The Science of Hitting a Baseball

gameSense Chief Science Officer talks about Expertise Training on the TED stage

Baseball Pitch Backspin Can Play Tricks On Batters

Hitters have a lot to think about when they’re at the plate. Game situation, pitch count, pitcher tendencies and even the last few at-bats. Picking out the fast ball versus the off-speed pitch is hard enough but what if a pitcher could vary not only his speed and location but also the ball’s backspin? The visual illusion of the rising fastball depends on backspin to counteract gravitational forces during the trajectory to the plate. So, playing with different backspins would directly affect the vertical dimension of the ball flight.

Researchers at Japan’s Waseda University designed an experiment to mess with a group of pro, semi-pro and college hitters by asking them to hit pitches with varying backspins but constant speeds. Their research appeared in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.

gameSense Tests the Cincinnati Reds’ Pitch Recognition Skills in Spring Training

 gameSense Sports recently had the opportunity to work with the Cincinnati Reds during Spring Training. Like every MLB team, the Reds are exploring all the potential technologies that can help them win more games. Everything from accelerometers and heart rate monitors to virtual reality (VR) and ball tracking. The Reds, however, are at the forefront of pitch recognition (PR) testing and training. They recognize the importance of PR and trust scientific research and experts, like us. That’s why the Reds brought us in to test all their minor league players, as well as some major leaguers.

We used our standardized PR Pitch-IQ™ test to see which players can accurately pick up the type and location of pitches. And as expected, we found some of their players are very good at this task, while others were not so good. A player’s PR score also tends to correlate with a player’s on field statistics. Good PR bodes well for a batter and provides the attributes teams are looking for. The better your recognition skills the less you strike out, the more you walk, the more extended at bats you have and the higher your slugging percentage is.

We’ll retest after the season to see how each player’s PR scores have changed. We predict that most players will improve their PR over the season.  Why? Because the only way to train PR is to see pitches. These guys will see hundreds, some thousands of pitches, before the season ends. Our prediction gets to the heart of all this. PR is not something you are born with. No one comes out of the womb with the ability to pick up a curve or a cutter. You can only acquire this skill through practice….seeing quality pitches. So a player may have a pretty swing, but without the ability to accurately anticipate where and when a ball will be to hit it, they have little chance. High PR is not always essential to success, but sooner or later their ability to see pitches propels them to the top or drags them down.   

Lack Of Pitch Recognition Affects Swing Mechanics

If a batter is able to correctly predict the pitch type, his swing movement will be timed in unison with the pitcher’s throwing motion. Tomohisa Miyanishi and So Endo of the Graduate School of Sports Science at Japan’s Sendai University set out to actually measure the the correlation of the mirrored movements.

Visual Perception Tests Help Explain Poor Hitting By Baseball Pitchers

Do pitchers and non-pitchers all start with the same level of perceptual cognitive abilities, (i.e. the same “hardware”) and then diverge based on hours of deliberate practice (improving the “software” of the brain)?  To find out, a team of researchers at Duke University dug into a treasure trove of data on over 500 baseball players who had been tested using the Nike Sensory Station (now Senaptec) between 2010 and 2014.

New Study Examines Baseball Hitting Movement Through Use Of Tee-Batting

A new study from researchers in Japan digs deeper into understanding how hitters anticipate a pitch’s location and coordinate their body movements to be sure the sweet spot of the bat arrives on target and on time to connect.

Righties vs Lefties - The Importance Of Handedness Training In Baseball Hitting

Most batters would prefer to face an opposite-hand (OH) pitcher, righty vs lefty and vice versa. With the dominance of right-handed pitchers in the game, the left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a built-in advantage. But what exactly is that advantage? What would happen if the pitcher population in the league was more balanced, righties to lefties? Two sets of researchers set out to dig a little deeper into this phenomenon of visual perception.

Keeping Your Eyes On The Ball Takes Practice

There’s no argument that a baseball batter’s ability to track an incoming pitch is critical to hitting performance but it’s the details of how his eyes perform that task that researchers are still figuring out. While previous studies have confirmed that expert hitters are better than novices at tracking a moving object, we still need to breakdown the process if we want to build better training tools for athletes.

A study released this month in PLOS ONE took a big step to understanding this visual perception of athletes.

Research Finds That Pitch Recognition Skill Is Linked With Season Walk Percentage

“Yeah, but will it transfer out to the field?” It is the most asked question about any type of sports training. Tools, techniques and technologies all seem logical in their theory and approach but the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. It’s no different in baseball. Coaches, parents and most of all players would like some empirical evidence that there is a transfer of learning from drills to statistical performance at the plate.

That’s why we were excited to see the results of a recent study, the first of two by Dr. Sean Müller and Dr. Peter Fadde, Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at gameSense Sports, that found a significant link between the visual anticipation skills of hitters, also known as pitch recognition, and their actual statistical performance during a season.

Study Confirms That First Third Of Ball Flight Is Key For Baseball Hitters

A baseball hitter relies more on pitch information during the first third of ball flight than the final third. Nothing new there as coaches have been teaching pitch recognition that way for years. But sometimes a well-designed academic study comes along to confirm what may be obvious. That’s exactly what a group of Japanese sports scientists did earlier this year when they incorporated occlusion glasses, a pitching machine and a group of college baseball players.

