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Education Science

The Physics of Baseball 366

Posted by michael
from the here-comes-the-science dept.
beatleadam writes "After seeing Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitch a perfect game (coverage here), I searched Slashdot in the hopes of reading more about what the Slashdot readers thought of this feat of athleticism and science and to learn more about the physics of baseball (More information to be found here and here). As nothing was posted, I submit for your viewing pleasure a "course" in the Physics of Baseball and the subtle science that is pitching."
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The Physics of Baseball

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  • Which? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:11AM (#9204146)
    Which link is most pertinent? Must I follow them all? Must I RATFA?
    • Re:Which? (Score:3, Funny)

      by DR SoB (749180)
      You lazy llama, there are only 12 links in this 1 paragraph article! It helps lessen the /. effect if it's balanced across all those links!!
    • Well, I'm also not interested in going down a bunch of ratholes, he links to mlb, for heavens sake.

    • Re:Which? (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bazman (4849)
      I'm worried what 'Randy' will link to...

  • Curt? (Score:3, Funny)

    by SuperChuck69 (702300) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:13AM (#9204166)
    Patiently awaiting Curt Schilling's comment... ;)
  • by teamhasnoi (554944)
    Who's on first?
  • oh great (Score:4, Funny)

    by millahtime (710421) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:16AM (#9204202) Homepage Journal
    Now I can read how they do something I will be never be able to do. Maybe I can impress chicks with teh knowledge of this. Oh, wait...
    • Now I can read how they do something I will be never be able to do. Maybe I can impress chicks with teh knowledge of this. Oh, wait...

      Hey, it worked for the jocks in high school.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:16AM (#9204207)
    discussing the ECONOMICS of baseball? A breif list of the salaries of the overweight, corn-fed, ball-chuckers oughtta be interesting.
  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:16AM (#9204210)
    Don't forget these:

    "If you build it, he will come".

    The law by which Red Sox and Cubs are repelled by the World Series and especially by the prospect of each other's presence in it.

    The Goat Rule

    The Curse of the Bambino

  • Since it was a perfect game, it was missing the trajectory (batting) half.
  • Extra reading (Score:3, Informative)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:17AM (#9204219) Homepage Journal
    Try Robert Adair's seminal "The Physics Of Baseball". A really good read (and it got him appointed "Physicist to the National League") Oh and someone who can write that [oddball-mall.com]
    Air pushed aside by the curve on top has to move fast to meet up with the air moving along the bottom
    has no business teaching physics to anyone? Why would the air race to meet up with its previous neighbour at the other side. Do they have a hot date, or something.
    • I've seen that race used to describe how airplane wings work too. Followed by: the faster air on the top surface produces a lower pressure (bernouli) than the slower air on the bottom - this difference produces lift. Never mind that air is deflected downward and hence there is an equal and opposite force on the wing.

      I've also seen physics teachers try to explain curve balls this way: The relative air-speed on the top and bottom (with back spin) are different and this causes a pressure difference which cau

    • He is trying to describe how the low pressure caused by the Bernoulli's principle [wikipedia.org] causes the baseball to curve. Sometimes you have to make your explanation less technical in order to reach a broader audience.

      Besides, what is wrong with taking the perspective that the observer is the baseball? How many physics courses have you taken/taught? You can't tel me you have never seen this in examples or problems (especially relativity).
  • Red Sox Fan (Score:4, Interesting)

    by _PimpDaddy7_ (415866) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:18AM (#9204227)
    Ask any Red Sox fan about baseball, they will tell you laws of physics do not apply as the Bambino curse is the ONLY law in the land of Boston Red Sox :)

    As a sidenote, watch the movie Still We Believe for an inside view of how Boston fans related to the Boston Red Sox.

    And the only people who can really relate to us are Chicago Cubs fans.

    • Ask any Red Sox fan about baseball, they will tell you laws of physics do not apply as the Bambino curse is the ONLY law in the land of Boston Red Sox :)

      Hey now, as a disgruntled/disillusioned Mets fan (the first rule of being a Mets or Red Sox fan is that you hate the Yankees) I was rooting for you guys (and pissing a lot of people off at the local sports bar) during the ALCS. If I had an American League team it would probably be the Sox. I share some of your heartbreak.

      Sorry about 1986 though.

