# The Science of Baseball | Ricardo Valerdi | TEDxTucson

Translator: Nadia Pshenitsyna

Reviewer: Denise RQ Good afternoon. I have a couple of questions

for you before we get started. And I think the questions are motivated to get you to think about

our current situation in the United States in terms of education,

innovation, and wealth. True or false: the United States has more

billionaires than anywhere in the world? (Audience) True.

Ricardo Valerdi: That’s correct. True or false: more patent applications

had been filed from the United States than any other country? ( Audience) True.

RV: Correct. Fewer than half of high school graduates

in the US are ready for college level math true or false? (Audience) True.

RV: Correct. We won’t get there.

(Laughter) Fewer than 5% of college degrees

awarded in the US are in engineering; true or false? (Audience) True.

RV: That’s correct. So I hope that you understand

just from these four questions that we actually live in a crisis,

but we also live in a time of opportunity. Let me talk about Arizona in particular. Arizona ranks 48th in the country

in student spending in education, but we rank 1st in the country

of professional baseball games per capita. (Laughter) 637 games per year,

in case anybody is wondering. It’s almost like having

a double-header every day of the year. So think about that. This presents an opportunity

then to use baseball – which this is the hotbed

literally, of baseball – and use it to leverage our situation

or to improve our situation in education. Now, as an educator and as a baseball fan I love science, technology,

engineering, and math–STEM, which coincidentally is “Mets” backwards. (Laughter) So what I want to talk about

to you today are three things. Number one: math is abstract and that’s

a bit of a problem for students. So we’ll talk about how to resolve it. Number two: math is scary for students, and so, we’ll talk about

some solutions to that. And the issue is

those two are reinforcing: it’s abstract so it becomes scary, and it’s abstract so it’s still scary

no matter what grade level you’re at, so we have to break that cycle. The third thing is we don’t have

enough opportunities to provide hands-on learning in schools; so we’ll talk about

some solutions for that as well, OK? let me talk about the first issue

which is math being too abstract. And we can mostly blame the Greeks, and some French mathematicians,

and some Brits as well, so people like Euler,

Laplace, Descartes. And they are the ones who came up

with a lot of these concepts that we use today

and they are very exciting, they actually help innovation, but they don’t necessarily allow

a third-grader to figure out how to get through the day. I mean, be honest, when was the last time the Pythagorean theorem helped you

get through the work day? But it turns out the Pythagorean theorem

is a very powerful tool in baseball. So let’s do a little bit of math. Here is a right triangle. The distance between home plate

and first base is 90 feet. So if you draw a right triangle,

that could be one of the sides. And we already know the distance, 90. The distance between the first base

and the second base is also 90 feet. So now we know the distance

of the two sides of the triangle, so we can solve for the third. You square 90, and you add it

to another square of 90, and you get the distance

from home plate to second base. And if you did it in your head,

it’s 127 or so. So, good job. So now we know how far the catcher needs to throw

the ball to get to the second base in order to throw a runner out

that may be stealing from first to second. See? So that’s what can help us

make math less abstract; by applying it to a real situation? Let me give you another example. Let’s talk about torque. I could just tell a student:

torque equals force times distance. But that’s not going to mean much

unless you talk about a teeter-totter. And in this particular teeter-totter

we’re balancing two different forces. On the left side is

a 70 pound fourth-grader, on the right side is a 140 pound mascot. That’s Baxter the Cat

for the Diamondbacks. So how do we balance the two sides

if the forces are different? Well, the rule in torque is

you change the distance of the beam, between the beam and the fulcrum, the point where the two sides

are being balanced. So you’ll notice that they are standing

at different distance from the fulcrum, so that’s how the two sides,

the two torques are equal to each other. There’s nobody touching the beam,

there’s somebody there just for safety, But you can see the student now

appreciates what torque is, because is she didn’t,

she’d fall over and hit her head. So our goal is to make

the math and the science so simple that even Yankee fans

will understand it. (Laughter) I’m wearing a Mets shirt,

so you have to understand that. Let’s talk about the angle

of trajectory of a home run. We could just tell the students that the optimal angle of flight

for a sphere is 45 degrees, but they’ll never really remember that,

unless we do an experiment, and they’ll also realize

that the most of the math you learn there is an assumption

that you are dealing with a sphere. This is not a sphere, folks.

