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New testing technology can predict the best baseball players

Experts at Duke Health have demonstrated that a baseball hitter’s level of skill may be measured by how well he performs in front of a computer screen. Individuals who excelled at tests involving a series of vision and motor tasks were found to be more skilled on the baseball field.

252 baseball players from both major and minor league baseball teams were instructed to complete animated tasks on large touch-screen machines called Nike Sensory Stations. The challenges involved tracking or touching flat shapes as they moved across the fields.

The researchers found that players with higher scores on these tests also had better “plate discipline,” which includes better on-base percentages, more walks, and fewer strikeouts.

“There has been a data revolution in the game of baseball over the past decade with the introduction of technologies that track the speed and movement of every pitch, the location of players in the field, and other tools that can quantify player performance like never before,” said lead author Kyle Burris.

“In this study, we wanted to quantify the links between an athlete’s senses such as eyesight and motor control using task scores and game performance,” he said. “We found positive relationships between several tasks and performance for hitters, but not for pitchers.”

The challenges were developed to test a player’s ability to decipher information from a faint object and also to examine the individual’s reaction time and hand-eye coordination.

High scores on a perception task were associated with a higher ability to get on base, while players who excelled in hand-eye coordination and reaction time were found to have a better chance of drawing walks. High scores in spatial recognition, including the ability to shift between near and far targets, were associated with fewer strikeouts.

“We can’t say there’s a causal relationship between higher scores on the tasks and performance in games, but there was an association in the real-world data we evaluated,” said Burris. “Regardless, this information could be useful in scouting, as well providing possible training targets to improve on-field performance.”

The research team recently launched the Duke Sports Vision Center, a workshop where the effectiveness of visual training technologies will be evaluated. The lab includes newer versions of the sensory stations used in this study as well as immersive virtual reality.

“In the past five years or so, we’ve moved to a digital realm where there are all kinds of new tools that provide new context for training, such as virtual reality, perceptual learning video games and brain training,” said senior author Greg Appelbaum. “The Sensory Station is one such device that can be used to link visual skills to on-field performance and provide information to individuals about how their skills compare to peers who might play the same sport and position at the same level.”

The study is published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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