      • Re:Red Sox Fan (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Galvatron (115029)
        (the first rule of being a Mets or Red Sox fan is that you hate the Yankees)

        This kind of thing has always made me wonder why Giants and A's fans have such an amiable relationship.

  • Accelerating (Score:2, Interesting)

    In one of the many links.
    "The ball is still traveling along an almost straight line, and it may even still be accelerating."

    Now I understand that when a ball slows down, its accelerating in a negative direction (Depending on your view I guess). But i'm pretty sure they are talking about the ball going faster and faster as it travels. With my limitied knowledge of physics, I don't see how a ball can just accelerate with no force applied to it.
    • Re:Accelerating (Score:5, Informative)

      by calebb (685461) * <slashdot@benefieMOSCOWl.net minus city> on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:24AM (#9204303) Homepage Journal
      For an object to accelerate, it's 'speed' does not need to change... only it's velocity needs to change! Velocity is a vector quantity, so it has both a direction and a rate of motion attached to it.

      Therefore, an object can be moving at a constant speed, but as long as it's 'direction' is changing, it is accelerating.

      So a satellite that's orbiting the earth at a constant speed, is constantly accelerating since it's direction is constantly changing.

      Caleb
    • His word choice was a little poor in that sentence. I'm sure he knows what he's talking about, and didn't mean to imply that it could possible be speeding up.

      The baseball gets most of its energy from the impulse caused by the bat striking it (it may keep some from the initial pitch). After that, the baseball is being slowed down by air resistance and its speed will be decreased by gravity as it climbs, but after it reaches its maximum height, gravity will start to speed it up again. However, since he
    • There's a little guy inside the baseball, after it is thrown he jumps out (in the opposite direction the baseball is travelling), and due to the conservation of momentum the ball must speed up.
  • Knuckleballers (Score:5, Informative)

    by kalidasa (577403) * on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:20AM (#9204253) Journal
    Less on the physics than the effects of that physics, from the New Yorker [newyorker.com] last week; here's a general audience article on knuckleball physics [oddball-mall.com], an interview with Robert K. Adair [ajprint.net], and finally, another physicist, Joel Hollander [cooper.edu], who works on baseball: if you look at the master's theses list, you'll see one on the physics of pitching.
    • Cricket Bowling (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pavon (30274)
      On a realated note the economist recently had an interesting article [economist.com] about cricket and recent controversy over one of the more important rules - the bowler (pitcher) is not allowed to straighten his arm when delivering the ball. Some are claiming that new bowlers are breaking this rule and other question whether the rule itself might actually contradict physics. Being an American who didn't know much about cricket I found the article to be thouroughly amusing. That game could never exist here in the state
  • a book (Score:2, Informative)

    by elrod (21611)
    Robert K. Adair's book "The Physics of Baseball" is a good source of information on this. Both the physics-geek and physics-neophyte can find interesting tidbits in it.
  • Has anyone else here read the old "Brains Benton" [townofautumn.com] series of juvenile mysteries? Sort of like "Hardy Boys" and "The 3 Investigators", but vastly superior to the former. Brains Benton himself is a prototype stereotypical nerd genius (in a pre-computer era), except that he is good at baseball.
  • by kidgenius (704962) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:21AM (#9204267)
    I read a newspaper article once about how outfielders catch fly-balls. Basically, the ball follows an arc in the air. It's parabolic (which is fairly obvious). The way a fielder judges how far or back they need to be to catch the ball is what is interesting. The fielder will move so the ball will always appear to stay in one spot (and just get larger), even while it is on its descent. As long as this apparent motion is kept, the ball should go right into the glove. If the ball appears to move down, the fielder must move forward. If the ball appears to move up, then the fielder needs to go back. If the fielder sees any curve to the path, then he/she needs to move to the sides to "straighten" out the path. A really interesting read, wish I could find a URL w/ it.
    • by Jonny Royale (62364) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:30AM (#9204377) Homepage Journal
      http://www.public.asu.edu/~mmcbeath/mcbeath.resear ch/CatchFly/CatchFly.html

      or

      http://www.maa.org/mathland/mathtrek_10_14_02.ht ml
    • So basically: Keep your eye on the ball and stick that huge glove in the way. It's not rocket science.

      Catching a harder, heavier ball, from a larger distance using your bare hands is far more impressive. Cricket is what I'm talking about.