This is a baseball. And it has seams and stitches,

216 of them to be exact. I counted them. So that means that the aerodynamics

of a baseball are different than a sphere. So, the optimal angle trajectory

for a home run is not 45 degrees. What we do is we set up an experiment

for students to think about: “Hey, how do we derive the actual value of the optimal angle

of trajectory for a home run?” Let’s set up an experiment. Professional baseball field? Check.

Baseballs? Check. Water balloon launchers, check,

giant protractors, check. We are ready to go.

Now we are doing science. So we hold all the variables constant, that is how much tension or force

you are pulling on the ball, and the only thing that we change is the

angle at which the ball is being launched. And students intuitively know that if you

launch something at a straight angle it’s probably going to be

a line drive or a ground ball. And if you launch something

at too high of an angle, that’s going to be a pop fly. So they are trying to find

what is the optimal angle of trajectory. So this is an empirical experiment. And they learn very quickly

that it’s not 45 degrees, it’s more like 35 or 30 degrees. And then you can compare it

to real data of home runs. Because we have

all this data available to us. Baseball truly is

a statistician’s wet dream, because all this great data is available. Most of you have heard of ‘Moneyball’. ‘Moneyball’ is really based

on the idea of sabermetrics, which is using data to try to find

inefficiencies in the market. And I lived in Boston;

actually, during the time when the curse of the Bambino was broken. So I became a bit of a fan, and after winning

the first World Series in 86 years you sort of you tend to gravitate

towards that emotion. And what I learned is

that Boston in particular was really a baseball-crazy town. But then I moved to Arizona and realized this is really the crazy

baseball town, which is great. So what baseball provides is

a laboratory for experimentation, a laboratory for learning: physiology, biomechanics,

statistics, geometry. We not only teach them how to play

baseball but we also teach them how to use their math,

and science skills, and challenges, in order to understand the game better. So let’s talk about the third issue which is not enough opportunities

for hands-on learning in the classroom. What we’ve done

with our “Science in baseball” program in Arizona, California,

Illinois, and even Australia, is we’ve created

a curriculum for teachers. They take the lessons,

and they take the kit of materials, everything they need to run these lessons: baseball cards, water balloon launchers,

heart rate monitors, all the materials they need to make

the baseball field the classroom. We empower these teachers, and that becomes our point

of impact or our leverage point because for every teacher that we train, they can directly impact

30 kids, at least 30 kids. So, so far we trained

200 teachers in Arizona. Do the math, 200 times 30

is 600 students. That’s just in Arizona. And we are growing this program worldwide. Now, the idea is not to stop

with baseball, actually. We also created

the “Science of soccer” program, we are in conversation

with some football teams. Heck, I’ve even been asked

to create the “Science of cricket.” A couple of interesting unintended

consequences have come from this. The first one is that these teachers

end up creating their own lessons which is fantastic,

that’s what we want to see. We want to empower these teachers to really be the deployment

mechanism for the program. The second unintended consequence is that we found students

have taken their interest in sports and that’s translated

into other things on their campus, such as science fair projects. We’ve seen the number

of the science fair projects increase in terms of their application to sports. One particular example,

at Wickenburg high school here in Arizona, was the creation

of a baseball bat in woodshop. There is a lot of math involved

in designing a baseball bat and optimizing the sweet spot, because

that’s where you want to hit the ball. That’s been a great second order of fact that has grown from

our curriculum and our program. The second thing we’ve found interesting,

and you’ll notice from this photo as well, is the involvement

of girls in the program. It turns out that even though the boys outperformed

the girls on the baseball field, the girls outperformed

the boys in the classroom. So it gives them both

an opportunity to shine. And this is great, because then the girls

end up teaching the boys all the math, and then the boys end up

helping the girls on the field. So it’s really a nice blend

of skills and abilities. What I want you to think about is how math and science can help you

see the world a little bit differently. Next time you are at a baseball game,

I challenge you to do the following: don’t just think about

the peanuts and the Cracker Jacks, I want you to think about the psychology; what’s going on between

the pitcher and the batter? I want you to think about the physiology: what’s going on in terms of training? Did that player take

performance enhancing drugs? What’s going on in terms

of the physics? Did the actual batter hit it

on the sweet spot? So I challenge you to think about sports and think about math and science together, because it makes them both

a lot more interesting. And what I tell students is

math and science plus baseball: exponentially awesome. Thank you. (Applause)