For Mookie Betts, Its Brains Over Brawn For Hitting Success

For Mookie Betts, Its Brains Over Brawn For Hitting Success

See the ball, hit the ball.

For those baseball hitters who can do the former, the latter comes much easier. Seeing, identifying and selecting which pitch to swing at is a combination of visual perception, brain processing and motor skill execution. Sure, the physics of hitting a baseball, measured by things called launch angle and exit velocity, determine the trajectory and distance of a batted ball. But it’s that pre-contact decision making process that gets hitters on base so they can score runs and win games. Just as bat speed, leg drive and arm strength define the distance of a hit, the purely cognitive skills of perception, information processing and hand-eye coordination pick out the best pitch to hit and, more importantly, which pitch to avoid.

And when you’re 5 feet, 9 inches tall, you rely on those brain skills much more than physical dominance to stay up in the big leagues. That’s exactly what Mookie Betts, right fielder for the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox, has done over his young four-season career. Sure, he won the AL batting title this year with a .346 batting average, but he also had a league high slugging percentage, with 32 home runs and 80 RBIs.

Substituting brain for brawn, Betts excels in a category of baseball analytics known as plate discipline, in other words, picking the right pitch to swing at and then making contact with that swing. In the pre-swing decision-making process, hitters with good plate discipline swing at pitches in the strike zone, not out of it. When they do decide to swing, they make contact more often with better hand-eye coordination.

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