Pitching or Hitting
Are you ready for the World Series? The Texas Rangers will face the Cardinals, in St. Louis, beginning at 5:05 Pacific Time tonight. Ron Washington, manager of the Rangers, offers a little insight on the match-up on mlb.com:
…Washington suggested that the Series could go in either direction—pitching or offense.
Hmmm. I’m a big fan of Wash, but that comment is a little Yogi Berra-like. Good news for all of us that Charles Pavitt, of the University of Delaware, has the actual numbers. He crunched hitting, pitching, fielding and base-stealing records for every MLB team over a 48-year period from 1951-1998.
Pavitt found hitting accounts for more than 45% of teams’ winning records, fielding for 25%, and pitching for just 25%. Furthermore, the impact of stolen bases is greatly overestimated. (Take that, Rickey Henderson!) Pavitt’s findings are published this month in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.
Want more baseball research? Last year, around this time, we wrote about a study published in PLoS ONE on the “breaking ball.” The authors behind the study say that curveballs can’t break nor can fastballs rise—it’s all an optical illusion. ScienceNOW has a great description of the experiment that led the scientists to their findings.
NPR produced a story last week about pitches hitting batters. Apparently, the higher the temperature in the ballpark, the more batters get hit, according to Richard Larrick of Duke University.
Was it because they would sweat more, and the ball might get slippery and hard to control? Or was it something intentional?
Larrick had a hunch it was the latter. He knew from previous research that if you put folks in a hotter room, the more aggressively they’ll act toward one another. He theorizes that the act of a pitcher intentionally hitting a batter could have a similar cause. But at this point, it’s only a theory (published in the journal Psychological Science).
Researchers (and baseball fans) Alan Nathan and Lloyd Smith wanted to confirm or dispel some of the rumors about the game so they developed a “Bat Lab” at Smith’s Washington State University. According to Popular Mechanics, their machine can test pitch velocity and bat speed—
to calculate what they call the coefficient of restitution (COR). “[It’s] the bounciness of the ball off the bat,” Nathan says, and it’s the primary metric the team uses for testing bats—and busting baseball myths.
In the lab, they’ve discovered that baseballs are no different now than 40 years ago and that a humidor actually works well for keeping baseballs in the park at Denver’s high elevation Coors Field. In addition, they discovered that while corked bats may hit the ball more often, they do so with less power. Their research was published earlier this year in the American Journal of Physics.
Speaking of bats, USDA Forest Products partnered with MLB a few years ago to try and reduce the number of broken bats in the game. Engineer (and baseball fan, one would hope) David Kretschmann watched video of every shattered bat, recording the who, when, and how of every breakage. He then tested and analyzed hundreds of bats in his own lab. He found that the splintering was caused by “slope of grain” issues. On Wisconsin explains:
A baseball bat (or any piece of lumber) is strongest when cut with its length parallel to the grain of the wood. If the slope of grain differs from the center line of the bat by as little as 3 degrees, that bat will be 20 percent more likely to shatter.
Thanks to his research and a new manufacturing trick—the number of broken bats has decreased by half since 2008.
Want a bit more baseball physics? In his Wired blog, Rhett Allain demonstrates the physics of a remarkable fielding play by Rick Ankiel. He estimates the ball was thrown 331 feet from right field to third base at the amazing speed of 111 miles per hour! Read the blog to find out how he made that estimation.
And then just sit back, relax, and enjoy the science of the World Series.
Image of Michael Young: Keith Allison/Wikipedia