Arthur: The analytic value of the crack of the bat

From SABR member Robert Arthur at Baseball Prospectus on August 20, 2014:

Baseball is possessed of a rich and diverse collection of sounds. The shouting of the fans, their intermittent applause and jeers, and the crackling of the PA system all contribute to the cornucopia. Even limiting ourselves to the action on the field, baseball is aurally pleasing: the pulse of the ball pushing the air out of a glove, for instance.

First among all baseball sounds, without question, is the crack of the bat. Something about the whip striking the ball is downright electric. If you are like me, after watching so many thousands of baseball games, that crack still exercises a visceral and jolting effect on my nervous system. It is baseball’s leverage alarm: the contact could result in a routine groundout, or it could be a massive home run, but either way, the stakes just increased and you’d better pay attention to what happens next.

Yet the crack of the bat is itself diverse. Some balls are ripped with great force, and produce a crisp, single note. Others are walloped into the ground, off the bottom of the bat, and generate a dull thud. Some players routinely seem able to contact the ball with the kind of sound that is associated with hits, regardless of whether their screaming line drives find gloves.

I think many a sabermetrically-inclined fan of the game has wondered about measuring those sounds. Not that our ears are a bad guide, but human perception is subjective and can be biased. It would be interesting to know, for example, if your favorite player’s bat really does produce a special sound, or if you can tell the difference between a home run and a groundout based only on the crack.

Collecting sound data itself is not very difficult. To do so, I used my computer to directly record the sound feed from*.

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Originally published: August 20, 2014. Last Updated: August 20, 2014.