Strange But True: What makes the perfect baseball pitch?

Bill Sones and Rich Sones, Ph.D. Published: September 13, 2011
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Q. Can you put some numbers on what might constitute the perfect baseball pitch?

A. A pro baseball pitcher's delivery is the most violent human motion ever measured in a lab, says biomechanicist Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, who since 1989 has studied more than a thousand pitchers, as reported by Josh Dean in “Wired” magazine. First comes the windup, which includes all movement until the pitcher reaches “the balance point,” where his knee reaches its maximum height. His hands come up to stop in front of his chest, then swing apart as his stride knee moves forward.

Elite pitchers have a stride length around 20 percent less than their height. The trunk squares around to face home plate while the arm is cocked back into maximum external rotation. Rotational velocity reaches the equivalent of 120 revolutions per minute for the pelvis and 200 rpm for the upper trunk. The glove is tucked against the body to speed trunk rotation, for the same reason figure skaters bring their arms in during spins.

At pitch release, a force of 300 pounds pulls the arm away from the shoulder socket, which over time can lead to tears in the rotator cuff or biceps muscles. By the end of the pitcher's follow through, the batter can see the back of the throwing shoulder, with the pitcher still in balance and prepared to field a ball hit back toward the mound.

Q. When will a lion settle for a lion's share?

A. Depends on which “lion's share” you're talking about, says Mark Davidson in “Right, Wrong, and Risky.” The phrase is commonly used to mean “the largest portion,” such as when “The Financial Times” stated that “a mere 30 of Egypt's 300 book publishers receive the lion's share of the industry's profit.” But no self-respecting lion would settle for partial spoils, as can be gleaned even from one of “Aesop's Fables.”

According to the story, a lion organized a hunt with a goat, a sheep and a heifer, then declared that all four portions of the captured meat would be entirely his: one-quarter for his personal share, a quarter for his mate and cubs, a quarter for organizing the hunt, “and as for the fourth portion, let him who will, dispute it with me.”

The other animals, intimidated by the lion's frown, left him to take his “share.”

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