The Sports Archives – Baseball Science: Batting Power & Precision

0516_Baseballbats-1

Basic anatomy of the standard baseball bat.

Last month, The Sports Archives released an article discussing the intricacies and mechanics of pitching in baseball. Pitching is instrumental in playing this sport, but what about the other end of the stick (literally)? Batting is the yin to pitching’s yang – a complimentary opposite to the game mechanic that kicks off every action in baseball – and said sport can certainly not be played without both. Novice beginners, recreational players and even spectators of baseball are often curious about how batting works – what is the science behind striking the ball with a long pole, and how does experience and practice improve someone’s ability to do that? The resolution to this line of inquiry is a compound answer…

Pacing of the Swing – Perhaps the most basic concept in successful batting is the timing of the swing itself. It may be strange for some to think that the trajectory of the ball is so comprehensively flexible based purely on the timing of a pitch, but this is the truth. Much like pitching, batting is unique on a per-player basis; as such, it is difficult to teach or describe a singular, global method that reinforces how a player should strive to bat. While this means that each individual batter must discover their habits, strengths, and weaknesses alone, they are not entirely without help. Some aspects of batting remain truthful regardless of the person making the swing, and these facts can be very helpful in personally “calibrating” one’s batting technique:

  • If the swing is too late, the ball will make contact with the bat too early in the swing, and the resulting arc with bank too far to the right for right-handed batters (and too far to the left for left-handed batters)
  • If the swing is too early, the ball will make contact with the bat too late in the swing, and the resulting arc will bank too far to the left for right-handed batters (and too far to the right for left-handed batters)
  • Ultimately, batters should focus on just hitting the ball first, but as they develop a personal rhythm for batting, they should refine their technique so the ball starts to gain consistency aligning in the middle of the field when hit.
recoil

The sweet spot happens to overlap a variety of factors which make it the ideal impact point. Feedback vibrations are the lowest in its borders, and because it is located near the end of the bat, the force with which a player swings is compounded because of angular force, or “torque.”

The Core Physics – So, where does the speed and power of a stricken ball come from, exactly? Everything that goes into the swinging of the bat for a hit can be traced back to kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is put into the swing via the batter; when the player swings the bat, force is expelled through his motion. When the bat strikes the baseball, a variable portion of the harnessed kinetic energy is transferred to the ball, sending it flying through the air. Any kinetic energy that is not delivered to the ball on hit will reverberate through the bat, creating excess vibration. Experienced baseball players often refer to a “sweet spot” in hitting – a point on the bat where striking the ball is ideal to maximize performance. Scientifically speaking, this is the location on the bat where the maximum possible kinetic energy will transfer to the ball. Simultaneously, hand sting – the painful effect of the bat vibrating on human hands – will be minimized, because most kinetic energy will have left the bat.

 

baseball-bat-comparison

The differences in each material of bat are made clearer here. It should be noted that even though a wood composite bat is shown here, any type of bat could be considered to be made composite, provided it is constructed from more than one primary material.

Baseball Bat Materials – The size of baseball bats has varied in the past, and the materials composing them vary to this day. Historically, baseball bats could weigh up to 3 pounds, though this has slowly reduced over time. Today, baseball regulations control the precise size and weight of bats respective to each division of competitive play. The science of materials composing a baseball bat becomes more intricate as a researcher goes deeper – the 3 major manufacturing categories for baseball bats, however, are wood, aluminum, or composite material. The first two are fairly self-explanatory; wooden bats are fashioned from a type of wood (and varying types of wood can give individual bats certain characteristics) and aluminum bats are made of the signature lightweight metal. Composite bats are made from a complex carbon fiber polymer, which gives the bat distinct attributes that make it better or worse than the other two types of bat. Material plays a fairly significant role in the structure and performance of a baseball bat, but none is truly more advantageous or disadvantageous than another. Aluminum bats do not risk splintering like woodenbats, but may cause more hand sting due to the resonance of the ball impacting on the bat; composite bats have superior durability and strength compared to the other two types of bat but are not ideal in cold temperature, and so on…

Wood-Characteristic-Chart

The specifics of how each type of wood changes a bat’s playstyle become apparent when different sub-types of material are examined.

These are the basics of the science behind batting in baseball. The details of this process only get more intricate with greater investigation, but the fundamentals boil down to materials, physics, and timing!

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