New research from Duke Health suggests baseball scouts looking for a consistent, conscientious hitter may find clues not only in their performance on the field, but also in front of a computer screen. In a study of 252 baseball professionals published in the journal Scientific Reports, Duke researchers found players with higher scores on a series of vision and motor tasks completed on large touch-screen machines called Nike Sensory Stations, had better on-base percentages, more walks and fewer strikeouts (collectively referred to as plate discipline) compared to their peers. The players were on U.S. major and minor league teams. They used large touch-screen stations to complete nine exercises, many of them resembling two-dimensional video games where users track or touch flat shapes as they scoot across the screen.
The tasks test a person's ability to glean information from a faint object or in a split second plus skills such as reaction time and hand-eye coordination. The researchers found that overall, better performance on tasks predicted better batting performance for measures of plate discipline, such as on-base percentage, strikeout rate and walk rate, but not slugging percentage or pitching statistics. In particular, high scores on a perception-span task, which measured the player's ability to remember and recreate visual patterns, were associated with an increased ability to get on base. High scores in hand-eye coordination and reaction time were associated with an increased ability to draw walks, while better scores in spatial recognition, such as the ability to shift attention between near and far targets, were associated with fewer strikeouts.