PULLMAN – Science and baseball are not two things that many people think of as having a lot in common, but baseball is all about science.
On April 13, famed hitter and World Series champion Jimmy Rollins will attempt to break the Guinness World Record of 576 feet for the longest batted ball in baseball. However, he will not be going at it alone – he will be helped with scientific research done by Lloyd Smith, associate professor in the WSU School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
The event, Red Bull Ball Park Cranks, was created by Red Bull in support of Rollins, the only professional baseball player on their athlete roster.
Smith, the director of WSU’s “Bat Lab,” otherwise known as the WSU Sports Science Laboratory, is a well known softball and baseball bat researcher. He led the development of improved bat testing techniques for the American Softball Association (ASA) in the mid-2000s after the agency became concerned about improved softball bats that were making it too easy for players to hit homeruns. Smith’s lab is one of three in the country that tests bats to the new standards.
Asked to join the effort to help Rollins break the world record, Smith headed to his lab. While technically breaking the rules of major league baseball, the researchers tested bats until they found the highest performing composite baseball bat and the best performing baseball.
Some of the tests they can perform in the lab include things like bat-ball exit speed ratio, bat-ball coefficient of restitution and the bat accelerated break-in. Once they found the ideal bat, the researchers carefully softened its barrel to increase performance even more. With careful testing in the lab, the researchers worked to reach an ideal bat that can make the ball soar without the danger of shattering. Finally, they weighted the bat, so that it would feel just like the wooden bat that Rollins normally uses.
“We tuned the bat up to give it some extra umph,’’ Smith said.
Working with Al Nathan, a physicist at the University of Illinois, the researchers went even further to analyze just how far Rollins may be able to hit the ball. Nathan studied records of the ball speeds that Rollins has hit in past games and was able to calculate his swing speed. The researchers then used an “estimate of Jimmy’’ in their bat testing.
Smith has predicted, in terms of science, that Rollins will most likely not be able to break the record of 576 feet.
“I’m guessing that he’ll hit it between 500 and 550 feet,” Smith said. “I’ll be surprised if he’s able to break it.’’
Smith will be at the event, to be held in Philadelphia, taking data – just in case.
“I’m hoping he signs a bat, so we can get started on building our museum here,’’ he said.