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Could baseball players learn more from physics class than spring training?


The Physical Laws Behind Baseball

You can think of the relationship between physics and baseball much like that between sailors and the sea on which they sail. You don't need to understand what goes on under the waves or up in the clouds to effectively navigate the vessel. And in baseball, you don't have to understand the underlying physics to excel. Yet, no matter what the play, there are always physical reasons for its success or failure. As such, baseball gurus have put a great deal of effort into mapping out the physics of everything from throwing a rising fastball to catching a home run in the stands as a fan.

Compared to many other sports, professional baseball has dragged its feet in applying science to its training methods. For years, folklore and gut instinct prevailed over physics, but swing and batting mechanics have steadily found their way into the game. Meanwhile, physics has led to drastic changes in such sports as pole vaulting and javelin throwing.

Take hitting a baseball for example. The method for hitting the ball is based on a combination of stance, windup and swing. However, there are swing mechanics behind what makes that swing possible -- the bevy of equations concerning velocity, timing and the cherished sweet spot on the bat.

Bat velocity is the speed at which the bat makes contact with the ball. Bat quickness is the time it takes to swing the bat from the launch position to the contact point. With most players, the greater their bat velocity, the poorer their bat quickness. In other words, the players who hit hardest, tend to connect less often, and the players who connect the most do so with less velocity. Analysts attribute this to the fleeting moment in which a batter has to read the pitch and decide how to react. This factor is called decision time. The quicker the swing, the more decision time a player has.

­Mechanically, a player needs to increase his decision time and arrive at the point of contact with peak velocity. Now, this bit of information won't do much good if it's kicking around a player's head right before the pitch. The true benefit of this physics knowledge is in encouraging swing techniques that stress bat quickness. By training muscles to contract rapidly and forcibly, analysts insist that physical exercise can couple quickness with improved bat velocity [source: ­Lund].