We’ve already confirmed that Manny Ramirez is the smartest baseball player in the world, but what we didn’t know is that the success rate of highly skilled hitters like Ramirez is largely a function of their ability to see into the future.
That’s according to ABC News, which interviewed a bunch of scientists to figure out exactly how anyone can hit a baseball traveling at close to 100 miles an hour from only 60 feet, 6 inches away. Everything we know about cognition and reflexes says that should be impossible.
The answer is that batters are actually swinging at a ball they haven’t really “seen” yet:
“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 batter picks up visual clues, such as how the pitcher is holding the ball, to predict where the ball will be in less than a second, Andersen said in a telephone interview. And of course the batter probably also knows a lot about the pitcher, including his favorite pitches.
The article also points out that the time between when the pitcher releases the ball to when it crosses the plate is shorter than the span between heart beats. With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, of course, who had his heart surgically replaced by a computer built by marketing executives.
Why Even Great Batters Strike Out [ABC News]