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Rongrong Chen, Dorion Liston, Li Li; Both visual tracking and manual control performance predict infield batting accuracy in professional baseball players. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):812. doi: 10.1167/17.10.812.
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Professional baseball batters have less than 500ms to make a swing yet they manage to contact the ball most of the time. Here we examined whether baseball players have superior visual tracking and manual control capabilities and how they relate to real-world batting. First, we tested professional baseball players from Hong Kong leagues (n=44, 27 females) and demographically-matched non-athletes (n=47, 27 females) using a visual tracking task in which participants visually tracked step-ramp motion that varied unpredictably from trial to trial (speed: 16°/s-24°/s; direction: 0°-360°). Next, we used a manual control task in which participants used a joystick to center a randomly-moving (horizontal sum-of-sines motion: 0.1–2.19Hz) target. Last, to test whether visual tracking and manual control performance predict batting performance, we measured infield batting for a subset of players (n=23, all females, 3-18 years' experience). For visual tracking, baseball players showed shorter initiation latency, higher smooth-pursuit gain, and better speed-tuning and direction-tuning than non-athletes (t(89)≥2.94, p< 0.01). For manual control, baseball players showed better control precision, higher response amplitude, and shorter delay than non-athletes (t(88)≥6.31, p< 0.001). Notably, baseball players' manual control precision, response amplitude, and delay were all significantly correlated with smooth-pursuit gain (Pearson's r: 0.33-0.48, p< 0.05) whereas no such correlations were observed in non-athletes. For infield batting, hitting showed a weak positive trend with smooth-pursuit gain and manual control precision; subdividing the players by experience (9 or more years) revealed strong correlation for more-experienced (Pearson's r=0.68, p< 0.05) but not less-experienced (Pearson's r≤0.29, p≥0.45) players. Our sample of professional baseball players showed superior visual tracking and manual control capabilities, as well as coordination between visual-manual capabilities absent in non-athletes. Our study provides the first evidence visual tracking and manual control performance predict batting for more-experienced but not less-experienced players, suggesting that real-world batting develops within visuomotor limits.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017
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