Offense is down throughout Major League Baseball this season. For the first time since 2015, there was less than one home run hit per team, per game, for the month of April:
A number of factors are responsible for the reduction in home runs, and one of those factors involves how baseballs are being stored. During the 2021 season, 10 teams around the league stored their baseballs in humidors. This season, in 2022, all 30 teams are storing their baseballs in humidors.
Humidors are climate-controlled chambers that emulate the boxes used to preserve cigars. Humidors ensure baseballs are stored at average humidity. In places like Colorado and Arizona, where the parks are notoriously hitter-friendly, humidors prevent baseballs from drying out. This practice, therefore, helps pitchers, since dry baseballs have more bounce and can fly farther off the bat.
One would think the opposite effect would be true in the more humid ballparks, like Miami or Tampa Bay — that keeping the balls relatively dry would provide an advantage to the hitter. However, physics indicates that this is not the case. True, the dryer baseball would come off the bat at a faster rate. However, that lighter, dryer baseball would be flying into comparatively thick, humid air, which increases air resistance and slows the ball down.
The effect of humidors can be seen when comparing offensive numbers from 2021 to 2022 for teams that previously had humidors versus those for whom the humidor is a new addition this year.
Offensive numbers in the ballparks that already had humidors in 2021 look similar this season. However, in places where the humidor is debuting, offense is noticeably down around the league.
It does make sense that all 30 parks should be playing with the same baseballs, stored in similar conditions, as that can help preserve a more even playing field and reduce the varying effects of certain parks. This change could also be construed as a concession to pitchers, as humidors can make baseballs easier to grip.
Notably, the use of humidors isn’t the only change to the league’s baseballs this year. In response to the high home runs rates in recent seasons, tension was loosened on the first of three wool windings within the ball itself. Rawlings’ research prior to the start of the season estimated the adjustment would reduce the ball’s bounciness and also reduce the ball’s weight by 2.8 grams without changing its size. These changes were designed to lose one to two feet of distance on balls hit more than 375 feet.
It’s hard to tell with any definitiveness which of these factors is impacting offense more. It will be interesting to see how the season progresses, and whether offensive numbers remain consistently down through October.
Continuing with the theme of interplanetary baseball, yesterday, the World and Science Twitter account shared this captivating video graphic, originally created by Dr. James O’Donoghue. The graphic shows how far a ball would travel on the surface of other celestial bodies in our solar system, assuming said ball is thrown at a speed of 45 mph and at a 45-degree angle. A ball thrown on Mars, it seems, would travel more than twice as far as a ball thrown on Earth. A particularly interesting data point is for Pluto, where the same thrown ball would travel a whopping 667 meters!
The concept of interplanetary baseball is a totally fascinating one. In this clip, Neil deGrasse Tyson fields a question about the physics of baseball if it were to be played on Mars. Not only does Tyson answer the question, he demonstrates his own knowledge about the game — I particularly like the idea about allowing a batter to go to second base if hit by a pitch that would have been ball four.
Will we ever see baseball played on Mars? Perhaps not in my lifetime, but the idea is not entirely outside the realm of possibility.
You teach me baseball and I’ll teach you relativity. No, we must not. You will learn about relativity faster than I learn baseball.
Baseball is full of physics lessons, and I find that I enjoy learning them. Here’s a good graphic on how a baseball makes its way from the mound to home plate.
Here’s an informative infographic explaining the basic physics of the knuckleball. I find the the information about the illusion of the pitch’s movement to be especially fascinating.
On August 21, 1908, Gabby Street of the Washington Senators took part in one of the most publicized stunts of the new century: he was going to attempt to catch a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument, a distance of 555 feet. Street managed to pull off the feat on his third try. Scientists estimated that the ball fell with a force between 200 and 300 pounds.
How hard is it to hit a 95 MPH fastball? It’s definitely not easy, that’s for sure. Here’s a pretty sweet infographic from Phoenix Bats that breaks the process down for us.
If you’re not familiar with the webcomic XKCD, then you are definitely missing out. Part of the XKCD experience is the What If? blog, which explores a wide range of hypothetical physics questions. The very first post on the blog was an amusing discussion on “Relativistic Baseball.” More specifically, it provides us with an answer to the question: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?
The answer might surprise you — but I’m sure that it will also entertain you. Click here to read and learn all about it!