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A physicist looks at Cespedes' incredible throw vs. Angels

BaseballHowie KendrickLos Angeles AngelsOakland AthleticsMike TroutAlbert PujolsDerek Norris
How incredible was Cespedes' throw? Even more incredible than you thought
A physicist explains how accurate Cespedes had to be to nail Howie Kendrick at the plate

People will be talking for ages about the incredible throw uncorked by Oakland A's left fielder Yoenis Cespedes on Tuesday night to nail the Angels' Howie Kendrick at home.

To recap, bottom of the eighth, score tied at 1-1. Cespedes fields a long double by Mike Trout, bobbles the ball at the foul pole, then uncorks a huge, looping bulls-eye to catcher Derek Norris to wipe out Kendrick, trying to score from first. It has to be seen to be believed. Watch it on the accompanying clip or this video

The throw turns out to be even more amazing than it looks, for Cespedes' margin for error was razor-thin. Over at Baseball Prospectus, Alan Nathan, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Illinois, determined just how precise Cespedes was by subjecting the play to close scientific analysis.

He determined that the throw traveled 318 feet in 3.17 seconds:

"Based on the video," he writes, "I assumed that the throw was released from a height of 6 ft and was caught at a height of 5 ft. I then simply adjusted the release speed and vertical launch angle to make the trajectory be five feet off the ground and 318 from release after 3.17 sec. I find that the ball was released at a speed of 97-99 mph and at a launch angle of 12-14 degrees."

Nathan then analyzed how accurate Cespedes had to be. His finding is that a one-degree change in any direction would leave Kendrick safe at home.

"A ±1 degree change in horizontal angle would lead to a horizontal deflection of about ±6 ft at home plate, probably making it impossible to nail the runner.... A ±1 degree change in the vertical angle would change the height of the ball at home plate by ±5 ft, meaning the ball would have hit the ground just in front of the plate or nearly gone over the catcher’s head."

He concludes, "To throw the ball that hard and that quickly (after all, he didn’t have time to 'aim') with that accuracy is truly an amazing feat. Everyone who has seen the throw knows that already, but now we’ve quantified exactly how amazing it was."

Nathan's analysis answers every question about the throw but one: Given what happened, what possessed Albert Pujols to challenge Cespedes' arm the next day, only to get thrown out at third by another incredible throw?

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