To keep their eye on the ball, batters mostly use their heads

Baseball players at bat follow coaches' advice to "keep your eye on the ball"—but head movements play a surprisingly important role in tracking pitches, suggests a study in Optometry and Vision Science, official journal of the American Academy of Optometry.

The findings lend new insights into how batters accomplish the complex task of tracking a pitched ball—and might even lead to new strategies designed to improve their ability to see pitches, according to the study by Nicklaus F. Fogt, OD, PhD, FAAO, and Aaron B., Zimmerman, OD, MS, FAAO, of The Ohio State University College of Optometry.

Here Comes the Pitch—Where Are the Batter's Eyes?

Drs Fogt and Zimmerman designed an experimental setup to monitor eye and head tracking movements in a group of 15 Division I collegiate . The players tracked, but did not swing at, a large number of balls pitched by a pneumatic pitching machine. Eye and head movements were synchronized with trajectory of the pitches.

"On average, eye gaze position matched the target position well throughout the trajectory," according to the researchers. But most of the time the ball was in the air, the players tracked it with their head—they moved their eyes very little until late in the pitch trajectory.

The pitches took about 400 milliseconds (ie, four-tenths) of a second to complete their trajectory; the players did not move their eyes until between 340 and 380 milliseconds. Although head movements varied between players, they seemed to follow a common strategy of "neural coupling" between eye and head movements.

Experiments included a task in which players were to call out colors (red or black) and numbers written on the pitched balls. However, their performance in calling out the correct colors and numbers was not significantly better than chance. Surprisingly, the players' static visual acuity (as measured on an eye chart) averaged slightly less than normal.

Possible Implications for Vision Training in Baseball Players

The findings are consistent with a previous study of pitch tracking in a Major League Baseball player. But they contrast with studies of fielders, who primarily track fly balls to the point where it will land, but move both their eyes and head when attempting to catch the ball.

"Hitting a baseball is a remarkably difficult task," Drs Fogt and Zimmerman write. For a pitch traveling 90 miles per hour, the batter has only about one-fourth of a second to decide "when and at what location the ball will arrive and whether to swing the bat." The new study was designed to assess the eye and head movement strategies used in tracking pitched balls, and whether they were consistent between players.

In the new study, "Division I college baseline players applied a strategy in which the eye was moved very little with any correctional movements until late in the pitch trajectory while the head was aimed at the ball," according to the authors. They add, "It will be interesting in the future to compare tracking strategies to hitting success, and tracking strategies of elite players to those of novice players."

It's unknown whether vision training can lead to improved on-field performance—although Drs Fogt and Zimmerman note that one collegiate baseball team reported a large increase in batting average after incorporating a vision training regimen into their practice. The researchers conclude, "By better identifying the physiologic capabilities and gaze behaviors of baseball players, it may become possible to develop more precise strategies for players of all calibers."

Related Stories

For young baseball players, light bats don't hit too fast

date Nov 06, 2013

The use of non-wood bats in youth baseball has spurred decades of controversy about whether they propel the ball too fast, in part because of their higher bat-to-ball energy transfer—the "trampoline effect." ...

Baseball is great for kids, but injuries can be serious

date Apr 15, 2013

Baseball, America's favorite pastime. From watching a child's first T-ball game to aspirations of playing in the Little League World Series, there is just something special about kids and baseball. Though ...

Recommended for you

Pioneering gene therapy takes aim at inherited blindness

date 8 hours ago

Canada's first human gene therapy trial for eyes—the replacement of a faulty gene with a healthy one—is now underway at the Royal Alexandra Hospital to preserve and potentially restore vision for people ...

Iris research focuses on blood vessel patterns

date 18 hours ago

The structure of the microvasculature or blood vessels in the iris could play an important role in people's contraction of eye maladies like glaucoma and cataract, according to a WA-led study.

New nanotechnology drug to control blindness

date Jun 25, 2015

The Mexican company "Medical and Surgical Center for Retina" has created a way to deliver drugs in order to avoid risks and painful treatments in people with secondary blindness due to chronic degenerative ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.