies of athletics (all the classic American sports as well as Cycling, Crickets, Track/Field and Soccer).

The author is Joel Levy and the book is from Firefly publishers with ISBN 13:978-1-77085-196-2.

The Doppler effect (change in waves with motion) allows us to determine the speed of the baseball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. (This same effect allows our state troopers to determine the speed of your car. They use a microwave beam that bounces off your car; its echo is altered by the speed of your car.)

The modern record for the speed of a fastball is 105 miles per hour. The ball is slowed slightly by air resistance, losing 1 mile per hour for each 7 feet travelled. So the ball is slowed by 8 miles per hour by the time the ball passes over home plate. It takes only 0.4 seconds for a 95 mile per hour fastball to reach home plate.

A baseball batter has only 0.05 of a second to decide when to swing. The margin of error is only 0.007 second for batters. If a batter swings 0.007 seconds too early, the ball will go foul to the left. If a batter swings 0.007 seconds too late, the ball will go foul to the right.

As the bat hits the ball, the bat will be moving at 80 miles per hour. The bat to ball contact lasts only 0.001 seconds. The force on the ball by the bat during this short time is about 4 tons (8,000 pounds).

During this huge impact on a 5-ounce ball, the ball’s diameter is flattened to half of its 3-inch width. The bat itself is also distorted by 20 percent during this impact. The ball leaves the bat at 110 miles per hour.

Baseball pitchers use the Magus effect in throwing a curveball. The spinning speed of a typical curveball is 600 rotations per minute. This means that a typical curveball will rotate five times from the pitcher’s release to it’s passage over home plate.

As the curveball flies towards home plate, there are two sides of the ball. On one side, the ball is spinning in the opposite direction to its motion. The other side of the ball spins in the same direction as the ball’s flight.

A curveball will be deflected towards the side where the airflow is opposite to the spin (lower relative air speed). As the batter watches a curveball, the ball will seem to drop about 20 feet from the plate. The chances of a batter missing a well thrown curveball is 66 percent on a 2–2 count.

Here are a few statistics on baseball bats. White ash trees are used for the Major League bats. But the trees harvested for the bats must be 50 years or older. This wood has to dry for 6-8 months. The proportion of wood that makes the grade for Major League bats is only 10 percent.

A modern MLB player will use 6-7 bats each season. The legendary Joe Sewell used 1 bat for 14 seasons (1920-1933). If the Major Leagues ever switch to aluminum bats (as college baseball teams have), expect both higher batting averages and a possible doubling of home runs.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: Since we are now on standard time, the sun will be setting an hour earlier (about 5:10 p.m. in the Cumberland area). The sun this morning rose an hour earlier (6:45 a.m. locally). This morning, the moon swings from the morning side to the evening side of the sun (NEW MOON) and a new lunar cycle begins.

A slender crescent moon may be easily seen (weather permitting) low in the west on Nov. 5 just before 6 p.m. On Nov. 6, the crescent moon will appear above and to the right of the brilliant planet Venus. On Nov. 9, the evening moon will appear half full in the southwestern evening sky.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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