Jun 12

Layout for That!

Here are some associative trails…

This morning, I read through some of the ThoughtVectors archives. While I was reading, I stumbled across two different posts (by Eric Johnson and Alan Levine) in which the authors described their thinking as a state of “flow.” This made me think back to my own post on the topic, and how I generally achieve flow while doing something athletic. As my mind is apt to do, it started wandering in the direction of ultimate frisbee, and that’s when I started thinking about the following:

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of ultimate frisbee plays on Sportcenter’s Top 10. Before ultimate started being showcased more frequently, I never really cared too much for the Top 10 segment of Sportscenter at this time of the year, mainly because the highlights are always bogged down with boring baseball plays. Yes, home runs are neat and take a ton of athletic skill, but these and many other baseball plays are not the visual spectacle that I hope for when watching Sportcenter’s flagship segment.

This does not mean that I don’t appreciate any baseball plays. I can watch wholesale “layouts” (body parallel with the ground, as opposed to “falling catches“) all day long. I remembered a Top 10 from a week or so ago that contained ultimate and baseball layouts back to back. This made me return to a question that I’ve always had since I started playing ultimate in college…

“How much harder is it to layout and catch a baseball than it is to layout and catch a frisbee?”

Layouts in ultimate frisbee are frequent and very often are wholesale bids, whereas wholesale bids in baseball are not nearly as frequent. I understand the two sports are different (and the physics of the games are different as well), and I’ve always assumed that layouts occur more frequently in ultimate because you have a lot more time to react to a floating frisbee than you do a falling baseball.

In the spirit of #thoughtvecotrs, I wanted to investigate the issue and find out once and for all.


I know my methods are not perfectly accurate and there is a lot of “fuzzy math” here. This methodology ignores many of the the physics specific to baseball and frisbee, but I wanted something I could calculate relatively quickly to get a general sense of which layout is more difficult and how much more so. I also thought this scenario might make an interesting application lesson for 6th or 7th grade math.

That said, I decided to find a video of each type of play and calculate the rate of movement of the frisbee or ball during the play. To do this, I’ll use the basic formula, Distance = Rate*Time. After calculating the rate or speed of each object in the video, I can then calculate the amount of time the object would need before it hits the ground on the play in question. Then I can compare the calculations between the two sports to determine which athlete had more time in order to make the play.

We’ll start with ultimate:


  • Distance: It looks like the thrower throws the disc around the thirty four yard line. The catch is made around the two yard line. That’s a total of 32 yards, or 96 feet.
  • Time: The disc is in the air for about 2 seconds. I know this is not perfect, and leaving out fractions of seconds will effect the calculations, but again, I just want to get an overall sense of the difference between the two plays.


Distance = Rate*Time

96 ft = r * 2s

r = 48 ft/s

If we say the disc would have traveled another 3 yards (9ft) on the plane of the field before hitting the ground then…

9 Ft = 48ft/sec * t

t =.187 sec

the catcher had .187 additional seconds before the frisbee hit the ground in order to catch up to the disc and make a play.



  • Distance: The fielder appears to make the play about 5 feet from the warning track (which is ~15 feet long). The fielder appears to make the catch halfwayish between the 404ft and 370ft markings on the field wall (so we’ll say 387 ft). Given that information, the ball travels 367 feet.
  • Time: About 4 seconds from contact to catch.


Distance = Rate*Time

367ft = r * 4s

r = 91.75 ft/s

If we say the ball would have traveled another 2 feet on the plane of the field before it hit the ground then…

2ft = 91.75 ft/s * t

t = .022 seconds

the fielder had .022 additional seconds before the ball hit the ground in order to make a play on it.


The Ultimate player has nearly NINE times more time to get his body in a position that would allow him to make the catch.

Even though baseball layouts may be harder, they’re a lot less beautiful:

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