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Seeing the Ball

Even though it might be cold outside, we’re only a few weeks away from spring training.
And as thoughts turn to warmer days and baseball games for many, a new study from researchers at the Ohio State University College of Optometry might change a way we see one aspect of the game.

While every baseball fan has heard the description of a hitter having a “good eye,” the new research is showing that head movement is playing a much larger role in the tracking of pitches for batters.

The researchers monitored the eye and head movements of 15 Division 1 collegiate baseball players as they tracked balls hurled by a pitching machine. The players’ eye and head movements were synchronized with the trajectory of the pitches.

According to the study, “On average, eye-gaze position matched the target position well throughout the trajectory.”
But research also showed that most of the time the ball was in the air, the players tracked it with their head. The batters’ moved their eyes very little until late in the pitch trajectory. Pitches took about 400 milliseconds (two-fifths of a second) to travel from the pitching machine to the batter, and players did not move their eyes until between 340 and 380 milliseconds.

Head movements varied between players, but all of them seemed to use a strategy of “neural coupling” between eye and head movements in order to track the ball, according to the study published online Jan. 3 in the journal Optometry and Vision Science.

“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,” the researchers said in a journal news release.

They also said this type of research could lead to improved vision-training strategies to help baseball players of all levels.