      I know I always sound like a troll but it's the mods that need kicking most of the time.
    • Allow me to sum up:

      "Place yourself under the ball."
    • Mike Cameron on the Mets does it differently. He's trained himself since a very early age to see the ball off the bat and then estimate where it will land. He then runs as fast as he can to that spot, and lo and behold the ball is there for him. He doesn't actually watch the ball in flight, but he knows where it will land quicker than other outfielders. That's why he's far and away the best centerfielder (and outfielder in general) in baseball.
      • "Interception math" (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Reziac (43301)
        A few people, and some dogs (most individuals of the Retriever breeds) have an innate talent for being able to intercept an object on the fly. Others (most people, and most dogs outside of the Retrievers) have to learn the skill, and may or may not be able to learn it to a useful degree. It's as if some brains process the "interception math" (essentially trigonometry) automagically, others don't have the talent but can learn it as a skill, and still others can't see the math at all.

        I've noticed that having
    • Actually, it's not quite parabolic, but close. If there was no air, it would be parabolic, but the air resistance creates complications to such a degree that you can't* even exactly solve for the path of the ball. You need to compute it numerically.

      * - I culd be wrong. But if you can solve for it, it's not easy. It doesn't yield such a nice shape either.
    • Makes sense. Thats the same basic metric you use to determine if you're on a collision course while boating. Of course, the goal in that case is usually to make sure the other boat *doesn't* always appear in the same spot.
  • What about the subtle science of proper link naming [w3.org]? (With links like those in the article, the box of "related links" isn't really helpful...)
  • there is an book called the Physics of Baseball written by Robert Adair that wonderfully talks about the things you are always have wondered. some things such as how does a curveball curve. the difference between pitches. Its a great read and since I still play baseball its obviously holds interest to me. plus for the physics geek it actually gets into some of the areodynamic effects on the ball and the stitching. very cool!
  • by Mz6 (741941) * on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:30AM (#9204381) Journal
    A definition of what "baseball" is... [thefreedictionary.com]

    "baseball, baseball game, ball - a ball game played with a bat and ball between two teams of 9 players; teams take turns at bat trying to score run; "he played baseball in high school"; "there was a baseball game on every empy lot"; "there was a desire for National League ball in the area"; "play ball!"

    Ok.. If you don't know what baseball is, raise your hand and Tommy will come over and hit you on the head with a tackhammer because you are a RETARD! [imdb.com]

  • by shawn(at)fsu (447153) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:39AM (#9204470) Homepage
    {funny = on}
    I'm sorry did I miss something, you searched /. for sports information? Did you forget we are nerds not nuts(as in sports nut). Is there a News for Nuts site, I don't know and quite frankly I don't care.

    Remember we are nerds we Hate:

    Outside - Unless we are looking at our older sisters best friend sitting by the pool.

    Sports - Unless it includes something with the word Bot in the little.

    Athletic triumphs - Unless is the college cheerleading championship on ESPN

    {funny = off}
  • http://www.exploratorium.edu/hockey/ [exploratorium.edu]

    Hockey has some pretty sweet physics too.

  • I grew up playing (mostly) softball on city playgrounds of asphalt or concrete. So, I never acquired the skill of diving for a ball. When I got older, moved to the 'burbs and played mostly on grass, I'd get ragged about not diving for balls that were just barely out of reach. I began to practice it and while I became fairly proficient and overcame the initial fear of the simple maneuver, I couldn't bring myself to actually use it in a game; I still had the sense I my chances were better if I stayed on my
  • by elid (672471) <eli.ipod@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:58AM (#9204741)
    % George and Yankees Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams are at the ballpark.

    George: Guys, hitting is not about muscle. It's simple physics. Calculate the velocity, v, in relation to the trajectory, t, in which g, gravity, of course remains a constant. (Hits a home run) It's not complicated.

    Jeter: Now who are you again?

    George: George Costanza, assistant to the traveling secretary.

    Williams: Are you the guy who put us in that Ramada in Milwaukee?

    George: Do you wanna talk about hotels, or do you wanna win some ball games?

    Jeter: We won the World Series.

    George: In six games.

  • by dougman (908) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @11:58AM (#9204746)
    Try to understand the math involved to do this [ebaumsworld.com].

    (Link goes to footage of Randy Johnson hitting a bird on a fastball).

