How Things Work Introductory Physics for Non-Majors Term Paper

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physics of baseball pitches. Physics is all around us even if we don't pay attention to it. There are differences in air pressures, differences in forces and torque that give rise to varied pitches today. Pitching the right way requires a person to be aware of all these proprieties so they make can use of it in the best way.

Baseball physics

Baseball is one of the most favorite American past times. Ever since Babe Ruth hit that record, Americans have been tuned on the baseball and baseball players. If one really looks past the pitching and the batting, it is quite obvious that physics is involved in this game. Physics itself is present in almost everything we do and everything we use. There are different sorts of pitches that players use to make sure the batter doesn't make much out of it. If a player goes on to pitch without any experience or strategy, he will end up giving more and more home runs to the opposing team.

Throwing is an everyday activity and surely, everyone is quite adept at it. A person would be required to throw an object regardless of how small or big it is sometime in their life. It should be stated that throwing a baseball is not that difficult. However, throwing it accurately, strategically and with a decent speed takes a lot of practice and skill. Warren Spahn, who is a very well-known pitcher said that if a person manages to hit ball, which is called good timing. Good pitching however involves upsetting the timing and thus causing the person to miss the shot. One of the ways a pitcher can mess up the timing is by changing what he batter expects. In other words, the pitcher would pitch in such a way that the timing, speed and direction of the ball would be quite a surprise to the batter.

If baseball was something that a person could play in a vacuum, the only force that could affect the pitch would be the downward attraction from gravity. (Nathan, 1997) This would thus leave no doubt for the batter and he would not be able to fool. Lucky for us, baseball is played in ballparks or stadiums with a lot of different forces acting on the ball. Pitching requires a lot of skill and due to this reason, there aren't many people who have set records for pitches. Stephen Strasburg from the Washington Nationals made a 101 mph pitch when he debuted in June 2010 (Repanich, 2010). Following his record, Aroldis Champan put forward a 105 mph pitch. Chapman is only 22 years old and was playing for the Cincinnati Red's triple A affiliate in Louisville.

This pitch by Chapman is one of the fastest ones that has ever been recorded. Pitching itself requires a lot of strength in the upper body. A study carried out in Birmingham, Alabama by Dr. Glenn Fleisig stated that he has never seen anything like what Chapman did by setting that record. (Repanich, 2010) The fastest pitch recorded by the Guinness book is by Nola Ryan in 1974. Ryan threw a 100.9 pitch. After Ryan, baseball players like Mark Wohlers and Joel Zumaya have thrown103 mph and 104 mp fastballs respectively.

Forces acting on the baseball.

When a baseball is in motion, there are three different forces acting on it. The three forces are gravity, air drag and the Magnus Force. First we will talk about Air drag. A drag force acting on anything moving in fluid is directly proportional to the speed of that fluid. The drag force is basically affected by the diameter and the roughness of the ball. The stitches on the ball that are raised actually work to reduce the drag force on the ball. In other words, if the balls were very smooth, then pitchers would not be able to throw such fast balls. Thus it has been established that drag forces determine the velocity of the ball. (Frohlich, 1984) Even though the balls shouldn't be smooth, they shouldn't be much worn out either. If they are very worn out, this would cause very little resistance. This sort of ball can be thrown very fast and that is a major reason why balls are changed so regularly in professional baseball games.

The Magnus force is basically responsible for causing the ball to spin laterally or curve in the air. (Briggs 1959) The faster a ball is moving, the more drag force is acting on the ball. If a ball is spinning perpendicular to the direction of travel, then the speed of the bal and the air in this case is different on both sides of the ball. Since there are forces of two different magnitudes acting on the lower and upper surface of the ball, we would eventually end up with resultant force. This resultant force is therefore known s the Magnus force.

Together both the drag force and the Magnus force make the curvature within a certain range of speed that is again determined by the mass, size, and roughness of the ball. These two forces also go on to determine the rate of spin of the ball. (Briggs, 1959)


Torque is basically the tendency or the force that causes an object to move around an axis. (Serway & Jewett, 2003) Another word for torque is the moment of force or the moment. Hence, it is the force that causes an object to rotate or move around fulcrum, pivot or an axis. Torque is responsible for pushing, pulling and twisting an object.

When a person throws a baseball, they are actually using a lot of force in their body to through the ball. Even though the ball itself might not be heavy, throwing it at a proper angle and at a proper speed requires a lot of force. The general throwing positions starts from ninety degrees and then to 180 degrees and then pointing towards the ground. In order to get the sort of throw you want or at the speed you want it, a person needs to have good view of the target and a good amount of torque as well.

The torque that we mentioned here is coming from all the forces inside the body that go on and act on the arm. The different component forces actually come from varied regions on the body. However, when they are linked together they give rise to a powerful resultant force. This resultant force is the one that causes the arm to be pulled backward. After the arm is pulled backward, it is then rotated forward. Moving the arm back and then moving it forwards assists the person to achieve the fast angular speed that they want. Moving the arm backward would also generate torque and then when the person finally brings the arm forward, he is able to throw with a lot of speed. Some of the torque also comes from the resistance that your arm has to rotating backwards. This resistance therefore also helps you to attain the kind of strength and the speed that you want.

Physics behind baseball pitches

There is a lot of torque required to throw a fast pitch. (Repanich, 2010) According to tests carried out by Fleisig on cadavers, the magnitude of force required to throw a more than 100 mph pitch is a lot more than the ulnar collateral ligament can stand. (Repanich, 2010) Thus, when a pitcher cocks his arm in such a way that it turned towards the sky, there is a force of about 100 meters on the arm of the pitcher. This mount of torque is equivalent to a 60 pound weight being hung from the hand in that exact position. From that position onwards, the athlete goes on to release the ball in a relatively small time.

The major reason a pitch actually comes in place is due to the interaction between the surrounding air and the ball. (Nathan, 1997) The major skill behind pitching comes from playing around with the flow of air. It should be noted that air around the baseball is altered in such a way that the pressure changes as well. It is then the change in pressure that would affect the ball's trajectory in a certain way. If the trajectory can be controlled by the pitcher, he is in a good position to fool the batter and thus decrease the score made by him.

As a baseball will move forward towards the batter, it will affect the surrounding air molecules. The air instead will go about a rather streamlined way around the ball. This air will them make a very thin layer that will stick to the surface of the ball. This layer is known as the boundary layer. The frictional forces and the shape of the pall will ultimately peel of that boundary layer mentioned earlier. This will cause the ball to reach the batter in a rather swirling manner. The…[continue]

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