03 July 2013

The Manx Missile and 11 Measly Seconds

Mark Cavendish, aka the Manx Missile, had a great sprint to the finish line in today's flat stage.  I yelped a bit at the finish when I saw today's winning time.  Below is the comparison between Cavendish's winning time and our prediction.
  • Stage 5:  5h 31' 51" (actual), 5h 32' 02" (prediction), 0' 11" slow (0.06% error)
I am very pleased with our prediction!  We slightly underestimated power output and technological advances in yesterday's team time trial.  Today, we had a great feeling for how the long, flat stage would go.  Below is Cavendish's average speed.
  • Stage 5:  11.48 m/s (41.31 kph or 25.67 mph)
That is an impressive average for such a long time on a bicycle.  Those Tour de France athletes are something special!

Tomorrow's Stage 6 is another flat stage.  It starts in Aix-en-Provence and takes riders due west nearly along the southern coast of France to Montpellier.  Shorter than today's stage, Stage 6 is 176.5 km (109.7 mi) long with one category-4 climb just over one third of the way in. Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 6:  4h 05' 47" (prediction)
Will weather play a role as riders are going to be close to the coast?  Will riders be thinking ahead to Stage 7 and its four category-ranked climbs? Or will someone have the best day of his life and come in under four hours?  Team Orica-GreenEDGE should be safe after tomorrow.  Simon Gerrans maintains the yellow jersey today, and will probably have it after tomorrow's stage.


  1. Mr. Goff,

    I enjoy the blog and follow it regularly (not just during the TDF).

    In 1969, MLB lowered the mound 8 inches in response to pitcher's dominance (see McLain and Gibson in 1968). Can you determine the effect raising the mound back to pre-1969 height would have on a pitcher such as Randy Johnson?


    Robert Kuhar

    1. Robert,

      I appreciate your interest in my work and my blog.

      I believe the mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1969, which makes for a lowering of 5 inches. Don't forget that the other major rule change before the 1969 season was the shrinking of the strike zone (top of knees to armpits instead of bottom of knees to top of shoulders). Both rule changes led to increased batting averages -- and increased ERAs for pitchers.

      The elevated mound allows the pitcher to throw "straighter" than he would if standing on level ground. In 0.4 seconds, a typical time for a MLB fastball, gravity causes the ball to drop about 2.5 feet. The Magnus force on the ball due to its backspin will reduce that drop a little. Still, pitchers do not give the ball a purely horizontal velocity when they release it. Given the 10-inch mound, a height around 6 feet or so and a release point (usually) over their heads, pitches throw the ball with a slight downward velocity.

      Increase the height of the mound and pitchers will have to let go of the ball with a slightly steeper downward velocity. The increased vertical speed is a problem for the batter.

      If you thought Bob Gibson at 6' 1" was nasty in 1968, try to imagine Randy Johnson at 6' 10" coming off a mound 5 inches higher than the one he used to amass 4875 strikeouts!


    2. Thanks Eric -

      You are right in that it was lowered 5 inches (all these years - I am 51 years old - I thought it was 8).

      R Johnson would have been even more nasty and frightening (until he mastered his control).

      We were discussing the top pitchers of all time and someone thought R Johnson is the greatest lefty ever. I don't think so but, if all things were equal, a case could be made for him.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to reply.

      Take care -


    3. Robert,

      I love discussions about baseball and top-10 lists and "who was better than whom?" type questions. Randy Johnson was certainly the best southpaw I ever witnessed. From a statistical point of view, I think Left Grove has a slightly better case as best left-handed pitcher of all time. Grove dominated a hitter's era even more than the hitter's era Johnson dominated. Grove had more top-10 WAR finishes than Johnson (13 to 11) and a slightly higher career WAR. Six times, all in the 1930s, Grove led MLB in WAR, compared to Johnson's two times as WAR leader. WAR isn't the only useful stat, but it does indicate a slight edge to Grove.

      If you return that Grove pitched in an integrated era and had a higher mound, you won't get any arguments from me. An excellent case can be made for Johnson as the best LHP ever, especially when trying to factor in different eras.


    4. Eric

      I am not a big sabermetrics guy (probably due more to not taking the time to totally understand it). And I know that the basic stats in baseball don't necessarily compare across the years (mound height, travel, more days games, more night games etc).

      I tend to use what I see (another flawed method I know). I think all-in-all, hitters have the advantages today and that pitchers who perform well (Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright for example) are a joy to watch. Let it be known that I am, and will always be, a pitching, defense and fundamentals guy. A 1-0 pitchers dual is more exciting to me than a 10-7 shootout. I am disappointed that striking out frequently is the accepted norm. That lousy base running and poor fundamentals have invaded and taking over the game. How all that seems to be important is the home run.

      I still think baseball is a great game but the product given to us today is nothing close to what I grew up playing and watching. And, for me, that is sad and unfortunate.

      Take care,


    5. Robert,

      I'm completely with you regarding 1-0 games vs 10-7 shootouts. I remember sitting in Wrigley Field in 1995 and watching Greg Maddux at the top of his game. That was probably my favorite MLB game that I've seen in person. As a kid playing 3rd base, I wrote "E-5" on my glove because that's what Brooks Robinson did. He claimed he would look at that written on his glove and focus on the next play not winding up an error for him. I saw only the very end of his career, but he was one of those players that made you stop and watch, hoping to see a ball hit to him (usually, we stop to watch a batter hit).

      There is much about baseball that I don't like today, but there are some very gifted athletes in or near their primes right now. The main difference in my sports viewing as I've gotten older is that there are many more sports that interest me in addition to baseball. Lots of great sports action -- and physics -- out there!


  2. Eric -

    I've lived near Baltimore for 46 years and used to attend 60-70 games per year as a kid (II loved the game). Brooks, Boog, Frank, Blair, Buford, The Blade (Belanger), Elrod, that pitching staff and, of course, Earl were a joy to watch. Do you remember This Week In Baseball (here's our TWIB notes for the week)?

    I enjoyed watching Ripken's and Murray's careers play out in front of me. Maddux is my all-time favorite (after those Os pitchers - Palmer, Cuellar, McNally and Dobson). He was a master and was ever so dominate even on those Cubs teams. Though with his glasses on he was more the Clark Kent type.

    I also appreciate the many other sports that are available (thanks to ESPN and online sites) and the many truly gifted athletes out there. Sadly, aside from hockey, my interest in the major sports has dwindled.

    Soccer is very exciting (though most Americans hate it due to the lack of scoring). I appreciate your write ups on the physics of the game. I never really thought about it that way. Similar to skateboarding, I see something exceptional happen but I don't think about the science that is taking place.

    Take care and enjoy the rest of the TDF.