    This isn't math - this is Chaos Theory!
  • by call -151 (230520) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @12:03PM (#9204810) Homepage
    There is an interesting NYT op-ed [nytimes.com] today noting that perfect games seem to be more common now.
    From 1900-1960, there were four; since then, there have been 11. Michael Coffey attributes the increase to:
    • More emphasis on individual performance in the post-1975 free-agency era and greater media coverage overall
    • The expansion of the number of teams to thin out hitting talent.

    Apparently, when Cy Young pitched his perfect game in 1904, he wasn't even aware until the last out that he had a perfect game going (the term in fact did not even exist at the time.) These days, if someone takes a perfect game into the sixth inning, it's mentioned on all the broadcasts of the other games and on any of the "sports news" programs that are on at the time.


    It's not clear if these are the most important contributing factors but I think these are some reasonable points.

    • The expansion of the number of teams to thin out hitting talent.

      I keep hearing expansion being used to explain why there are more homeruns and less complete games due to thinning pitching talent

      From 1900-1960, there were four; since then, there have been 11. Michael Coffey attributes the increase to:

      And Nolan Ryan got seven of those eleven, so I don't think it really says anything
    • With twice as many teams, there are many more games being played. I think that's probably all it takes.

      I don't see any way that media coverage affects a perfect game. And hitting talent being thinned should be canceled by the increase in population.

      By the way, Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters, which is an unmatched feat, but he never threw a perfect game. A perfect game has no walks as well as no hits.

    • Interesting. My opinion is slight contrary. In the past, before the advent of specialist relief pitchers and muscled up middle infielders, pitchers knew they were supposed to go 9 innings. Thus, when faced with weaker hitters, they'd coast. (Don't believe me? Read Christy Mathewson's "Pitching In A Pinch").

      Since genuine home run hitters were few and far between, having a guy on first just meant you'd bear down on the next guy that much harder, as the run would only score on a long double or a triple.
  • And they say that the sciences don't have enough funding! Pitchers get millions of dollars every year to work on their "subtle science." Maybe if cancer and AIDS researchers organized into teams and wore uniforms....
  • Here's a book [amazon.com] on the subject.

    When my father and I were playing (softball and little leauge respectivly) he bought an earlier copy of this book.
  • by X86Daddy (446356) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @12:12PM (#9204940) Journal
    "After seeing Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitch a perfect game (coverage here), I searched Slashdot in the hopes of reading more about what the Slashdot readers thought of this feat of athleticism...

    Whenever I'm curious about sports, I head straight to Slashdot too. :-)
  • Question: (Score:3, Funny)

    by Paulrothrock (685079) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @12:17PM (#9205004) Homepage Journal
    Baseball involves being outside under the Death Ball [google.com] and away from the soothing radioactive glow of flourescent lights and my CRT, right? Remind me why I care again?

    It's a joke. Laugh.

  • My dad got me a while ago a book called Newton at the Bat. It dealt with the physics involved in a lot of different sports including baseball.

    It's probably dated now (early 90s?), due to the technological advances of sensors, imaging, and athletic study.

    Might be worth checking out [no amazon affiliate link to be provided] :)

    --D
  • Psychology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 3Suns (250606) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @12:33PM (#9205230) Homepage
    Pitching has a lot to do with physics, true. But I'd say it has much more to do with psychology. It is, after all, the most difficult task of a pitcher to second-guess what the batter is expecting the pitch to be.
  • Sliding (Score:3, Interesting)

    by blair1q (305137) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @01:49PM (#9206280) Journal
    One of the links says:

    "Does sliding help a runner to get to second base any faster? Of course not."

    And then goes on to almost figure out that yes, it does.

    Sliding allows the runner to run faster until he's very near the base. But he's going so fast he'll go past it if he doesn't slide. The steeper his deceleration, the longer he was going at full speed, and the shorter his total time getting to the base. That's the part the link forgot.

    If he could reliably collide with the fielder to shed his inertia, he'd do that, instead, because it'd allow him full speed until he's right on the base.
  • by andykuan (522434) on Thursday May 20, 2004 @10:17PM (#9211021) Homepage
    I love the Adair book except that he got the slider wrong. A slider is thrown like a football -- it should have a tight spiral the axis of rotation of which is down and away from batters (assuming righty on righty). Hitters are told to look for a "red dot" (seen at the near end of the rotational axis) in order to spot an incoming slider.

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