What does it take to sock a dinger?
No, it’s not steroids, though that has certainly helped some of MLB’s most legendary sluggers. What goes into a home run is an imperfect mix of speed, accuracy, and a whole lot of math.
Baseball has long been the sport of the mathematician. Angles, speeds, spins and trajectories of a batted baseball have been analyzed and condensed since the beginning of the sport by coaches and trainers eager to produce a better hitter. However, the myriad formulae behind a home run swing also provides great fodder for physicists and mathematicians.
From the time you first pick up a ball glove to your crippling wipe out during the beer league finals in middle age, the goal of the batter is always the same – get on base if you can run, hit it out of the park if you can’t.
Get into the swing of things
The average professional bat swing is between 70-80 miles per hour.
Not factoring in the time it takes to identify the pitch, the actual swinging of the bat takes about 150 milliseconds. To achieve 80 mph in less than a second is pretty remarkable, but not unheard of. A chameleon’s tongue, (thought to be among the fastest in the animal kingdom), can reach 60 mph in 1/100th of a second. To give some perspective on how fast that is, the standard shutter speed of a camera is 125 milliseconds.
According to Popular Mechanics, increasing bat speed by one mph gives the batter an extra eight feet of distance against a 94 mph fastball. Hit the batting cages now to get a jump on softball season, because you’ll need to utilize the full bat. Choking up can help get the wood around faster, but that means you are also adjusting the length of the barrel. This, of course, means even more math!
Angles and exit speeds
But if a bat swing is 80 mph and an incoming pitch is 94 mph, what speed is the ball going when it leaves the bat? At the above speeds, a baseball can leave the bat at up to 110 mph! However, those figures are high. The MLB average exit speed is around 100 mph, and a pitch that leaves the hand at 94 mph will be slower crossing the plate due to drag and downward trajectory – about 10 per cent slower.
Speaking of trajectory, if you manage to hit the ball at a 24 degree angle, your odds of a home run just increased significantly. This creates an exit angle of about 30 degrees, which is prime dinger territory. Depending on where on the bat you manage to connect with the baseball matters, too. You can get either an effortless home run or a swinging bunt that leaves your hands and arms stinging.
Coaches will tell you – if you don’t feel the hit, it was probably a good one.
Ripping the sticks
If you’ve ever had a forearm-shattering hit, it means you’ve missed the bat’s sweet spot. The sweet spot is the point on the bat with the least vibration, where the bat’s full impact is put to use. It’s about half a foot from the end of the barrel.
Major League Baseball standards allow for bats no longer than 42 inches long and 2.61 inches at its widest point. However, the most popular bat length is 34 inches. Regardless, the percentage of the bat that is ‘sweet’ can be considered low at best.
And while backspin contributes greatly to the distance of a good hit, so does the centre line of the bat itself due to its cylindrical shape. If the contact point is above the bat’s centre line, the ball rises. If a ball is hit below the centre line, you have a grounder.
So to sum up – if you really want to sock some sweet dingers next time you hit the diamond, skip the juice and get your bat speed up, your swing angle just right and connect with the sweet spot.
Just don’t blink, because that takes about 3-4 tenths of a second – double or triple the length of an optimal swing.
Happy ballin’, sluggers!