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Computer vision and motor tests predict who can hit a baseball

"We found positive relationships between several tasks and performance for hitters, but not for pitchers," researcher Kyle Burris said.

By
Brooks Hays

Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The latest research out of Duke University Medical Center suggests baseball scouts could be replaced by computers in the not-too-disant future.

A series of computer-based vision and motor tasks performed by baseball players predicted which test-takers were most likely to excel at the plate. The tests were taken on large touch screen computers called Nike Sensory Stations. Those who scored highest were more likely to earn better on-base percentages, more walks and fewer strikeouts.

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"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," Kyle Burris, a statistician and doctoral candidate at Duke, said in a news release.

Burris and his research partners had professional major and minor league baseball players complete nine different tasks testing eyesight and motor control. Several of the 2D video-game-like tests had participants track and touch shapes with their finger as they moved across the screen. The researchers compared the results to the players' performance during the season.

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"We found positive relationships between several tasks and performance for hitters, but not for pitchers," Burris said.

The tasks also failed to identify a correlation between performance and slugging percentage. In other words, players who scored highest on the tests were more likely to have better plate discipline than their peers, but they weren't more powerful.

For years, teams have used visual and motor-skill training to improve batting performance, but there's little evidence to suggest the training methods work. However, the latest research -- published this week in the journal Scientific Reports -- proves the tests are useful to identifying ability.

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"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," Burris said. "Regardless, this information could be useful in scouting, as well providing possible training targets to improve on-field performance."

While it's still not clear whether visual and motor skills can be improved through training, researchers believe next-generation testing technology like the Nike Sensory Stations will help them find out.

"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 L. Greg Appelbaum, a cognitive neuroscientist at Duke. "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."

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