baseball physics question

just wondering: when the outfielder must make a long, strong throw, why is it faster to throw the ball on the bounce then throwing it on the fly? or is that a misconception?

The ball has less distance to travel if thrown on a line rather than an arc.

Another question: is throwing on the bounce a result of artificial turf, or did they always do this?

Artificial turf brought about plays such as infielders bouncing the ball to first (esp the shortstop deep in the hole, or the 3B on a tough charging play) b/c there is consistant bounce on old turf (see the Stade Olympique) and the throw is a tough one to make accurately - I think that outfielders throwing on a bounce is less a result of turf development than simply the fact that it’s a stronger, more accurate throw on the line, which may bounce before it gets to the bag.

I’m no baseball expert, but I’m pretty sure that any throws that bounce are due to a mistake (if fairly close) or just shear distance if from the deep outfield. Ideally, a fielder would prefer to complete the throw on the fly.

Next time you can catch a St. Louis Cardinals game on TV, watch Jim Edmonds make a head-high throw in from the outfield to home plate without a bounce or having to hit a cutoff man. The man has the arm of a god.

Also, the ball loses velocity with height. It regains it as it falls back down, but at the top of the arc, it is moving much slower than it was at release. This same principle is behind the ‘cutoff man’ system. The time you lose in re-throwing the ball is made up for by the time you gain by throwing in a flatter arc. You also get additional accuracy, which is the biggest thing you lose in throwing on the bounce …

Outfielders’ throws are frequently thrown low intentionally so that the cut-off man (shortstop on hits to left and second base on hits to right) can either cut the throw off to prevent a baserunner from taking an extra base or let it go through if it is thought it has a chance to catch its original target.

The cutoff man is given the command to cut or not usually by the pitcher who decides that the throw wouldn’t be in time to catch the runner who was the fielder’s original target in which case the throw is cut off.

So, since the throw is low it doesn’t have enough carry to reach its target on the fly but bounces at least one on the way.

In every system I ever played in, the catcher made the cutoff calls. The pitcher should be backing up the base the lead runner is going to, and is in no position to make the cut off call.

I could do that, but I don’t wanna…

Quoth SCSimmons:

Yes and no. It loses speed, yes, but (neglecting air resistance) it does not lose any of the horizontal component of speed, which is really what’s significant here. What is significant is that in a flat throw, all of the initial speed is in the horizontal, with none wasted in vertical motion. This is assuming that the player can produce the same initial speed in any direction, of course.

In addition, the ball’s brief period of contact with the ground causes it to always have topspin afterward, making it easier for the receiving fielder to predict where it’s going. The ball will lose some velocity to friction during contact, but less so on an artificial surface or on low-cut grass than on high-cut grass.

Dave Concepcion, the Reds shortstop of the 70’s, was the first player I remember bouncing throws to first consistently. He had lost a little arm strength, and the Astroturf at Riverfront had gotten hard.

Another benefit I remember from catching was that low throws enabled me to see the infield as it came in…a high throw requires you to look up into the sky, and you can’t see what is happening around you.

Yep, that’s the way I always learned it. Having the pitchers back up the base is a good idea since pitchers often throw wild if they end up having to make a play after cutting off the ball. I don’t know why this is, it just seems to happen more often with pitchers.