Stories tagged baseball


With the latest thrashing by the Devil Rays -> are the Boston Red Sox showing that the statistically better team can always be eliminated by a "hot" team?

a) Yes - win streaks are more powerful than long term stats
b) No - Long term statistics should be the deciding factor of the contests
c) Neither -> head to head is the only way to decide who is the best team


Yer outta here!: Physics play a big role in the National Pastime.
Yer outta here!: Physics play a big role in the National Pastime.Courtesy Mark Ryan
With the baseball play-offs and World Series coming up, I’m sure lots of folks out there (especially in Chicago and not so much in Minnesota) are agonizing over the question: What is more effective, sliding into base head-first or feet-first?

Well, as usual, science has solved the problem. Using physics and mathematics, David A. Peters, an engineer from Washington University in St. Louis, has figured out which of the two ways is more advantageous. Peters is a huge baseball fan, and a mechanical engineer to boot. He explains it this way:

"There's momentum— mass of the body times how fast the player is moving. There's angular momentum (mass movement of inertia times the rotational rate). If it's feet-first and you're starting to slide, your feet are going out from you and you're rotating clockwise; if it's head-first, as your hands go down, you're rotating counterclockwise. On top of this is Newton's Law: Force is mass times acceleration. Then moments of inertia times your angular acceleration."

So which method gives ballplayers a better chance of making it safely to the bag? Center of gravity seems to be the key.

"It turns out your center of gravity is where the momentum is. This is found half way from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. In the headfirst slide, the center of gravity is lower than halfway between your feet and hands, so your feet don't get there as fast. It's faster head-first."

Regardless of the science, Dr. Peters figures preference for one way or the other among ballplayers is about 50/50. And the whole argument goes out the window when talking about first base. Usually, players are much better off running through first rather than sliding into it at all.

"Mathematically, you might think there's an advantage, but leaving your feet is actually a detriment because you're no longer pulsing (pumping your legs) and you start to decelerate," he says. "When you're running, your get your feet out in front of the center of gravity, so you're getting maybe three or four steps of an advantage."

Dr. Peters was also involved in a previous baseball study covered by the Buzz back in July.

Washington University story


It is the season to consider the fine points of our national pastime. Left-handers have the upper hand, in many ways. Here is the story:

"Baseball diamonds: the lefthander's best friend"

We still have a couple more years before outdoor major league baseball returns to Minnesota. But in Washington, D.C., the Nationals next week will be opening up a new outdoor ballpark that was designed with many eco-friendly "green" features. You can take an interactive trip through the new ballpark by clicking here.


Yankee beater: Millions of midge bugs threw the New York Yankees off the game Friday night in their playoff game in Cleveland. Some Yankee players and fans are complaining that the bugs were an unfair homefield advantage and that the game should have been delayed while they swarmed.
Yankee beater: Millions of midge bugs threw the New York Yankees off the game Friday night in their playoff game in Cleveland. Some Yankee players and fans are complaining that the bugs were an unfair homefield advantage and that the game should have been delayed while they swarmed.
They find plenty of things to argue about on sports talk radio, but this is a new one: Should a game be called or delayed on account of bugs?

New York Yankees fans, and some players, are upset that umpires didn’t delay their playoff game against the Cleveland Indians last week when a huge swarm of midges – bugs sort of like mosquitoes – overtook the field.

New York’s pitcher at the time, Joba Chamberlain, hit a batter with a pitch and threw two wild pitches during the eighth inning while he was being buzzed by all the bugs. One of those wild pitches allowed Cleveland to score the tying run and send the game into extra innings, where the Indians ended up winning in the 11th. One Indian batter was able to smack a hit while at bat during the bug flurry.

Umpire Bruce Froemming said that he never considered stopping the game and after about 45 minutes, all the bugs were gone. But the intense blast of bugs lasted for just about 10 minutes. Chamberlain was sprayed with bug repellant twice during the half inning, but it did little to help.

Why were the bugs suddenly showing up for the game? Midges like to breed on warm fall nights near bodies of water. Cleveland’s Jacobs Field is right alongside Lake Erie. Also, they’re attracted to light, and a Major League baseball park has a lot of those burning during a night game. Midges are a common sight in Cleveland on June and July evenings, but not a welcome on in October the Yankees.

