Saturday, April 14, 2012

The peril of precision

With the Jays now in town for the first time this season, I’ve been to two ball games this week. Since we created Late Innings last year, I must admit that I watch games differently. I’ve always considered myself a student of the game, and probably pay attention to details that might seem silly to the average ball fan. For instance, I might spend a half-inning watching the left fielder or third baseman more than I do the pitcher and batters. It can be most informative to see just how they go about playing their position, whether they’re involved in any plays or not.

During last night’s game against the Orioles (ultimately lost), it suddenly struck me how incredibly difficult it must be to have to face major league pitching. Please no eye rolling. We've all heard this old saw before. It was just last night, it all came together for me. I finally understood completely. No matter how good a hitter you might be, you have to face one very simple thing: you never know what’s going to happen. Getting a hit is really more a matter of making a good guess than anything else. Think of it this way: in how many other sports do you have to guess all the time? Answer: lots. Hockey, football, soccer, tennis all involve a lot of guessing. How is the play developing? Where should I be? What should I do to respond to it successfully?

That’s the same thing batters face, right? Of course. However, consider this: a batter has less than a half a second to respond to his guess (unless a knuckleballer is pitching). Even the slowest change-up (60 mph) takes .47 seconds to travel from the pitcher’s hand to nestle into the catcher’s glove. Now consider that the diameter of a bat is less than that of a baseball at the fattest part and that you’re hitting a round, spinning object (unless it’s a knuckleball) with a moving round object.

Lastly, you already have to be responding before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. You are only guessing where the pitch will be, how it will be spinning (very important as to its trajectory) and how fast it will be coming at you.

That’s a hell of a lot of thinking and moving to do in such a short amount of time. The last little notion that’s always in the back of every batter’s head is that getting hit by a baseball can cause severe injuries – if not kill you. That’s an additional big weight to carry.

You have to face this amount of thought – and danger – for every pitch, for each at bat, for each game, for the entire season.

Hitting major league pitching is definitely the hardest thing to do in professional sports. And I will brook no argument with that view.

1 comment:

Larry Toman said...

Hi Rick, couldn't agree with you more. I bought Chris a book for Christmas that I'm now reading. If you haven't read it, I'll bet you'd love it. It's called "The Physics of Baseball" by Robert K. Adair, Ph.D. He was a Yale professor of physics. Even the great Albert isn't lighting it up, yet. Cheers!!