In-Game Pitcher Video Is Effective For Pitch Recognition Training

When teaching a new motor skill or game tactic, coaches rely on their athletes being able to take what they learned in practice and apply it during a game despite multiple changes in the environment, emotions and minute by minute situations.

For baseball hitting instructors, this is especially true when teaching pitch recognition and plate discipline. Facing the same pitchers in batting practice every day doesn’t provide the breadth of delivery mechanisms and early ball flight cues that players will see from multiple pitchers during an entire season

Game Fatigue Can Hurt Cognitive Skills of Baseball Hitters

For most baseball players, live batting practice (BP) provides the best time to work on pitch recognition, timing and swing mechanics. Typical pre-game BP sessions offer a couple dozen swings facing medium-speed pitches with the goal of warming up muscles and focusing vision to the ballpark lighting and background. During rare in-season team practices, hitting and fielding are often isolated training activities, except for the occasional scrimmage

A Pitcher's Facial Emotions Can Help A Hitter's Pitch Recognition

Baseball players, like most athletes, are not emotionless robots. The pressure of the moment can affect their performance. Think of the pitcher-batter duels, where one team is one swing away from victory or defeat. The well-trained brain of the pitcher knows what to throw and the experienced batter knows what to expect.

Yet, athletes can’t always mask the stress they’re feeling, giving away possible cues to their opponent. Staring back at the pitcher, a hitter might be able to subconsciously detect fear or uncertainty which may help him predict the type, speed and location of the next pitch. That interaction is what Dr. Arik Cheshin of the University of Haifa wanted to understand.

Pitch Recognition Training Dramatically Improves Runs Per For Southeast Missouri State Baseball

Coach Steve Bieser (AP Photo/Rogellio V. Solis)

Coach Steve Bieser (AP Photo/Rogellio V. Solis)

Peter Fadde Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at gameSense Sports, has been on the front lines of pitch recognition science for over 20 years. Over the last three years, his hands-on coaching has helped the Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) baseball team to dramatically improve their offensive stats.

In 2013, SEMO averaged 5.7 runs per game. That ranked #108 nationally among 295 D1 programs. In 2014, the first year using Dr. Fadde’s system, the Redhawks improved to an average 7.9 runs per game, which ranked #8 in the country. In 2015, 8.0 runs per game, good for #3 in the nation. This year, 7.9 runs per game, again ranked #8.

“We had two goals,” Fadde said in a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. “We wanted to stay true to the scientific principles, and that’s the occlusion method. The other part was we really needed it to fit with what they do with the players — not some new exotic thing.”

Steve Bieser, recently named head coach at the University of Missouri talks about the program that he, hitting coach Dillon Lawson and Dr. Fadde initiated at SEMO, "“People look at pitch recognition and think it’s about being passive, the ‘Moneyball’ stuff with Billy Beane, (about) seeing more pitches.”
“It’s nothing about seeing more pitches. It’s about seeing the pitch that you can handle and being ready for that pitch, whether that at-bat lasts one pitch long or seven pitches long.”

Coach Lawson, now with the Tri-City Valleycats, Class A in Troy, N.Y., was able to work video-based pitch recognition drills into their current instruction. 

"We created a program to fit into what we were already doing,” Lawson said in the same STL Post-Dispatch article. “Guys already hit off the tee. They already would stand in and track pitches during bullpens. They already watched video. We were trying to add little bits and pieces of pitch recognition to their normal daily routines. We were able to do it and be quite successful with it. It gave us a huge competitive advantage at SEMO.”

Read the full articles here:
Bieser brings fresh ideas to Mizzou baseball
Pitch recognition program helped change SEMO baseball

Learning How Focus As A Hitter In Baseball

Learning how to focus, or what others might call concentration or paying attention is a critical mental skill set for baseball players.  When you are focused or “in the moment”, the game seems to slow down.  Sport psychologists often call this “being in the zone” or in a “flow state”.  On the other hand when you are not in the zone, the game feels like it is speeding up and you cannot keep up with the pace. 

VR in sports

Perception & Action Podcast: Dr. Rob Gray interviews gameSports Dr. Fadde about Perception-Action Coupling, Part vs. Whole Training, and VR in sports.

A discussion with gameSense Sports Peter Fadde from Southern Illinois University. The discussion touches on several topics related to training including perception-action coupling, part vs whole training and sport specificity. The discussion also does a deep dive into VR use in sports, attempting to tackle the question: how real does virtual reality need to be?     

Listen to the podcast:

http://perceptionactionpodcast.libsyn.com

Instructional Design for Accelerated Macrocognitive Expertise in the Baseball Workplace

The goal of accelerating expertise can leave researchers and trainers in human factors, naturalistic decision making, sport science, and expertise studies concerned about seemingly insufficient application of expert performance theories, findings and methods for training macrocognitive aspects of human performance. Video-occlusion methods perfected by sports expertise researchers have great instructional utility, in some cases offering an effective and inexpensive alternative to high-fidelity simulation. A key problem for instructional designers seems to be that expertise research done in laboratory and field settings doesn’t get adequately translated into workplace training. Therefore, this article presents a framework for better linkage of expertise research/training across laboratory, field, and workplace settings. It also uses a case study to trace the development and implementation of a macrocognitive training program in the very challenging workplace of the baseball batters’ box. This training, whic