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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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