Manual Physics of Baseball & Softball

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One of them—volunteer firefighter and bank clerk Alexander Joy Cartwright—would codify a new set of rules that would form the basis for modern baseball, calling for a diamond-shaped infield, foul lines and the three-strike rule.

The Physics of Softball

Many people believe softball is a direct descendent of baseball. In fact, it was actually a college football game that first created softball.

After Yale was announced the winner, the celebration that ensued inadvertently created a brand new sport. The World Baseball Softball Confederation explains:. That night a game took place with 80 runs scored, and from there the sport had been born. The first rulebook is said to have been issued by Hancock in Although originally played indoors, softball moved outside and evolved into a huge amateur sport played by American servicemen during World War II.

The most obvious difference is the pitching style of both sports — Baseball pitchers throw overhand and softball pitchers throw underhand. Both deliveries offer advantages and disadvantages, but the most notable are the wide range of pitches thrown in baseball compared to softball. In softball, there are five main pitches : fastball, changeup, drop ball, curveball and rise ball. Most pitchers can throw the first two, but the last three are much harder to master. When it comes to baseball pitches , the story is much different.


When it comes to variety, baseball easily wins this category. Major League Baseball field sizes differ along the outfield fence depending on the design of each ballpark, but everything inside the lines remain the same. A baseball pitchers mound is raised 10 inches in the air and is 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. The distance from home to first base is 90 feet and is the same at each stop around a baseball diamond.

Elastic behaviour in the vertical direction is described by a number called the coefficient of restitution COR which is about 0.

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If the ball didn't bounce at all then COR would be zero. Elastic behaviour in the horizontal direction can be described by a tangential coefficient of restitution, which is about 0. The tangential COR is defined in the same way as the normal COR, but in terms of the horizontal speed of the ball at the contact point rather than the normal ie vertical speed of the contact point. The horizontal speed at the contact point depends on the rate at which the ball spins, as well as on the horizontal speed of the centre of mass of the ball.

In file A, the ball spins faster than in file B, both before and after the bounce. The ball seems to spin faster when it is fresh and slower after it has been used, but more experiments are needed to determine whether this is in fact correct. In file A, the tangential COR was surprisingly high, about 0. Interesting information on the behaviour of a ball can be obtained by bouncing it on a force plate or on a piezo to measure force vs time. Typical results are shown here for a superball, a baseball and a sorbothane ball.

A superball has a COR of about 0. The shapes of the force vs time curves are interesting since they tell us how the force on the ball varies with the amount of compression.

Baseball vs Softball - Z's Blog - APlusPhysics Community

Superball, 0. Graphs of F vs t and x vs t can also be used to generate graphs of F vs x, showing how the force on the ball varies with its compression. Results for a baseball dropped from heights of 1, 5, 10 and 15 cm onto a piezo are shown below. The ball bounces while it is still compressed, and recovers to its original sherical shape after it bounces. Similar results are obtained at much higher ball speeds, the forces and x values being correspondingly much larger. Balls compress along the same F vs x curve, regardless of the ball speed, although the actual compression curve for a given ball will depend on its stiffness.

Bat and ball collisions. The collision of a bat and a ball can be understood by treating the bat as a heavy ball whose mass depends on the impact point. The whole mass of the bat is not involved in the collision, unless the collision happens to occur at the centre of mass of the bat. Otherwise, the effective mass of the bat is less than its whole mass.

To understand such collisions it is important to first understand the physics of a collision between one ball and another. Movies showing the collision of a baseball with a cricket ball and the collision of two billiard balls are shown in the page on collisions. A simple introduction to the physics of the collision problem is given here. Hoop Modes. A hollow aluminum bat sounds a lot different to a solid bat since the wall of a hollow bat can vibrate in and out like a drum.

Not exactly like a drum, more like a bell or a chime, but the effect is similar. The sound made by a bat can be described as a "ping". The frequency is typically between Hz and Hz, meaning that the wall vibrates in and out to times in one second. The end result can be a greater ball speed off the bat, in the same way that a tennis ball bounces a lot better off tennis strings than off a hard floor.


The effect is known as the "trampoline effect". The wall of a bat is relatively heavy and returns only some of its stored elastic energy to the ball, keeping the rest to itself so it can ping as loudly as it wants to. That is, a large fraction of the stored elastic energy in the wall is retained as vibrational energy in the bat.

If the vibration frequency is less than about Hz, the end result is that ball comes off the bat at a lower speed than off a wood bat of the same weight and swing weight. For that reason, the walls of a hollow bat need to be relatively stiff so they can vibrate at a frequency larger than Hz. Thick walls are also needed to help prevent the walls dinting or cracking. Some hoop mode sounds are recorded in the following QuickTime Movies, using an aluminum bat and several aluminum tubes of various diameters and wall thickness.

The tubes were suspended by a length of string so that they could vibrate for a long time without damping.

The Physics of Baseball

Compare sounds here recorded with a signal generator connected to a speaker. Softball spin speed. It is not easy to find information on the actual rate of spin of a softball in flight, but it is relatively easy to measure, at least at low ball speeds and low spin speeds. I tossed a 12 inch softball at very low speed and filmed the result, using two hands instead of one to increase the spin rate and to make sure the spin axis was horizontal.

The result was not a super slow softball spin, neither was it particularly fast. I simply wanted to know whether a hand launched ball spins at around rpm or whether it could be as high as rpm.

It would therefore not be surprising if a softball can be pitched at say rpm. The hand moves forward faster than this in practice, so the spin rate could easily be around rpm. Another simple estimate of spin rate is to throw the ball and catch it with the other hand as soon as it is released. A Physics of Baseball Project The experiment described below would be an ideal project on the physics of baseball, for any high school or University physics student. Explains the physics behind the game of baseball instead of explaining baseball in terms of physics Appeals to individuals who have a rudimentary knowledge of physics Discusses physics in a conversational manner, using few equations Appendices include advanced material for those with deeper technical background see more benefits.

Buy eBook. Buy Hardcover. Buy Softcover. Rent the eBook. FAQ Policy. About this book This book describes the physics of baseball and softball, assuming that the reader has a background in both physics and mathematics at the high school level. Show all. Bats and Balls Pages Cross, Rod. Ball Trajectories Pages Cross, Rod. Pitching Trajectories Pages Cross, Rod. Pitching Mechanics Pages Cross, Rod.

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