A book on the science of baseball is probably a daunting proposition to the casual fan. For you, dear reader, and I, the idea of exploring the physics of a batted ball or the way the gulf stream could affect a game might sound fascinating, but I don’t know if all or even most baseball fans feel the same.
Despite the name, The Science of Baseball: The Math, Technology, and Data Behind the Great American Pastime, what author Will Carroll has created is no fearsome tome. Carroll gives the reader everything promised in the title, but in a package that is both informative and easy to understand. You won’t find Greek characters lining the page to explain the math behind aerodynamics, instead you get plain English explanations of why balls are traveling farther.
Carroll has years of experience writing books and articles for Baseball Prospectus, and he cashes that experience in to inform The Science of Baseball. He did the primary work of speaking with experts like Dr. Meredith Wills, whose work on the baseball itself is second to none, in order to share the secondary data (that Wills collected) in an approachable way to less scientifically inclined audiences.
Baseball fans seeking out a baseball book might already know Dr. Wills’ work from The Athletic or Sports Illustrated, but she is only the first of many experts cited in The Science of Baseball. Carroll goes deep with the bat makers, groundskeepers, even scouts to show how technology is advancing in areas that would surprise even attentive fans.
Perhaps most interesting is the technology Carroll dives into that will help level the playing field. For instance, the HitTrax system, which pumps out scores of data for hitters to help them understand how their swing would fare in virtual big league ballparks. Likewise, Carroll dives into new tech that can bring biomechanical data to players via smartphone apps like ProPlayAI. Similar to what Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik did in The MVP Machine, breaking down tech that was helping pitchers (primarily) to improve by leaps and bounds, Carroll lays out how these technological advances can level the field for upper-level hitters or anyone with a smartphone. This kind of democratization of technology is fascinating and could be truly important for the game.
Carroll’s connections help him go beyond just sharing new tech and into the highest level of the game and front offices. In the chapter on cheating, for instance, Carroll includes some of his most engaging content. Nuggets about how players could be using substances like insulin to”legally” dope or basting spray to “legally” enhance grip are among the most interesting info shared.
Overall, there is a lot of great information packed into a rather small space in The Science of Baseball. If you’re looking for a deep dive on certain aspects of the game, or you want the mathematical formulas behind drag coefficient, this isn’t the book for you. But I think most fans – especially those who might at first be scared off by the title – will find The Science of Baseball an interesting and engaging overview of where the game is at today.