Personally, I’m a Yankee hater and love to see any new and creative ways for them to get beat. What do you think about the bug controversy? Share your thoughts here at Science Buzz.


Barry Bonds: Barry Bonds took his cuts at the plate at a home game in San Francisco on May 13 while he was in pursuit of Babe Ruth's mark of 714 career home runs. What role do steroids play, if any, in his home-run hitting efforts?
Courtesy DPiperII

Barry Bonds (at least at the time of this posting) is still one home run shy of tying Babe Ruth’s 714 career home run total. Down the road is Hank Aaron’s all-time record of 755 home runs.

Due to Bonds’ prolific home run hitting of late and growing investigations tying the San Francisco Giant slugger with potential use of steroids, more and more people are questioning if his attempt to pass these time-honored baseball marks is legitimate.

While many people on moral grounds want to dismiss Bonds’ achievements because he might have used an illegal drug, would steroid use really help him hit more home runs? Does more muscle equal more distance on a flying baseball?

Those are very tough questions to answer with purely scientific data. Baseball players of different eras were facing different pitchers throwing different balls in different stadiums. And within the game of baseball, there’s more support than you might think that Bonds’ achievements have more to do with pure baseball skills than possible increased muscle mass due to steroids.

Star Tribune sports columnist Pat Reusse put that question to several current and past Minnesota Twins during spring training. And what they had to say could be surprising to anti-steroid purists:

"The truth is, there were so many guys taking steroids for a few years, and they couldn't hit like Barry Bonds. In my opinion, a guy hitting with a corked bat is taking a bigger advantage than someone who was on steroids,” said Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart. "If Bonds was doing all of this ... you still have to hit the ball. He still was going to hit 40 or 50 (each season), with or without steroids."

Maybe you’d expect such a comment from a current player looking to come to the defense of a colleague under siege in the court of public opinion. But what does a former baseball legend think? Here’s what Tony Oliva, former American League batting champ and current hitting consultant had to say:

“I hope baseball can soon stop talking about steroids. What I do know is the ballparks (today) are smaller and the ball is harder. I know those are two reasons for more home runs. Maybe steroids were the third reason. I don't know.”

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor chimed in with this take on the situation about Bonds’ late-career home run surge:

"As much as it might appear to be overwhelming evidence on the surface -- alarming physical transformation and a mysterious upgrade in power later in a career -- it's not a black and white issue. It's very strong speculation, but it's still speculation."

So what does it take to hit a home run? Reflecting back on the vintage film showing Babe Ruth at bat, he was by no means a chiseled athlete. Yet he had the knack to be the premier home run hitter for much of the game’s history. And Hank Aaron, the current career home run king, wasn’t Goliath, either, and was known for his all-around ability to play all phases of the game.

An essay by Robert Nishihara has an interesting take on the home run/steroids question. He turns to the book The Science of Hitting by former Red Sox great Ted Williams, considered by man to be the best all-around hitter to ever play the game, to define what it takes to hit a home run.

Writes Nishihara:

“A good hitter must identify a pitch to hit, know enough about the pitcher and the game situation to give himself the best chance to succeed, and put hands and hips into motion to drive the pitch. Nowhere does Williams mention that muscle mass aides in any of those critical elements. Williams, himself, of course, was rail-thin, and yet, he managed to crank out 521 career homers.”

“Sure, added muscle mass may increase the distance a player is able to hit a baseball, but what negative effect does that added mass have in altering the fluidity of the player's swing and, thus, his ability to hit the ball in the first place? A popular baseball refrain cautions fast players who have deficiencies in the batter's box that one cannot steal first base. Similarly, a power hitter cannot hit a home run if he cannot hit the ball. And hitting a baseball is a unique skill in the world of sports. It is a powerful act that does not require extraordinary muscle strength. Instead, it is primarily dependent on technique, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination, not brute strength. It is a correlation that so many people are failing to make these days.”

On top of that, many of the players to be disciplined in the last couple season for steroid use have been pitchers. If you believe steroid use helps a player hit the ball farther, then did steroids also help a pitcher throw harder? Would that make it harder for a player to hit a home run?

In my mind, all of these questions raise even more questions as to the impact steroids have on the records and performance of the game. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating using illegal drugs in sports, but their impact on the game and its records isn’t as clear as things might seem on the surface.

What do YOU think?