PITTSBURGH – Baseball can be looked at in one of two ways, a simple game or a complex game.
In the simplified version you run, you throw, you hit and you catch. In the process, you get a little dirt or grass on your uniform, chew some bubblegum and sunflower seeds and enjoy your day on the field.
In the complex version you see baseball through the prism of physics and geometry, in which terms like coefficient of restitution (COR), moment of impact (MOI), inertia, angular momentum and tangential velocity are the norm.
At Diamond Kinetics, we have one foot resting on both sides. We like it simple and we like it complex. Ultimately we try to make the complex simple and the simple not too complex.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at how much force is applied to a baseball during the act of throwing a ball and hitting a pitch.
The above image of Mark McGwire shows him connecting on the 70th home run of his historical 1998 season in which he broke the all-time record for home runs in a season (which was later toppled by Barry Bonds).
During that at-bat, McGwire swung a 35 oz. bat toward a pitch that was traveling at 90 mph. When the bat made contact with the ball it exerted around 8,000 pounds of force, sending the ball in the opposite direction at about 110 mph¹.
Out of all those numbers: 35 oz. bat, 90 mph pitch, 110 mph exit velocity, 8,000 pounds of force, we will be focusing on the last number in that set, the 8,000 pounds of force.
A force approaching 8,000 pounds is required to change the motion of a 5-ounce baseball traveling 90 miles per hour into a 110-mile-per-hour shot over the center-field fence. The bat – in this case swung at nearly 80 m.p.h. – moves only about one inch in the 1,000th of a second that the bat is in contact with the pitched ball. The ball collides with the bat at a combined speed (bat plus ball) of about 140 miles per hour. The impact flattens the ball to about one-half its 3-inch diameter. (The bat is flattened, too, but only by about 1/50th.) The ball compresses like a spring and rebounds off of the bat².
It got us thinking, what are some real world equivalents of McGwire crushing a baseball into the upper deck of Busch Stadium.
So we looked at how much force is applied through the jaws of a T-Rex, Nile Crocodile, Great White Shark and African Lion (along with the estimated peak force of a bat/ball collision).
As we can see, the T-Rex is the runaway winner, applying 13,000 pounds of force with his bite. But as we go down the line, one gets an idea as to how much force is being applied when a large baseball bat bat is swung at a high speed at a pitch that is traveling equally as fast.
To the credit of these animals, they are generating the force all on their own, akin to hitting the ball off a tee. But nevertheless, we can see just how powerful the moment is when bat meets ball in the game of baseball.