Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Michael Witte is Full of Crap

This article:


is getting a lot of buzz today. A quick Google search of Witte and Bonds will show many blogs and writers saying something along the lines of "Kudos to Michael Witte for standing up to a cheater," or "I don't really understand, but this guy seems to be an expert in mechanics."

As a mechanical engineer with a little bit of a biomechanics background, I'm going to let everybody in on a little secret: He's not.

In the middle of the article, Witte writes about six different ways in which the elbow armor that Barry Bonds wears gives him a mechanical advantage in his swing. Each of them has their own flaws, but each blatantly false.

1) The apparatus is hinged at the elbow. It is a literal "hitting machine" that allows Bonds to release his front arm on the same plane during every swing. It largely accounts for the seemingly magical consistency of every Bonds stroke.

I'm trying to get my mind around this one. If I'm comprehending this correctly, Witte is claiming that this device somehow controls Bonds' leading elbow, creating a perfect swing every time. As Jerry Seinfeld would say. "That, my friends, is one magic shield." The swing plane that Bonds will swing through is not only dependent on the relative motion of forearm to the upper arm, but also to the position and orientation of his lower body, torso, and upper arm. In order for this apparatus to create a consistent swing plane, it would need to have some sort of position sensors within it to adjust and correct itself or be connected to the ground.

2) The apparatus locks at the elbow when the lead arm is fully elongated because of a small flap at the top of the bottom section that fits into a groove in the bottom of the top section. The locked arm forms a rigid front arm fulcrum that allows extraordinary, maximally efficient explosion of the levers of Bonds' wrists. Bonds hands are quicker than those of average hitters because of his mechanical "assistant."

I was unaware that an arm can elongate. Perhaps Bonds is superhuman after all!! Witte proceeds to describe the forearm as a fulcrum, which is defined as the fixed point of a lever. If the forearm was fixed during a baseball swing, he had better be laying down a bunt. The forearm, ideally should be moving pretty quickly at the time of impact.

3) When Bonds swings, the weight of the apparatus helps to seal his inner upper arm to his torso at impact. Thus "connected," he automatically hits the ball with the weight of his entire body - not just his arms - as average hitters ("extending") tend to do.

Wow. Just wow. I'd love to see the analysis he did to come up with this conclusion. I'm seriously at a loss for words with this one. There is so much more going in to how much "weight" is being put into the ball (I think he means how much force Bonds is exerting on the ball).

4) Bonds has performed less well in Home Run Derbies than one might expect because he has no excuse to wear a "protector" facing a batting practice pitcher. As he tires, his front arm elbow tends to lift and he swings under the ball, producing towering pop flies or topspin liners that stay in the park. When the apparatus is worn, its weight keeps his elbow down and he drives the ball with backspin.

This is pure speculation. I'm sure an athlete as skilled as Bonds can make adjustments like this. Besides, the weight of protective equipment is likely to be fairly insignificant.

5) Bonds enjoys quicker access to the inside pitch than average hitters because his "assistant" - counter-intuitively - allows him to turn more rapidly. Everyone understands that skaters accelerate their spins by pulling their arms into their torsos, closer to their axes of rotation. When Bonds is confronted with an inside pitch, he spins like a skater because his upper front arm is "assistant"-sealed tightly against the side of his chest.

This phenomena, while it applies to figure skating (decreasing the rotational inertia to increase angular velocity by conservation of angular momentum), doesn't apply in the case of a linear collision, which is what is happening when the bat is striking the ball. In a linear collision, mass*velocity is conserved. If a batter were to bring their arms in instead of extending, that velocity (equal to angular velocity times the distance from the rotational axis) is much much lower and would be ultimately worse for the batter who is trying to get as much linear velocity at the point of impact as possible.

6) At impact, Bonds has additional mass (the weight of his "assistant") not available to the average hitter. The combined weight of "assistant" and bat is probably equal to the weight of the lumber wielded by Babe Ruth but with more manageable weight distribution.

He forgets to mention that it is also more mass that needs to be moved by the muscles. This also completely neglects the fact that the weight of the armor is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things.

It is worrisome that people are willing to believe anything they read. My advice to anybody out there is to take it upon yourselves to learn issues, so that you don't get duped like so many did my Mr. Witte. Whether it is the issue of an artist describing the mechanics of a baseball swing or a bitter politician delving into atmospheric sciences. Be weary and skeptical of any conclusions. If you don't understand something, it doesn't necessarily mean the source is credible.

1 comment:

theproprietor said...

Hey, I appreciate your post. In fact, it caused me to post an update on a post I wrote about Michael Witte's article. My post begins this way: UPDATE 11/16/07: In the post below, originally published Aug. 6, I extended kudos to writer Michael Witte for his piece on Barry Bonds. Today, I discovered -- thanks to the folks at Detroit Tigers Thoughts -- that my kudos may have been misplaced. As a result, I recommend you read the post, Michael Witte is Full of Crap, which seems to offer legitimate criticism of Witte (Let me know what you think.) Also, please be advised that the link to Witte's article at Editor & Publisher.com now leads to a "Story not found" page, apparently the result of folks at the newspapering site having pulled the story.

To read the rest of my post, click here.