What We Learn from Baseball Data

action athletes audience ball
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Readers of my blog, know that I am a big baseball fan and now-retired player due to a bad-hop broken nose years ago. Golf is generally much safer. If you look back, you can see my blogs about juiced baseballs, Moneyball and baseball in Japan. I also write a lot about safety at chemical plants.  So, here we go again…let’s talk about baseball data and safety.  

This season there has been a lot of talk about foul balls striking and injuring fans and installing netting to protect fans. But, as process engineers, we know that we need to first consider the data before making any decisions. So, let’s get the data and discuss the best way for Major League Baseball to proceed.

Annette Choi and her team recently published, “We Watched 906 Foul Balls To Find Out Where The Most Dangerous Ones Land.”  Their research gathered the following data points:

Column Description
matchup The two teams that played
game_date Date of the most foul-heavy day at each stadium
type_of_hit Fly, grounder, line drive, pop up or batter hits self
exit_velocity Recorded exit velocity of each hit — blank if not provided
predicted_zone The zone we predicted the foul ball would land in by gauging angles
camera_zone The zone that the foul ball landed in, confirmed by footage
used_zone The zone used for analysis

This data collection was no easy feat. The MLB does not keep this type of statistics, even though baseball is really a numbers game. The team watched the 10 most foul-ball-heavy games this season to gather their findings.

Armed with the baseball data, Choi and her team determined the ball parks with the most foul balls:

MOST FOUL-HEAVY DAY
STADIUM AVERAGE NO. OF FOULS PER GAME DATE MATCHUP NO. OF FOULS
Camden Yards* 57 4/20/19 Baltimore Orioles vs. Minnesota Twins 113
PNC Park 57 6/1/19 Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers 111
Oakland Coliseum 53 6/2/19 Oakland A’s vs. Houston Astros 109
T-Mobile Park 53 5/18/19 Seattle Mariners vs. Minnesota Twins 100
Globe Life Park 55 5/3/19 Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays 87
Dodger Stadium 51 3/29/19 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks 86
Miller Park 55 5/4/19 Milwaukee Brewers vs. New York Mets 85
Citizens Bank Park 53 4/27/19 Philadelphia Phillies vs. Miami Marlins 75
SunTrust Park 53 4/14/19 Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets 73
Yankee Stadium 51 3/31/19 New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles 67

The team then looked at netted versus non-netted areas as well as the ball velocities.  Interestingly enough, they found that almost an equal number of balls went to each area but the balls with the highest velocities went into the unprotected areas. 

Choi concludes, “Even with extensive netting, no one will ever be completely safe at a baseball game. But there are ways for MLB to protect its fans from foul balls — particularly in the most dangerous areas of the park.”

What I appreciate most is her observations are based in testing and learning about baseball data!

So, enjoy the World Series and root on your team and as Ernie Banks once said “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!”

Juiced up about Baseball Science

baseball science

Those who have followed my blog already know some about my background. For instance, I am an avid baseball fan. But here’s a new fact…I have been playing baseball since I was 5 years old. In fact, when I was 12, I was coached by the famous musical band, The Tokens, whose biggest hit was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Needless to say, this was not a winning team. Success was always just “a win away, a win away…”

 

The Chemistry of Baseballs

With the playoffs and World Series looming, the controversy once again has arisen about the “juiced baseball.” This season the number of home runs per game has increased to 2.54 from 2.03. Hit Tracker Online provides us with all the stats and information on “how far it really went” for MLB games.

But what is really going on? There are many theories:

  • hotter temperatures due to global warming
  • strike zone changes
  • stronger and younger players
  • pitching changes.

If we focus on the data, which is what we do as chemical engineers, there are some other interesting ideas to consider.

One theory is based upon the drag coefficient (air resistance) of the ball, as discussed by Rob Arthur. His hypothesis is that the drag coefficient has decreased to 0.344 from 0.357. While this does not sound like much, it can add over five feet to the ball’s distance. This would be enough to increase the number of home runs by 10 – 15%.

Another theory by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman suggests an “air-ball revolution” meaning that players are swinging differently. Several MLB players have been in the news for focusing on hitting the ball harder in the air, and elevating it off the ground more.

 

Testing Baseball’s Stuff

Chemical & Engineering News also has weighed in on data from Rawlings, which has been the Major League Baseball (MLB) supplier for many years. Matt Davenport’s 26 June 2017 article Materials: What’s That Stuff? states the ball is the same and references the ball’s Coefficient of Restitution (COR) value, which has always been between 0.514 – 0.578. The COR refers to the ability of an object to bounce back to its original height when dropped from a certain height. The recognized standard for COR testing is an ASTM method F-1887.

Thus, why we’re seeing such a run on home runs remains a mystery and will be debated for a long time. My idea…let’s have a hot dog and a beer and share baseball science theories. As Ernie Banks said “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!”