The Science of Baseball 100 years later

Touching Second Johnny Evers

In 1910, famous Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton and Chicago Cub second baseman Johnny Evers wrote a book together. They called it “Touching Second“, subtitled “The Science of Baseball”.

Since the book is over 100 years old it can be viewed for free on any computer. CLICK HERE to read.

The cover states:

“The History of the National Game; Its Development Into an Exact Mathematical Sport; Records of Great Plays and Players; Anecdotes and Incidents of Decisive Struggles on the Diamond; Signs and Systems Used by Championship Teams. With Illustrations, Charts and Diagrams.”

Chapter VIII, called “The Inside Game”, can be viewed separately at this site:

In this chapter Fullerton describes how he recorded 1,284 ground balls in the 1909 season, of which 138 got by the infielders. Fullerton calculated that an average ground ball took 1.15 seconds to travel 100 feet.

Fullerton determined there were five infield “Groves”, and four in the outfield, where batted balls would be hits.

His calculations said there was a 7.5 foot “Grove” between the first and second baseman.

Fullerton calculated that in 1909 one in every 15.3 ground balls got by infielders in the NL and AL.

His calculations for fly balls that were in the air for 3.75 seconds, determined that all would be caught unless it went over the fence.

His diagrams alone are worth looking at. Fullerton determined outfielders move quicker to their right than to there left and covered 130 feet to their right and only 120 to their left.

Hugh Fullerton brought a clock into the game and determined how much range every fielder was able to cover in different amounts of time that he had to react  to any given batted ball.

How can we take the work done by Fullerton and translate it to the game today?

For me it all comes down to time and distance.

It started back in 2003. I was lucky enough to be put in Game Seven of the ALCS between NY and Boston. I was taking footage of every pitch on my camera. With the clock in the camera, I was able to measure the reaction time of any batted ball. When Derek Jeter hit a fly ball to rightfield in the eighth inning, the ball was in the air for 3.6 seconds.

Trot NixonIn Fullerton’s day this was considered a can of corn. Trot Nixon, the Boston right fielder, broke in on the ball instead of moving back. When he made a futile attempt at a catch, the ball had gone by him and the fateful New York rally began.

Nixon was positioned only 20 feet from where the ball landed (this is only my estimate, FIELDf/x is needed for that true distance number to be known).

A short time after Boston’s 2003 season ended I ran across Fullerton’s article, and it all made sense to me. When you combine time and distance, you can find the range of any fielder on any play.

If you divide the time by the distance you get a number, that I believe will rate each play from easy to difficult.

I felt since Nixon only needed to range 20 feet and he had 3.6 seconds, this should have been a routine catch. 3.6/20=.180. In 3.6 seconds, an MLB outfielder should catch any fly ball within a radius of 40 feet, unless the ball is misjudged.

If a player ranged 72 feet, his Reaction over Range number would be 3.6/72=.050. This would be a really good catch. By attaching a number for each play, you could compare outfielders.

Some would range 72 feet in that time and others would never catch a ball more than 60 feet away in 3.6 seconds. What dividing distance by time would do is give each fly ball a number based on how far and how much time is needed for the fielder to make the play.

Fullerton had a stop watch that was based on one twentieth of a second. Today we can calculate the time from the bat and ball make contact until the ball either hits the ground or lands in glove much more accurately. The number that Fullerton had to guess on was the distance each fielder ranges.

In 2013, maybe baseball will have FIELDf/x in every park. Maybe we finally will know the actual distance a fielder needs to range on any given play.

Whether the baseball world accepts using time over distance, is a question I have asked for a decade now.

Do you think using time over distance will become a number that is useful in rating defense in baseball?

About Rick Swanson 91 Articles
Rick Swanson has been an online feature writer for numerous websites since 2005. He was also a speaker at Boston SABR meetings from 2007-2009. Rick has created three statistics for baseball.... Reaction over Range: A new way to measure defense. Divide reaction time of any play, by the range distance. Umpire Strikezone Score: Take the total number of correct pitches called, divided by the total number of pitches called. Power Pitching: Add WHIP plus ERA and subtract the number of strikeouts per inning. Rick's current title is Consultant, Red Sox and Fenway Park History. In 2007, he was nominated for President of Red Sox Nation by Red Sox team president, Larry Lucchino. You can email Rick here: rickswanson AT cox DOT net

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