The FINANCIAL — Published in the journal Optometry & Vision Science, the study illustrated how faster eye-hand visual motor reaction time (EH-VMRT) among professional baseball players significantly correlated with better plate discipline batting metrics, such as swinging at more pitches inside and fewer outside the strike zone, and the ability to draw walks more often than players with the slowest EH-VMRT.
Eye-hand coordination, the synchronization between the visual and motor systems, is critical in high-speed sport movements but is highly variable among athletes. Especially in baseball, where batters have less than 400 milliseconds to judge a 95-mph fastball from pitch to plate, identifying players based on EH-VMRT can influence roster selection as well as help recognize players who may benefit from performance vision interventions.
Led by Daniel Laby, M.D., former director of the Sports and Performance Vision Center at State University of New York College of Optometry, researchers tested 400 professional baseball players’ reaction times using a 32-sensor-pad touch board and compared times to the athletes’ plate discipline metrics. Researchers found players with the fastest EH-VMRT not only drew walks 22 percent more often than those with the slowest EH-VMRT, but also chased 10-12 percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone and swung at 6-7 percent fewer pitches in the strike zone.
Faster EH-VMRT may allow batters longer time to judge pitch trajectory before swinging, authors hypothesize, while slower EH-VMRT may force batters to swing earlier and thereby have less certainty about where the pitch will cross the plate. These miniscule differences “may result in higher rates of swinging at pitches and a lower likelihood to gain a base on balls,” authors note.
Additionally, researchers found a statistically significant difference between the top and bottom 20 percent EH-VMRT groups and plate discipline abilities. This information is critically insightful for baseball teams as they manage rosters and resources, Dr. Kirschen says.
Beyond sports: Performance
So what’s the takeaway for optometry? Professional baseball players might not be your typical weekday clientele, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be incorporated into routine optometric practice.
Patients often participate in physically demanding exercise or activities, such as after-school sports, work leagues or “weekend warriors,” and can benefit from not only regular comprehensive eye care, but also performance vision optimization. Incorporating basic sports and performance vision services can be a low-cost way to meet the needs of these patients, be it providing sports-specific safety eye wear to performance vision training.
Regarding the EH-VMRT study, Dr. Kirschen says their findings could directly apply to military or law enforcement threat detection, or any first responders that need fast visual processing of an emergency. Moreover, Dr. Kirschen says it’s important to stress visual optimization and not stop refracting at 20/20.
AOA offers sports, performance vision resources
More Americans than ever engage in sports or exercise regularly with nearly 20 percent of Americans, 15 and older, participating in some form of physical fitness activity or sport, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ensuring these patients’ eyes are protected and function appropriately for their sport or activity is essential to their vision, safety and health.