12 June 2011

The Science of Baseball: June 12, 2011

We have three more topics this week in this edition of the Science of Baseball.  We will dive into different techniques to generate more bat speed while standing in the on-deck circle.  I used to always use donuts and multiple bats when I played.  I mainly did this because the bat "felt" lighter and, more so, everyone else did it.  Second, we will take a look at base running.  A study focused on differences between untrained sprinters and college baseball players when running bases.  Finally, with the draft over and the signings beginning...what effect does the presence of prospects have on Minor League attendance?

Effect of various warmup devices on bat swing velocity of college baseball players.
Szymanski et al 2011 J Strength Conditioning Res

This study focused on the effects of certain warm-up devices to increase bat speed at the plate.  The subjects were 22 DI baseball players.  The warm-up devices included: resistance tubing device worn by player while swinging standard baseball bat (33 in, 30 oz), 96 oz on-deck implement, weighted batting gloves (25 oz each) worn while swinging a standard bat, 25 oz weight (added to standard bat), 16 oz donut ring (added to standard bat), 14 oz plastic fins (air resisted device added to standard bat), 34 oz wood bat, 26 oz aluminum bat, 22 oz fungo bat, and a 33 in, 30 oz aluminum baseball bat.

The experimental design included a warm-up, five minutes rest, three full effort swing with warm-up device, two swings with the standard bat, and then three game simulated swings with a 20 second rest period between swings.  Bat velocity was measured on the game simulated swings.  No differences were found between the different warm up devices.  This includes being compared to the control which is when no warm up device is used.  In other words, weighted bats do no appear to increase bat speed.  However, this does contradict previous research.  Here is one example where it was found that warm up routines with different weighted bats had different effects on bat speed.  This might require a few more studies before we can determine whether or not weighted bats help or hurt.

Comparison of base running in baseball players and track and field athletes.
Miyaguchi et al. 2011 Health 3:26-31. pdf

I adore Japanese studies on baseball.  They certainly look at the game in a more nuts and bolts sort of way.  Yes, tradition is big, but there are some elements of assured knowing that seem strange to me.  For instance, the idea that catcher ERA means much of anything.  Yes, catchers do affect the game, but it is in a way that it would be quite difficult to ascertain through something as generic as ERA.  However, this is a tangent.

In this study, the researchers took students on the baseball team and those on the track and field teams and evaluated their speed and speed efficiency.  They measured straight sprints of distances similar to running home to second as well as completely around the bases.  They also measured these same distances with the players actually running the bases.  As expected running with a twist slowed the runners down.  Runners were about a half second slower for every turn (1 second slower to second, 2 seconds slower to home).  What was interesting (and obvious) is that baseball players were most efficient in retaining speed.  Where sprinters had a higher mean speed in a straight line sprint, they lost that advantage when turns were included.

Perhaps the limiting part of this study is that these were not elite athletes.  It may be that elite talent would differ in that elite runners are considerable faster than elite baseball players.  There are a lot of 80 runners in track and only a handful in the Majors.  However, it does show that athletes with relatively similar ability benefit from knowing how to take turns when running.  So, yes, the sky is still blue.

Top prospects and Minor League Baseball attendance
Gitter and Rhoads 2011 J Sports Econ 12:341-351

This is an article written by two individuals located at Towson University.  They have written several papers in the past looking at how different aspects of a Minor League team affects attendance.  For one, they found new stadiums attract fans.  However, in this article they find that for the most part top prospects do not bring more fans out to the ballpark.  This study found that the only prospects that improved attendance were prospects that ranked in the top 5 of Baseball America.  That bump in attendance was 4% (for top 5 prospects).  As a prospect focused person, I do not find it all that surprising. 

We run several prospect pieces on this site and we do it because we enjoy it.  The readership numbers on those pieces are rather low.  This made me look up numbers for the Delmarva Shorebirds as this year they have a number of great talents on their team and that contrasts greatly with last year.  Last year, the Shorebirds averaged 3,157 per game.  This year with their prospect heavy team, 2,895 per game.  This might be an issue with whole season vs first part of season comparisons (one imagines when school ends that attendance will jump up), but it seems that the prospects presence does not account for much.

Some of us remember that a reason that was floated for Rochester to end its arrangement with the Orioles was that the Orioles' AAA squads were awful and had been awful for about two decades.  It was claimed the lack of prospects and the poor play led to poor attendance.  The team not winning likely affected things.  The lack of top prospects?  Only indirectly through not winning.

No comments: