Curveballs on Mars: A brief introduction to astrophysics, and how it can assist you in identifying starting pitcher value during the regular season.
Pitchers cannot throw curve balls on Mars!
The threads on a spinning ball on Earth throw air to the side and make the ball curve by what is known as the Magnus effect. This effect is non existent in low density atmospheres. As there exists low density atmospheres in major league baseball, this is a handy little fact to tuck into your tool belt.
Today I'm going to run you through some of the basics of air density and astrophysics, so that you can identify target zones for streaming starting pitchers. Target zones are regional areas where there is a statistical atmospheric advantage (or disadvantage) for starting pitchers.
I routinely stream starters in the second half of the season using 2 roster slots. This allows me to trade my starting pitchers who've been hot in the first half of the season for any needed offensive help (if you follow my draft strategy, that will be batting average) after the All Star break. As well, by the second half of the season I have a pretty good idea of who I can trust and under which conditions.
Speaking of conditions…
On the planet Mars a curveball doesn't break. Baseballs and Mars have a complicated relationship. (11 of their friends 'like it')
The following facts are facts:
- The air on Mars is 100 times thinner than the air on Earth (less dense). So things that fly through the air produce 100 times less lift on Mars than they do on Earth at the same speed (and the drag forces by the air are 100 times less).
- Pitchers cannot throw curve balls on Mars! Once again, the threads on the spinning ball throw air to the side and make the ball curve by what is known as the Magnus effect. This effect is non existent in low density atmospheres.
- The atmosphere on earth is thick! It puts 14.7 pounds of pressure (downward force) on everything on earth's surface at sea level.
- Atmospheric and barometric pressure effects the movement of objects on Earth. (It slows them down or allows them to move freely, for a variety of reasons.)
- The movement they effect most is spin, which is important because it's the life blood of effective pitchers.
In other words, Sandy Koufax's curveball would fly like Robin Hood's arrow on Mars. (And Yuniesky Betancourtmight even be able to actually hit it! Doubtful, but possible).
But what if Koufax was pitching at Coors?
Coors Field in Colorado sits at 5883 feet above sea level, so the atmospheric pressureis about 18|PERCENT| less than at sea level. As such, baseballs rotate at 82|PERCENT| of their rate then at Camden Yards (altitude of 11 feet). 'As such' squared, pitchers pitches don't break as well. (Super Duper mental note alert!!)
Temperature is another factor, because hot air is less dense than cold air. It's hot in Arizona.
Humidity is a complicating factor. Humid air is less dense than dry air, but on the other hand, high humidity makes the balls deader (less bouncy).
What we aim to find in a target zone is a high altitude, hot environment with clear skies because there curve balls don't curve, and breakers don't break. When we identify those target zones we stock up on offense.
In a low altitude, low temperature and humid environment baseballs respond to the pitchers grip. When we find those target zones we buy up starting pitchers.
Let's take a look at some altitude readings of major league cities and relate them to temperature and barometric pressure.
The highest altitudes of MLB parks (optimal hitter zones):
Altitude in feet
Average temp in July
Average rainfall in millimeters for July (a simple measure of barometric pressure)
Notice Phoenix, Denver and Texas have a tasty little mix of thin air, high temperatures and low pressure. These are parks where balls don't spin as they could. What does this mean for you?
After the All Star break next year, when temperatures are warming up:
Jhoulys Chacon is going to become more hittable.
Justin Upton should go on a tear.
You should sell Yu Darvish for whatever you can get.
Jair Jurriens becomes a BIG, BIG, BIG liability.
Tulowitski will catch fire (sound familiar?).
Dump Joe Nathan to that guy who's got 4 points in saves – and watch him sink!
(Super Duper mental note – this lack of spin can seriously fark with the psyche of young starters. When I see youngsters just called up going to Coors or Chase field, I attack them like Adele tackles a roast!)
It should be no surprise then that ESPN posted the following ratings last year:
MLB Park Factors - 2011 – most runs
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (Arlington, Texas)
Coors Field (Denver, Colorado)
Fenway Park (Boston, Massachusetts)
Rogers Centre (Toronto, Ontario)
Chase Field (Phoenix, Arizona)
Now, the lowest altitude MLB parks (optimal pitcher zones):
Altitude in feet
Average temp in July
Average rainfall in millimeters (a simple measure of barometric pressure) for July
New York City
Here we can see the sweet combination of sea level altitudes, cooler temperatures and precipitation (obviously, these rainfall charts should give you pause in leagues where you set your rosters on a weekly basis). What does this mean for you?
After the All Star break next year:
Bumgardner, Cain and Lincecum become more effective.
Dump Grandersen, Stanton and Panda.
You want all Padres starters in your arsenal.
National's hitters cool off.
And Annibal Sanchez should – SHOULD find his mojo.
The ESPN park rater said the least runs were scored last year:
AT&T Park (San Francisco, California)
Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Petco Park (San Diego, California)
Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Anaheim, California)
Safeco Field (Seattle, Washington)
Interestingly, it's not the size of the park that matters; it's how high it is, how hot it is, and how thick the air is. That's what she said!
So, when looking for target zones to stream hitters next July through the pennant race:
And Kansas City/Atlanta are your best bets.
And your pitching target zones:
San Francisco (by a country mile)
You may be wondering why I don't have you just read the ESPN charts and leave it at that. The answer is because as you understand the concepts of how objects fly through different environments, so are you able to apply those concepts to situations you've never seen before.
How will you respond to a heat wave hitting the Bay area?
Suppose El Nino whips a cold front over Texas?
How will you adjust when autumn temperatures turn cooler during the pennant race?
What if the Mayans are half wrong (or half right, depending if your tokin') and an earthquake flattens Colorado like a married man's spirit?
How will you stay ahead of the proverbal game?
Ballparks stay the same. Hitters and pitchers play to their abilities. Bloops fall, drives rip, and speed kills (especially at a casino!). But curve balls don't curve on Mars, or in Coors Field.
With this knowledge you can confidently target buy low pitching candidates in trades, dump sell high pitchers to free up roster space, and stream your ass off and make up ground by finding and utilizing your attack zones and the players who are scheduled to inhabit them.
Happy gambling folks.