Is it easy to hit a home run in the major leagues?
Not at all! In fact, a good player will only get a hit at all about one time in three, and won't hit many home runs, in comparison to the number of hits.
So why is it so hard to hit the ball, hit it far, and how can you learn to do it better?
Well, first of all, if you haven't been playing league baseball every summer, all summer, since you were about 5 years old, your brain never developed the built-in pathways to help your body do things quickly and without thinking about it, 'by reflex'. You walk this way ... you don't have to think about how to walk, you just do it, because the motor skills are driven by long-established patterns in the brain.
Unfortunately for older would-be baseball stars, these 'pathways' must be established at an early age. If you're already a teenager or adult, your brain won't accept new 'pathways' as easily, or as thoroughly.
This means that you can never have the speed and reflexes of an athlete who has been playing baseball since he was a kid, no matter how athletic you are or how long you train! Your brain is too inflexible!
Michael Jordan had these pathways built in to his brain for basketball, since he played that sport as a child. But by the time he was an adult, his brain would no longer accept new pathways for new skills as easily or as thoroughly as it did when he was young, so he could never have been a top baseball player ... he wasn't 'fast' enough to hit a pitched baseball. Only an athlete who can do it by 'reflex', having practiced it tens of thousands of times since childhood, can excel at this demanding skill.
O.K., so you'll never be a batting star. But is it possible to learn to hit a pitched baseball farther?
Of course! But only if you know some physics!!
Hitting a baseball and making it go far involve giving the ball as much energy as possible.
The equation that determines how much energy a moving body has is written this way:
If you want the ball to have a lot of energy, then you must give it lots of energy with the bat. If we ignore friction, all of the energy the ball gets to send it on its way comes from the bat. So your job is to give the bat as much energy as possible when we swing it.
If you examine the equation above, you will see that the energy of the bat can come from two places ... its mass and its velocity.
1. Increase the mass of the bat
The more massive the bat, the more energy will be imparted to the ball. Sounds simple, right? The problem is, the heavier the bat, the harder it is to swing fast, and speed is more important than mass! Read on!
2. Increase the speed of the bat
In the energy equation above, you may have noticed that the velocity is squared. This means that any increase in speed you give the bat will result in a squared increase in energy! So it's more important to swing the bat fast than to have a heavier bat.
Here's a simple example. Suppose the bat weighs 5 kg, and you can ordinarily swing it at 20 m/s.
The energy you can impart to the ball is:
Now let's double the mass of the bat. This time the energy given to the ball will be:
The problem, of course, is that you won't be able to swing the heavier bat at 20 m/s any more. But let's ignore that complication for the moment, and look at what happens if we take the original bat and learn to swing it twice as fast:
Because the velocity is squared and the mass isn't, you get considerably more energy by increasing the speed of your swing than you do by using a heavier bat.
Batting coaches teach players how to swing faster and still make contact with the ball, in order to improve their batting percentage. This is a difficult skill to excel at, as mentioned before, unless you can do it by reflex, because the ball takes less than a second to reach you from the pitcher's release, and you have to start your swing earlier ... before you 'know' where the ball will be as it passes you! That's why even top players only get about one hit in three (batting average .333 or so).
So how do the home-run hitters at the top of the league hit the ball so consistently well? They combine strength (lots of muscle) and a fast swing. Because they are so strong, they can use a heavier bat (imparting more energy to the ball), and still manage to swing it faster because they are strong, and have learned to swing very quickly (imparting even more energy to the ball.)
A player that is not particularly strong or muscular would be advised NOT to use a heavier bat ... the DECREASE in the speed of his swing would result in an energy LOSS, even though the bat was heavier! (Because the speed is squared in the energy equation!)
Regardless of how good a major league batter is, the skill necessary to hit a ball pitched at up to
Given these figures, it's easy to see why most major league batters only manage to hit successfully about one time in four!
So now you know how to hit the ball farther ... use a regular bat, and learn to swing it faster!