Tag Archives: baseball

How to hit a baseball travelling at the speed of light

It seems obvious that you can’t do this. XKCD does the math (or physics) to demonstrate that not only is it impossible, it’s also fatal for pitcher, batter, and probably the entire city…

“After about 70 nanoseconds the ball arrives at home plate. The batter hasn’t even seen the pitcher let go of the ball, since the light carrying that information arrives at about the same time the ball does. Collisions with the air have eaten the ball away almost completely, and it is now a bullet-shaped cloud of expanding plasma (mainly carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen) ramming into the air and triggering more fusion as it goes. The shell of x-rays hits the batter first, and a handful of nanoseconds later the debris cloud hits.”

mushroom cloud

It’s not all bad news though. The batter gets on base.

A careful reading of official Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) suggests that in this situation, the batter would be considered “hit by pitch”, and would be eligible to advance to first base.

I love this stuff. The XKCD “What If” blog is tackling similar questions on a weekly basis. Like trying to figure out how much power Yoda could generate via the Force.

The fastest path between four points: Math and Baseball

No, I’m not exploring my creative side by doing one of those drawings where you get those little coloured plastic cogs, and a pen, and swirl them around a page. That diagram is the result of careful mathematical study of the geometry of baseball, it represents the fastest path around all four bases – useful only if you hit a deep ball that doesn’t go over the fence and you want to run home – it’ll shave milliseconds off your time.

If you are running to first, or between first and second (or second and third, or third and home), which I believe in baseball parlance is a single (what would I know, I’m from Australia, we play cricket) the straight line is no doubt still the best bet. This circuitous route shaves about 25% off the time taken for the run – because turning sharp angles slows runners down substantially.

Some quotes from the story:

The issue is that turns slow runners down. The tighter the turn, the greater the slowdown, so while the straight-line path between the bases is the shortest, its sharp corners make it one of the slowest. Rounding the corner is faster, making the path a bit longer in favor of an efficient turn. And indeed, baseball players typically do this: They run straight along the baseline at the beginning and then, if they think they’ve hit a double or more, they bow out to make a “banana curve.”

But this can’t possibly be the quickest route, observes Davide Carozza, a math teacher at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., who studied the problem while was an undergraduate at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. It’d be faster, he reasons, to veer right from the beginning, running directly from the batter’s box to the widest portion of the curve. Of course, a runner is best off running straight toward first base until he’s certain he’s hit more than a single. But Carozza noticed that even when the ball heads straight for a pocket between fielders, making a double almost certain, runners almost never curve out right away.”

One of Carozza’s colleagues, Stewart Johnson, optimised the path by computer (coming up with that diagram).

“The result was surprisingly close to a circle, both in its shape and its speed: It swung nearly as wide and was only 6 percent faster than Carozza’s circle. On this path, a runner would start running 25 degrees to the right of the baseline — toward the dugout rather than toward first base — and then swing wide around second and third base before running nearly straight to home. Johnson also computed the best path for a double, and it swings nearly as wide, venturing 14 feet from the baseline.”

Theatre of Crushed Dreams

Ahh. Sport. Home to such brilliant examples of myopic legalism…

Did you hear the one about the guy who pitched a perfect game on Wednesday (US time) – except that an umpire missed a pretty obvious out on his final play, calling the batter safe and crushing the dreams of the young pitcher? No. Well, the Major League Baseball administrators had to consider whether or not to overturn the decision giving this kid an achievement as rare as hen’s teeth (there have been 21 in history – but three in the last month), and they decided not to. Check out the story.

But better than that… The World Cup comes around once every four years. It’s the biggest event in sport (despite what the Olympic PR machine might say). North Korea (who probably should have known better), decided that the arbitrary three goalkeepers in a squad of twenty-three was excessive. So they named two, and picked a young striker to double as a goalkeeper, in the unlikely event that his presence between the sticks was required.

The catch is, that this player must play in goals. I didn’t know that was a rule. I thought goalkeepers could swap upon notifying the referee… but a 27 year old from a nation that isn’t a guaranteed qualifier for any future World Cup, ever, has had his dreams have been crushed by sporting administrators applying the letter, not the spirit, of the law. Brilliant. Here’s hoping the other two keepers get injured forcing him to make a stirring, Hollywood style debut between the sticks, only to win the World Cup for Korea. Then, in the celebrations, Kim Jong Il will adopt him as his heir. It could happen…