Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

The Science of Baseball: From Ted Williams to Stephen Strasburg

A number of years back, Ted Williams, along with John Underwood published a book called The Science of Hitting.  It is still referenced today as “The Bible” in instructing people to accomplish what many believe to be  the most difficult thing to do in all of sports– to hit a thrown baseball.  One of the concepts that Williams stressed was to hit your pitch.  In other words, only swing at balls in areas of the strike zone where you have had good success (“wheelhouse”). Conversely, lay off pitches in areas of the strike zone where, historically, you haven’t been successful.

Fundamental to that concept is the illustration at right which shows Williams’ average at different areas of the strike zone.

In the Washington Post, there have been several articles involving the science of baseball focusing on Nationals’ rookie Stephen Strasburg. In one interactive graph, Stephen Strasburg’s success rate, as measured by opponents’ batting averages is shown in a 3×3 matrix.  The box at top (in red) allows you to select all his games or just one game in particular while the box on the left side of the picture (in blue) allows you to further filter his results by situation (e.g. Lefty or Righty, men of base or not, etc.)

Strasburg’s overall opponent BA is .194 whereas the league average is .259.  He has exactly a 5-1 K-Walk ratio.

Try the interactve graph yourself…

Finally, the Washington Post graphically lays out the mechanics of Strasburg’s delivery to help divine his success.  Most pundits and baseball analysts agree that Strasburg’s mechanics, his repeatable motion, are things that set Strasburg apart from other phenoms. (click image to enlarge then back button to return)

Source: Glenn Fleisig, research director at American Sports Medicine Institute; “The Physics of Baseball,” by Robert K. Adair | Alberto Cuadra/The Washington Post – July 27, 2010.

The chart above was credited, in part, to Robert Adair.  Adair has written the definitive book on the subject of the science of baseball — Physics of Baseball.

Blending scientific fact and sports trivia, Robert Adair examines what a baseball or player in motion does-and why. How fast can a batted ball go? What effect do stitch patterns have on wind resistance? How far does a curve ball break? Who reaches first base faster after a bunt, a right- or left-handed batter? The answers are often surprising — and always illuminating.

This newly revised third edition considers recent developments in the science of sport such as the neurophysiology of batting, bat vibration, and the character of the “sweet spot.” Faster pitchers, longer hitters, and enclosed stadiums also get a good, hard scientific look to determine their effects on the game.

Filled with anecdotes about famous players and incidents, The Physics of Baseball provides fans with fascinating insights into America’s favorite pastime.

Robert Adair is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Physics at Yale University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His research has largely been concerned with the properties of the elementary particles and forces of the universe.

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