The Science of Baseball Experience

Children measuring stride with measuring tape in the museum.

Overview:

Inspired by the extraordinary life, athleticism and values of Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, our STEM program uses sports to connect kids to science, technology, engineering and math in a fun and engaging way. Some of the subjects addressed by our immersive activities include:

  • The Kinetic Transfer of Energy in Pitching (Newton’s Laws of Physics, Radar Technology)
  • Calculating a Pitcher’s STRIDE (Measurement, Division, Percentages)
  • PITCH! the Museum’s indoor, interactive baseball experience (Lasers, Radar Technology, Newton’s Laws)
  • Baseball Card Math (Statistics, Averages, Probability)

Key Terms:

Through hands-on, interactive activities, students develop an experiential knowledge of such critical STEM vocabulary as energy, velocity, momentum, kinetic, radar, laser, statistics and probability.

Essential Questions:

  • How are sports—baseball in particular—connected to science?
  • Why are statistics important to athletes?
  • Why are science and math concepts significant for other participants in professional sports, such as team owners, managers, scouts and coaches?
  • In baseball, it is considered a great batting average when a player hits the ball just 30% of the time. What kinds of values and characteristics must a player embody to endure the high failure rate inherent in the game?

Part 1 – The Kinetic Transfer of Energy

Illustration of the phases of a pitchers throw.

A short media presentation exposes students to the body mechanics behind the Kinetic Transfer of Energy as it determines successful pitching. We define the Key Terms noted above. We watch a video of a professional pitcher executing his wind-up, first in “real time” and then in slow motion to illustrate the steps of the kinetic chain.

Essential Questions:

  • How does throwing the ball in three different positions demonstrate the Kinetic Transfer of Energy?
  • What do you notice about the effect of position on pitching speed change?
  • Why do the pitching position and speed of the ball matter to a professional pitcher?

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Identify and understand the Kinetic Transfer of Energy in sports (also known as Sequential Summation of Movement)
  • Identify and understand Momentum in sports
  • Discuss examples of how Science and Math are embedded in all sports

The students try their hand at throwing soft balls, experiencing kinesthetically how different body positions impact pitching trajectories and speeds. The experiment takes students through three pitching positions, each time inhibiting a particular body part, culminating in a full-body wind up. Throughout the process, the students’ pitching speeds are measured by their peers using a professional sports radar device, and notated on statistics cards they can take home. Typically throwing speeds increase as the students are able to use more of their bodies, allowing them to experience the concept of the Kinetic Transfer of Energy in a way that is both immersive and fun.


Part 2 – Calculating Stride

Children measuring stride using measuring tape in the museum lobby.

Students explore the significance of a pitcher’s “stride” in relation to throwing speeds. Pitching stride is the distance between the pitcher’s two feet after the lunging step that comes out of the wind-up. This stride length can be viewed as a percentage of the pitcher’s height. Knowing this percentage is important for athletes as a measure of potential performance.

Essential Questions:

  • What is the mathematical relationship of stride to height?
  • How does stride length affect pitching ability? (i.e., how fast and far the ball is thrown)
  • Why does knowing a pitcher’s stride matter?
  • In what other sport(s) does stride matter?

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Understand the relationship between a pitcher’s stride and height and how that relationship affects performance
  • Practice math equations using decimals, percentages and “rounding up”
  • Discuss examples of how stride contributes to effective pitching

In small groups, students calculate their strides using tape measures, calculators, tape, pencils and Post-its. Students then lie down on the floor, measure and mark their height from head to heel. Putting their math skills to work, students must determine what percentage their stride is of their height. Results, (including stride length, height and then percentage of stride to height) are recorded on Post Its and stuck to the wall where the class can examine each other’s strides as percentages of their respective heights.

The stride activity culminates with a short video about famed pitcher Aroldis Chapman, closer for the N.Y. Yankees. The video looks at Chapman’s extraordinary stride (which is longer than his height!) along with other measurements and scientific concepts behind successful pitching and hitting.


Part 3 – Baseball Card Math

The Baseball Card Math activity begins with a short animation that explains the basics of the game, followed by a brief Q&A session to make sure students understand these fundamentals. Each student is given an authentic souvenir baseball card dating from the 1960s to the present. We explore the information on the cards, including player height, weight, position and team. We discuss player statistics and how baseball has its own language in terms of statistics.

Essential Questions:

  • What is a statistic?
  • What are some examples of statistics? (Responses do not have to be from sports. For example, during the 2012 Super Bowl, 4.4 million pizzas were ordered from Dominos, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut combined. That is enough pizzas for every Canadian citizen to have a slice.)
  • What is the most common baseball statistic?
  • What does Batting Average mean?
  • What constitutes a base hit?
  • How do we calculate batting average? (What two numbers do we need?

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Identify and understand the meaning of player statistics on baseball cards
  • Recognize the use of whole numbers, decimals, fractions and probability in statistics
  • Understand how math & probability are used in real world sports

Students are asked to assess batting averages in the context of character building, as indicators of success and failure. They consider the following:

An excellent hitter has a batting average of .300. That player hits the ball 30% of the time. What does that mean the batter is doing the other 70% of the time? What kinds of skills, characteristics and values might a player need to embody in order to deal with failing two-thirds of their at-bats? Students are encouraged to connect an ability to handle repeated failure with qualities such as self-confidence, perseverance, determination and optimism.

 


Concluding Discussion Questions:

  • What might change a player’s batting average?
  • If a player has a batting average of .340, but regularly gets into fights with other players, is often in a bad mood, never cleans up after themself in the locker room, etc. Do you think that player will be hired over someone with a slightly lower batting average?

NJ State Standards

MS-PS2-3 SCIENCE, GRADE 5

Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Asking questions is essential to developing scientific habits of mind. Even for individuals who do not become scientists or engineers, the ability to ask well-defined questions is an important component of science literacy, helping to make students critical consumers of scientific knowledge. Science asks:

  • What exists and what happens?
  • Why does it happen?
  • How does one know?

MS-PS3-1. PHYSICAL SCIENCE, GRADE 8

Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object.

MATH, GRADE 5

  • Apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication and division.
  • Interpret a fraction as division of the numerator by the denominator (a/b = a ÷ b).
  • Solve word problems involving division of whole numbers leading to answers in the form of fractions or mixed numbers, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem.