The Physics Of Baseball Pitches


It’s Summer, and you know what that means!
Manipulating the spin and speed of a flying sphere to change its velocity and elude a
Homo sapien swinging a third class lever! Also known as baseball season. Hello fans of sport and physics alike, Julian
here for DNews. Baseball is often called America’s Past Time, and it’s mostly known for being
a relaxed-paced game that goes great with beer and hot dogs. You know what else goes
with baseball? Science, that’s what. Of course any physical activity is going to
have some physics behind it, and one of the more nuanced aspects of baseball to a non-fan
is the physics of different pitches. Justin Allegri, broadcaster for the San Jose
Giants, explains there’s a lot more to a pitch than just rocketing the ball over the
plate. By changing the grip, pressure, and release of the ball, the pitcher can alter
its flight path and make the batter’s life miserable. The most well known pitch is the fastball,
but there are different variations on the theme. The most direct one is a 4 seam fastball,
where the fingers are placed across 4 seams. On release the pitcher imparts backspin on
the ball. The result is the ball doesn’t drop as much as it would otherwise, appearing
to fight gravity and travel in more of a straight line. The pitcher is taking advantage of the Magnus
effect, which is when a spinning sphere affects the air pressure around it, much like an airplane
wing. The side of the ball spinning with the direction of travel is essentially moving
against the air faster, creating more drag, creating more pressure, and causing the air
to push on it. On the opposite side of the ball, air pressure is reduced and the ball
travels more easily in that direction. You see it in other ball sports too like in
Soccer, or yes, Football, I know, rest of the world, you don’t have to keep reminding
us. Curve balls take advantage of the Magnus effect more, but instead of stabilizing the
flight into a straight line the topspin causes is to drop and cut. Different grips and releases
open up more possibilities like sinkers, sliders, screwballs, and changeups, but they’re all
essentially doing the same thing; causing the seams to push air around and change the
pressure on the ball. The exception to the rule is the knuckleball. A Knuckleball is
designed to spin only once on it’s flight, Moving through the air this way causes a Kármán
Vortex Street, which is a string of vortices trailing alternating sides of the ball. The
effect is the ball wobbles from side to side and its flight becomes impossible to predict.
Clearly the seams play a huge role in affecting the flight of the ball. The seams on balls
the pros use are smoother than those used by college players, to give them less of an
advantage and grip. The lowered seams also give the batter an advantage; because of the
reduced drag a batter will hit the smoother baseball farther. You’ll also notice balls
that get hit into the dirt and scuffed are tossed out by the umpires, because a skilled
pitcher can use the scuff to their advantage. Baseball pitches, are great examples of people
innovating and getting creative to elevate their game. Speaking of insane augmentations,
Toyota has been doing some tinkering of their own with the TRD line of Toyota Trucks. Enhanced
to rule the off-road!

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