Science Throws A Curveball At The Curveball

One of the most bitter time-honored rivalries in professional sports doesn’t involve teams, players, or coaches. It rages in both New York and Boston but has very little to do with either the Yankees or Red Sox. I’m talking about the neverending argument between statistically-oriented baseball fans and old-school observers of the game; or, to put it another way, the basement-dwelling blogger versus the fat, bitter, henpecked mainstream media baseball writer.


Unfortunately for the old-school baseball gut-listening school, their side hasn’t won many battles of late, despite Scott Podsednik’s ability to somehow draw a major-league paycheck. Statistical analysis has become a way of life amongst the better baseball writers and nearly every baseball front office. Now, a new logic/science-based attack is being leveled at one of baseball’s most counterintuitive institutions, the curveball. The eggheads’ claim? That a thrown baseball doesn’t break abruptly like everyone thinks it does. Sacrilege!

Bucknell University professor Arthur Shapiro has analyzed the crafty curveball from every angle and declared that the ball’s famed “movement” is a trick of the eyes, not a trick of pitching prowess. As he explained to the BOSTON GLOBE,

“They look like they jump or break or do all these funky things, but they don’t,” he said. “The idea that the bottom falls out isn’t so. I’m not saying curveballs don’t curve. I emphasize that, yes, they curve. They just do so at a more gradual rate. Instead of making a sudden hook, they would form a really big circle.”

Surprisingly, though, Shapiro’s not alone. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, not a guy you’d think of as a stat or science aficionado, responded to the AP’s inquiries:

I would agree there is an illusion taking place when a batter visually tries to deal with a curving pitch, but not due to peripheral vision,” Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

Shapiro put together a model of his new curveball hypothesis (seen below) and won the presitigous title of the year’s “best optical illusion.” In other news, there is an annual contest to judge the world’s best optical illusion. Joe Morgan was unavailable for comment, but we’ll just assume he’ll blame it all on Billy Beane.

Curveball Illusion

(Click photo to see illusion.)