Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Predicting the Future


Here's the scene: Alex Rodriquez is in the batter's box and the pitcher fires a fastball over home plate. It takes only about a third of second for the ball, traveling at 100 miles per hour, to travel from the pitcher's mound to home plate. Yet somehow A-Rod manages to swing his bat around and blow the cover off the ball.

But there's a problem. The human brain doesn't work fast enough for even the "best player in baseball" to recognize that it's a fastball, crossing over the outside corner of the plate, in exactly 37 milliseconds. By the time he figures out where the ball is, it will be in the catcher's mitt.

"The batter can't actually react to what he sees, because [the ball] would be past him" by the time he reacts, said Richard A. Andersen, professor of neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology. The batter's brain may not be fast enough, but Andersen's research suggests it can make up for that by predicting the future.
The article tries to describe how technical and complicated all of this is -- there are paragraphs about monkeys with electrodes stuck in their brains and everything -- but doesn't this all pretty much boil down to "well, it was 3-1, so I was sitting fastball"?


Drew said...

It's probably worth mentioning that the count of pitchers who actually throw a ball 100 miles an hour in the major leagues right now is approximately zero. I'm not sure if Zumaya has his 100 MPH gas since he's come back, but he's the only guy I've known who could hit it in the past couple of years. Either way, the average fastball in the bigs is substantially slower than 100 MPH, and indeed, most hitters have a hard time with a guy throwing 100. Then of course, there's the fact that the ball is not a "point" and the bat is not a "line", so a margin of error is involved when you try to hit something, and your swing spends more than an instant in the strike zone. I didn't read the whole article, but these are the kinds of things that tend to be overlooked.

tadthebad said...

Isn't this already common knowledge, more or less? Drew's accurate comment notwithstanding, every hitter has to project to where he expects or anticipates the ball will be, based on a limited glimpse of its trajectory, when his bat is swung over the plate. You see, kids, this is why hitters will swing at and miss well-thrown change-ups, especially after seeing several fastballs. Obviously you all know this already.

I'm not missing something earth-shattering here, am I?

Adam said...

It's cool because of the insight into how the ball works, not because of it insight into how baseball works :P

adam said...

Ugh. and by "how the ball works," I obviously meant, "how the brain works," but by the time I realized my mistake, I had clicked Publish. Apparently my future predicting skills are bad.

Jason said...

No, dumbass. It boils down to "and that happened"


Loztralia said...

I recall reading the same bit of research about cricket, ooh, ages ago. Ten years at least. Essentially saying that batsmen have to premeditate to some extent.

I wonder if these scientists could have saved their time and someone else's research funding by reading the cricket study and saying "baseball is presumably the same".

Jake said...

There's a link here to a list of ~40 pitchers who have thrown 100 MPH fastballs in a MLB game in their lifetimes.