Take Me Out to the Ballgame: The Science Behind America’s Favorite Pastime

Science of baseball expert shares his thoughts on Major League Baseball, including the crackdown on pitchers using “sticky stuff”, sabermetrics, and the 2021 playoffs.

By Chelsea Feinstein

The 2021 Major League Baseball season was one to remember. Coming out of an abbreviated pandemic season, MLB marked a milestone this season with a record nine no-hitters recorded. But with the rise in no-hitters came a crackdown as the league began to strongly enforce rules against pitchers using foreign substances to gain better control of the ball.

As the playoffs unfolded in October, Andy Andres, a senior lecturer of natural science and mathematics in the College of General Studies, took to Reddit to answer questions about the science of “the sticky stuff,” the value of sabermetrics, and the future of baseball. The top takeaways from his discussion offer an inside look at the science behind America’s pastime.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash.

1) Many factors affect a ball’s flight path.

While physics indicates an ideal launch angle for a home run, factors like backspin and friction on the ball must be taken into account.

2) An increase in spin rate may be an indicator that illegal substances are being used.

After the MLB crackdown on “sticky stuff,” spin rate started to rise again in the postseason. Andres shared a graph showing this escalation, which may be a sign that illegal substances on the ball were once again in use as teams made their playoff pushes.

3) Baseball analytics are here to stay.

Andres expects sabermetrics to continue to be the way forward for MLB teams for a long time to come.

4) When it comes to analytics, the Yankees, Dodgers, and Rays are among the best.

While many teams have strong front offices, these three are on the cutting edge of data analytics.

Photo by Jose Francisco Morales on Unsplash.

5) The science of player development is the next “Moneyball”.

Using neuroscience as a tool to evaluate and train players is expected to be the next frontier in baseball analytics.

6) A pitch clock would improve the quality of the game.

While debates over the speed of the game are contentious among fans, Andres believes that implementing measures like a pitch clock to make the game go faster are critical to bringing in more interest in the sport.

Photo by Antoine Schibler on Unspalsh.

7) Robot umpires are the future.

Whether fans like it or not, replacing subjective calls with technology is almost definitely in the cards.

8) And finally, there’s nothing like baseball.

While fans may disagree about specific rules, there are some things about the game that should never change.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Professor Andres on Twitter at @sabermetrics101 and BU’s College of General Studies at @BUCGS. For Andy’s take on MLB’s “sticky stuff” scandal check out his video here.

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