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Why batters have trouble hitting the curve ball
2006-03-01 11:08
by Bob Timmermann

A study published in the New Scientist, although primarily concerned with soccer goalies following curving kicks, comes up with the radical explanation of why it is hard to follow a curving ball.

It's because it's curving and moving.


2006-03-01 11:19:50
1.   capdodger
{Voice Type:Guinness} BRILLIANT!! {/Voice}

What will science teach us next?

2006-03-01 11:19:53
2.   Sliced Bread
It's odd that professional ball players can't follow the trajectory of a curve ball, but can track and even anticipate every move made by a curving and spinning stripper.
2006-03-01 11:27:23
3.   Ken Arneson
You can try to spin a soccer ball like a curveball, and that works, of course. But often, I think it's more appropriate to compare what happens to a soccer ball to a knuckleball than a curveball.

The soccer equivalent of a fastball actually often turns out to behave like a knuckleball. When it comes off your foot, it often has little or no spin at all, and then will suddenly gain lift and/or spin in one direction or another and do some pretty weird stuff. A hard, straight kick with a soccer ball is often really hard to stop.

2006-03-01 11:37:40
4.   Bob Timmermann
I guess no one is going to make a film called "Bend it like Blyleven" then.
2006-03-01 11:51:09
5.   BruceR
So every home run ever hit off of a [non-hanging] curve was pure coincidence -- i.e. the batter just happened to put the bat in the way of the curving ball ??? And corner outfielders -- and others -- who can catch flies slicing toward the line have some sort of special powers ???

BTW, I have zero problem following the trajectory of my slices and duck hooks off the tee.

2006-03-01 12:28:33
6.   capdodger
And corner outfielders -- and others -- who can catch flies slicing toward the line have some sort of special powers???

Basically, yes. That's why their major leauge corner outfielders and everyone else isn't.

2006-03-01 12:29:45
7.   capdodger
Ack... Up there where it says "their", it should read "they're".
2006-03-01 12:35:14
8.   graciebarn
And where it says "leauge", it should say "league".
2006-03-01 12:45:18
9.   Bob Timmermann
Apparently the spin of this thread is affecting everyone's spelling.
2006-03-01 12:56:10
10.   Sam DC
2006-03-01 13:04:08
11.   BruceR
6 -- no problem w/ the misspells. I should probably have left the "s" off of "powers" and let "special power" refer to tracking curving fly balls. Basically, I don't think tracking them is such a difficult thing as the study implies. I also did not intend to limit this ability to major league outfielders; I see Little League corner outfielders and beer league softball outfielders who can track them. The only questions are the legs to get to them and the hand-eye coordination to make the catch when they get there -- this is where major leaguers (disregarding Manny & Canseco) have the edge.
2006-03-01 13:09:25
12.   Bob Timmermann
I wonder if soccer goalies see as many shots in practice as a baseball player has fungoes hit to him as he learns the game.

I had (and have) terrible hand-eye coordination and I never recall having had trouble catching fly balls, although they weren't often coming off a bat.

2006-03-01 14:03:25
13.   For The Turnstiles
A few theories of how baseball players (and fish) track flies are discussed at

I'm curious as to whether anyone has ever plotted the paths that real major leaguers outfielders take and compared them to those predicted by these models.

2006-03-01 14:35:49
14.   joejoejoe
I was a goalkeeper in high school and played some pretty good competition (U-18 US National Team, D-I scholarship winners). I would agree with Ken Arneson that the most difficult shots to handle are knuckleballs and the equivalent of a sinker, for the same reasons as baseball.

The curving shots are usually set shots or long distance shots and the problem is not identifying the spin but reaching the ball itself. Because a goalkeeper (or tennis player in a similar example) can close the distance and cut the angle on the opposition a curved shot is a means of countering the basic defensive geometry.

So in my experience it's the sinker and knuckler that are most hard to track in soccer. Curved shots are just hard to reach.

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