The fierce rivalry between the Blue Jays and the Rangers came to a head last year when Toronto’s José Bautista dinged a towering donger, then proceeded to unleash the most vicious bat flip in MLB history. Baseball fans have not seen another bat flip of equivalent savagery since that electric day, but that could change when the two teams meet again on Thursday — if either team decides to brush up on their physics.
The epic flip, while legendary for its IDGAF attitude, could have gone a lot farther and faster, had Joey Bats (Bautista often goes by the name “Joey”) taken a refresher on the principles of kinetic energy and wanted to further piss off the Rangers and half the ALDS.
The distance traveled by the bat, according to Alan M. Nathan, Ph.D., the University of Illinois Professor Emeritus of Physics and baseball physics expert, comes down to the optimization of translational — that is, the shifting of a body from one place to another — and rotational motion.
“It’s some combination of those two that basically determines its trajectory,” he tells Inverse.
“Basically, you’re probably holding the bat somewhere near the handle, and you’re flipping it, usually, with one hand,” he continues. As we can see below, that’s exactly what Joey Bats did. But could he have done it better?
Bautista swings his arm back slightly, making room for an upward swing, but it’s the sudden torque-generating jerk of his elbow and flick of his wrist that most likely built up the kinetic energy that sent his bat flying. Increasing the amount of force that went into the swing, jerk, and flick, however, would have allowed him to flip it further.
But what if he really wanted to push the bat flip’s limits? It’s possible that a different technique, one that doesn’t separate the bat flip from the swing, could have allowed Joey Bats to flip his bat even further, though Nathan points out this doesn’t happen often. “Mostly, I think the bat has come to a stop by the time you flip the bat,” he says. “The flip, I believe, is pretty much decoupled from the swing itself.” In Bautista’s flip, this appears to be the case, but bat flips such as those outlined by ESPN in a brilliant article about the Korean Baseball League’s penchant for the controversial stunt reveals a number of different techniques.
The notorious “soul-freeing” bat flip of Jung Hoon, a player for KBL’s Lotte team, is particularly intriguing. Hoon became notorious for throwing his bat over his left shoulder with both hands, immediately after the swing. In the video below, he doesn’t appear to stop his initial swinging motion entirely. Some of the kinetic energy from his swing could be translated into his flip, similar to the way Simone Biles uses the energy from her initial somersaults to spring up into a powerful, gravity-defying leap.
It’s possible, too, that using Hoon’s two-handed technique could make a bat flip even more powerful — again, it might serve to increase its translational and rotational motion — though Nathan admits this would require more study than the still-rare instances of bat flipping actually warrant. As the MLB continues to try and court a younger audience, however, bat flips are likely to become a lot more common. For now, however, they’re still considered taboo under the league’s “unwritten rules.”
Whether the Blue Jays and Rangers will heed said rules remains to be seen in their upcoming ALDS Division Series, but if they choose not to — and with their heated history, it’s likely they will — we hope both teams will take the physics of motion into account. If they do, we’d better brace ourselves for a few more fist fights, too. “Ball players have long memories about such things,” Nathan laughs.