The Splendid Splinter

The Science of Hitting

Amidst the deep forest green seats at Fenway Park, a bright red seat in deep right center field stands out. Seat 21 in Section 42, Row 37, is an incredible 502 feet away from home plate and on June 9, 1946, Ted Williams,”The Splendid Splinter” hit a home run to it, setting a park record that still stands. Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all time with a batting average of .344 and 1,798 runs.

After his retirement (his last at-bat was a homerun at Fenway), he wrote the influential (and beautifully illustrated) book, The Science of Hitting.

Baseball enthusiasts are notoriously interested in statistics and so the owner of an online fantasy baseball site contacted me to do some visualizations for his users. The one that proved most popular was a visualization of where balls are hit over the course of a game, a season, or a career.

For this project, hits were recorded as landing in one of 38 zones which had confusing names like “oflcf”, “ofrfc”, “ofrfl”, etc. This made it challenging for fans to see patterns among players.

The challenge for me had to do with figuring out where to put the balls on the screen, given the zone name. Because a baseball field isn’t shaped like a wedge of pie but more like an ice cream cone, the zones don’t have consistent shapes and so a new coordinate system was developed, with the origin at home plate.

As an homage to Williams’s skill as a hitter, I’ve drawn one of his seasons that nicely shows his pattern of hits to deep right center field.