Pitching: Magnus Effect

Growing up my favorite sport was always baseball. I grew up being a pitcher and continued through high school. Along the way I learned how to throw a variety of pitches including a fastball, curveball, cutter, and change up. All these pitches have a different way of being thrown and the results should be different too. One thing they all have in common is that they are all affected by the Magnus Effect. The Magnus Effect is basically how the ball flies through the air while being affected by its spin due to high and low pressures. I decided to check out how each pitch I used to throw was affected by this effect.magnus-effect

A fastball is the pitch one would throw in order for the ball to have its highest velocity and the straightest path to your target. It is thrown with a lots of backspin which creates the Magnus Effect to point up, opposite of gravity, creating lift on the ball. You can technically get the baseball to rise but nobody really throws a ball that fast. Throwing a change-up can be done in different ways, but I find that the circle-change is most popular. The flight of the ball acts just like a fastball, but its velocity out of the hand is much slower which deceives the batter.

A curveball is a little bit more complicated because of the different direction of its spin. Throwing a curveball, you snap your wrist to get a different type of spin on the ball.  In the article “The Magnus Effect”, the author explains how the curveball has neither a rise or drop, but instead in has sideways lift. The amount of break the curveball has is dependent on how much rotation the pitcher can put on the ball. Usually you get more rotation in your pitch if you put more pressure on your outside finger on the grip.animatedcurveball-jpg

Finally, for a cutter, the last pitch I used to throw, it is almost the same grip but you shift your fingers down the seams and add a different amount of pressure on your fingertips which allows the ball to have run on it for its flight in the air to the catcher. When I say run, I mean at the last split second the ball is traveling in the air, it moves laterally a few inches. If thrown perfectly, it can be a devastating pitch for batters because coming out of the pitchers hand the batter will think a fastball is coming until he notices his bat is broken. One of the most famous pitchers, Mariano Rivera, perfected the cutter and became a legend because of it.

For me, I always knew how to throw these different pitches but it was interesting to learn why they acted differently because of physics. I had no idea there was so much to it and I am sure I missed a bunch other factors that add to pitching. A website that describes this with a multiple animations can be found here.




3 thoughts on “Pitching: Magnus Effect

  1. Greg Belluscio

    Hey, great post! I was searching YouTube on a quest to find a better visualization of the magnus effect in action and came across this video. The video also includes different ways engineers have utilized the magnus effect to create higher efficiency boats. You should check it out, it’s very interesting.

  2. Mark Paterra

    I too love baseball and something that I looked at in my article was the effect that various altitudes had on the Magnus Effect. At higher altitudes it tends to decrease the Magnus Effect due to the lack of friction and air pressure. Something that makes it very hard for pitchers to throw breaking balls in a park at a high altitude such as Coors Field. It was interesting to read more about the Magnus Effect and its effect on various pitch types.

  3. mzf15

    Cool post! I played baseball throughout my entire childhood and I have never heard the term Magnus Effect. I also like your use of pictures, it’s very easy for a reader to understand the effect.

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