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The Physics of a Gold Glover



Tonight, the 2016 Gold Glove Awards were presented.  For those of you who dont know, the Gold Glove Award is given to two MLB players for each defensive position that had exceptional seasons playing defense (making athletic plays, committing few errors and so on).  The award is given to two players per position because a winner is chosen from the two main leagues under the MLB: the National and American Leagues.  One particularly fascinating position from a physics standpoint is the position of outfield.  To the innocent bystander, a strong defensive outfielder looks to have the easiest job on the field.  They have the longest time to field the ball and almost never have to quickly throw it to beat a fast runner.  They just jog around catching balls that the batters lob up in the air.  What most people dont realize, is that outfield is really HUGE, and the longer time it takes for the ball to get to the fielders means just more time for physics to play with the ball in extreme ways.   Lets take the outfield of the World Champion Chicago Cubs for example... the total area of grass in the outfield is roughly 90000 square feet.  This means on any given play, a major league outfielder can be expected to be in charge of give or take 30000 square feet of turf!  To cover this insane amount of ground, elite outfielders can get up to over 20mph while hustling for the ball, and all the while they are tracking data such as launch angle, apex height, projected landing and initial exit velocity.  All of this is estimated mentally and happens within a few seconds of the contact of the bat.  Another huge factor in tracking a fly ball is the spin, which leads to the Magnus Effect.  With balls leaving MLB bats at anywhere from 90-105 mph, the rpms on the ball can be even greater than what was put on it by the pitcher.  This Effect can move a ball several inches from the mound to home (which is 60.5 feet away) so just picture how many tens of feet the ball can move because of the Magnus Effect when it is driven distances exceeding 300 feet.  Using all of this, outfielders need to calculate one thing before they even move: projected landing spot.  In the video below, Reds outfielders Tyler Holt and Billy Hamilton both make amazing plays in the ninth inning to help keep a four run lead over the Phillies.  Notice, when the STATCAST metrics come up, how fast their first step was and how efficiently they ran their route.  These stats are amazing because in less than half a second, both fielders knew exactly where to run to get to their projected landing spot.... and they ran to that spot with over 93% accuracy.  Nobody but a baseball player could project the landing spot of a ball spinning over 1000 rpm and travelling at over 85 mph within a 93% accuracy in under .5 seconds.  When you think about outfielders like this, you gain a whole new appreciation for the players and the true brainpower and athleticism that goes into a seemingly easy position.

So that leads me to believe: maybe people dont play right field when they are young because they are seen as bad, its just because they have a very promising future as a physicist... 





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