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At six feet, five inches tall and pounds, the Canadian-born Francis would be a dominating presence in physics labs or lecture halls. On a baseball field, however, he is practically willowy. Most major league pitchers of his height for example, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior of the Chicago Cubs are to pounds heavier with a consequently more imposing appearance as they stare down at a hitter from the pitcher's mound. But delivering a pitch is all about physics: the most efficient transfer of momentum from body to baseball; the maximum effectiveness of the arm as a lever; the rotational dynamics of the baseball leaving the fingertips.

And within four-tenths of a second after Francis delivers a pitch, the batter faces his own challenge of physics and mechanics. In the one thousandth of a second of bat-ball contact, Adair says, a superlative hitter such as Albert Pujols of St. Louis will deliver some pounds of force, compressing the ball to about half its original diameter—that is, if Pujols meets the ball precisely on the bat's "sweet spot," or vibrational node point of no vibration , after analyzing and reacting to the Magnus force effects on the pitch thrown by Francis.

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The Magnus force was identified in when the German physicist Gustav Magnus demonstrated that a spinning object moving through a fluid experiences a sideways deflection in its path. As Adair explains, a spinning baseball experiences an imbalance of forces because "the velocity through the air of one side of the ball at the spin equator is greater than the velocity of the other side. A twist of the wrist, and a pitch with sideways spin will deflect in the direction of the spin. The sideways-spinning curveball of a left-handed pitcher like Francis breaks from left to right as he watches his own delivery; away from a left-handed batter advantage, Francis but toward a right-handed batter advantage, Pujols.

On a pitch with backspin—the conventional fastball—the Magnus force acts upward; not suf ficient to lift the ball, but sufficient to deliver a perceived "hop" on its way to the plate. And never more so than when a batter misses a pitch, swinging so forcefully as to nearly sprain something.

The culprit in such cases is usually either a rising fastball or a so-called drop curveball. A ninety-mile-an-hour fastball, for example, should drop nearly three feet owing to gravity, yet it falls less than two feet thanks to backspin-generated lift.

The perceived pop owes a lot to shattered expectations, as does the drop of a curveball. As doubtful as it once seemed to me, however, a thrown baseball obeys all the conventional aerodynamic laws of physics. Baldwin, a former major-league relief pitcher with an engineering degree and a Ph. They can demonstrate that the rising fastball and the drop curve are persuasive tricks, caused by the brain incorrectly processing information to predict the location of the pitched ball. These two pieces are moving in different directions when they collide. As the bat smacks into it, the ball first has to come to a complete stop and then start moving again in the opposite direction, back toward the pitcher.

Nathan has researched where all that energy goes.

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Some gets transferred from the bat to the ball, he says, to send it back where it came from. But even more energy goes into bringing the ball to a dead stop. Some of the energy that squeezes the ball becomes heat. Physicists know that the energy before the collision is the same as the energy afterward. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Some will go into the ball.

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Some will slow the bat. Some will be lost to the air, as heat. Scientists study another quantity in these collisions. Called momentum, it describes a moving object in terms of its speed, mass the amount of stuff in it and direction. A moving ball has momentum. So does a swinging bat. And according to another natural law, the sum of the momentum of both has to be the same before and after the collision. A faster pitch is harder to hit than a slower one, but a batter who can do it may score a home run.

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Baseball science is all about performance. And it starts before the players step onto the diamond. Many scientists study the physics of baseball to build, test and improve equipment.


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Its researchers use a cannon to fire baseballs at bats in a box outfitted with devices that then measure the speed and direction of each ball. The devices also measure the motion of the bats. He manages the laboratory. The pitcher, in particular, occupies a dangerous place on the field.

Kensrud says his research team looks for ways to help the pitcher, by analyzing how long it takes for a pitcher to react to an incoming ball. The team is also studying new chest or face protectors that might lessen the blow of an incoming ball. The 10th inning of the Tigers-Royals game went unlike the previous nine. They won the game As the happy Royals fans headed home, the stadium went dark. Though the game might have ended, information from it will continue to be analyzed by scientists — and not just physicists.

Some researchers study the hundreds of numbers, such as the tallies of hits, outs, runs or wins that every game generates. These data, called statistics, can show patterns that otherwise would be hard to see. Other researchers may compare statistics from different years to look for longer-term patterns, such as whether baseball players overall are getting better or worse at hitting.

Biologists, too, follow the sport with keen interest. As for Cain, the Royals centerfielder, by halfway through the season he had hit only one more home run since that June 12 game against the Tigers. Still, statistics show Cain had by then improved his overall batting average to.


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That is just one way the scientific study of baseball continues to improve the game, for both its players and its fans. Batter up! Dickey shows how unpredictable these balls can be. June 18, March 23,