A Messy Analysis

Lionel Messi Is Impossible

I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn’t really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.

It’s not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It’s not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It’s not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It’s not possible to lead the world’s forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it’s certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.

But Messi does all of this and more.

Wide Right

Coriolis Force on a Kicked Football

An analysis inspired by a tweet from Neal deGrasse Tyson.

However, this showed up in my RSS feed with the tagline

You may know the Coriolis force from the direction the water in your flushing toilet swirls, but the same force affects a field-goal kick in football. Here’s how.

Ugh. (No, it does not manifest itself in a noticeable way in toilets or sinks) I hope Rhett has a conversation with the individual who wrote that.

I Kick a Touchdown

Wide Left: Study Shows that Holders Play Key Role in Field Goal Accuracy

Using the model, the researchers found that if the ball is leaning to the left or right, it will affect the trajectory of the football. And the more it leans, the more pronounced the effect, which is the result of complex interactions between the rotational motion and aerodynamic forces acting on the football.

“For example,” Mazzoleni says, “if the ball is tilted 20 degrees to the left for a 45 yard field goal attempt, it will sail up to 3.5 feet to the left before hooking back to the right.” And any football fan can tell you that 3.5 feet can be the difference between winning and losing. (Just ask the University of Nebraska.)

The paper’s abstract indicates they checked with real results

A case study was performed for which experimental data were available, showing the trends of the flight of the ball captured in our simulations in actual game situations.

The title is a quote attributed to Garo Yepremian, a pretty good kicker who played for several teams from ’66 to’81, including the ’72 Dolphins. Sorry, Garo, the holder is blameless for that horrible decision to try and pass the ball in Super Bowl VII.

Building a Better Soccer Ball

Better in terms of durability.

Joy That Lasts, on the Poorest of Playgrounds

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

“The only thing that sustained these kids is play,” said Mr. Jahnigen of Berkeley, Calif. “Yet the millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours.”

The solution was a foam similar to what is used in Crocs.

[H]e happened to be having breakfast with Sting, a friend from his days in the music business. Mr. Jahnigen told him how soccer helped the children in Darfur cope with their troubles and his efforts to find an indestructible ball. Sting urged Mr. Jahnigen to drop everything and make the ball. Mr. Jahnigen said that developing the ball might cost as much as $300,000. Sting said he would pay for it.

An interesting logistical issue is also brought up: the balls are more difficult to ship than traditional balls, because they can’t be deflated (the reverse of a certain balloon issue I’ve run into)

If you are so inclined, you can go to the website and buy a ball for about $40, in which case one will also be donated, or you can donate one for $25.

Them's the Breaks

Dynamics and fracture of Hunter Pence’s bat

If you didn’t see this Monday night, you probably saw a link to it later. It was the bottom of the third with the bases loaded for the Giants. Hunter Pence hit a broken-bat single through the infield that scored two earned runs and one unearned run on a misplay in the outfield. Giants went on to score two more runs in the inning and pretty much buried the Cardinals in the final game of their series.

What was remarkable about the hit was how Pence’s bat behaved.

One thing the author doesn’t analyze, but is important to the outcome, is how the multiple contacts imparted spin to the ball, which you can see in the breakdown — the first contact has the ball coming out with only a little rotation, but it increases with each contact. The result was a trajectory that curved away from the shortstop, who initially had leaned toward third base, only to have the ball go up the middle.

All of this is moot, though. Technically it was a dead ball, because you can only legally strike the ball once with the bat. The batter should have been called out, according to (my reading of) rule 6.05(h) But I’ll give the umps a pass for missing this one. (The Cards, on the other hand, may not be so forgiving)

Making a Fist Instead of the Heimlich

Study: Athletes Perform Better Under Pressure When They Make a Fist With Their Left Hand

According to the researchers, freaking out is primarily associated with the left hemisphere of the brain, while the right hemisphere deals more with mechanical actions. Meanwhile the cortex of the right hemisphere controls movements of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body. So they figured that if you can purposely activate the right hemisphere — in this case, by making a fist or squeezing a ball with your left hand — it will improve physical performance and draw focus away from the ruminating left hemisphere.

If you’re old enough to remember: Joe Morgan of the Cincinnati Reds used to flap his arm when he was at-bat, a trick he said was a reminder, from one of his coaches, to keep his elbow up. I wonder if that ritual also could have had this distraction effect.