Kagan: Some physics of losing a fly ball

From SABR member David Kagan at The Hardball Times on July 8, 2019:

On April 8, 2019, in the top of the fourth at Coors Field, the remarkably reliable Charlie Blackmon dropped an unusually high fly ball hit by Cody Bellinger.

The ESPN broadcast team immediately went searching for explanations (or excuses, depending upon your point of view). The play-by-play announcer (probably Matt Vasgersian) blamed the new LED lights. Alex Rodriguez opined, “This ball was so high, I’m sure he had a hard time seeing this ball.”

The ESPN production staff quickly prepared an impressive graphics sequence using the Statcast data on the fly ball. (Unfortunately, this video is not available unless you watch the entire broadcast.) Statcast reported a launch angle of 50˚, an exit velocity of 105.2 mph, a hang time of 6.8 seconds, and a maximum height of 172 feet. As the graphic was displayed, Jessica Mendoza said, “I feel like if it was lost, it wasn’t in the lights. It was in the dark sky because you just don’t see fly balls hit that high.”

Blackmon didn’t really react like he lost the ball. He moved in the typical way outfielders do when they are tracking a ball well, and the ball did hit his glove. Neither could I find any comments he made regarding the play after the game. So we don’t really know if he lost the ball in the lights, if he lost it in the dark, or if he saw it all the way and just didn’t make the catch. Since we have no definitive answers as to the cause of the error, let’s see what physics has to say about losing sight of a ball.

Read the full article here: https://tht.fangraphs.com/some-physics-of-losing-a-fly-ball/

Originally published: July 12, 2019. Last Updated: July 12, 2019.