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Eye on the ball

October 03, 2014

Batter up! It takes great hitting to win the World Series. Could optometry research at Ohio State uncover the subtleties of a better batting average?

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ResearchKeep your eye on the ball.

Sure, it’s great advice for someone stepping up to home plate. But is there a scientific reason to do so?

Researchers at The Ohio State University College of Optometry offer greater insights on the subject in a study tracking the head and eye movements of college baseball batters.

Professors Nicklaus Fogt and Aaron Zimmerman examined the way more than a dozen players tracked tennis balls launched from a pitching machine. The players were asked to identify numbers and colors on the balls without having to take a swing.

The results suggest trained hitters could track a pitch from a pitcher’s hand to within 10 feet.

“Players are really good (at following the ball) up to about 8 to 10 feet, and (their gaze is) within one to two degrees of the ball,” Zimmerman says. “As it gets to 4 feet, the gaze error is about 15 degrees behind the ball. When the ball crosses home plate, the batter is 60 degrees behind.”

As the ball comes closer to home plate, hitters must rely on experiences – such as anticipating certain pitches or picking up release points – to close the gap.

“If you can get people to turn their head with the ball, that seems to be what you really want for a couple reasons,” Fogt says

First, the head can turn pretty fast; second, hand-eye coordination is better when eye rotation is minimized.

The next task is to collect data from players ranging from high-schoolers to major leaguers. With those sets of data, Fogt and Zimmerman can begin to analyze what it all means.

“We want to nail down the difference between novices and experts,” Fogt says.

Years down the road, Zimmerman says, the findings could be used in sports vision clinics or by professional organizations to give their players an edge: Imagine players using Ohio State’s exercises to strengthen their head and eye movements.

The researchers say they can’t imagine a better place to do it.

“There are so many advantages to Ohio State,” Fogt says. “Everybody at Ohio State that I’ve ever come across — they always get back to me. They always help.”