Beanball Retaliations Rise With The Temperature

Last week, the Cubs made a rare visit to Fenway Park to face the Red Sox in an Major League Baseball interleague series.  Things got a little nasty when Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves put a fastball into the face of the Cubs’ Marlon Byrd, causing multiple fractures.  As is “tradition” in baseball, the Red Sox batters knew the score would be settled in the following game.  After just missing Jed Lowrie with an inside pitch in the eighth inning, Cub pitcher Kerry Wood made sure he connected with his target and plunked Lowrie in the behind on the very next pitch.

"After he missed the first one, I figured there's a good chance [I'd get hit]," Lowrie told  "I'm [ticked] off. I just got hit with a 97-mph fastball," he said. "I mean, I understand the situation, but I'm [ticked] off."

This type of diamond justice will only get worse as we get into the hot summer months of the season, according to researchers at Duke University.  Richard Larrick, a management professor at the Fuqua School of Business studied 57,293 Major League Baseball games from 1952 through 2009, including 4.5 million at bats. He looked at the relationship between batters hit by a pitch and the air temperature druing the game.  If a pitcher’s teammate gets plugged, whether it be intentional or not, he is much more likely to retaliate if the temperature is 90F or above.  However, if no one has been hit yet, the heat is not any more likely to cause the first knockdown.

"We found that heat does not lead to more aggression in general," said Larrick. "Instead, heat affects a specific form of aggression. It increases retribution."

They used baseball as a test environment as most other variables can be controlled. "There are decades of research showing heat leads to aggression, like finding more violent crime in the summer," he said. "But in crime statistics, it's hard to really determine if it's heat or other things. One of the nice things about studying baseball is that we're able to control for factors besides heat."

Just boys being boys, right?  That would seem to be the male stereotype according to another “let’s use baseball to test something” study.  A group of researchers led by Kerri Johnson, an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at UCLA, wanted to see if certain emotions are unfairly connected to gender in our perceptions.  

By using the same type of video motion capture technology used to model athletes in sports video games, they captured the baseball throwing motion of 30 different male and female actors.  They were asked to throw pitches with different emotions, like sadness and anger.  By using the motion capture camera, only the bio-mechanical actions of the actors were captured, not their facial expressions or gender.

Next, Johnson asked 93 college student volunteers to watch these randomly ordered videos of the pitchers and try to identify the emotion and the gender of each thrower.  Thirty percent of the time, they correctly identified a “sad” throw while an “angry” throw was chosen 70 percent correctly.

However, even though each volunteer was shown an equal number of sad and angry throws from each gender pitcher, the sad throws were identified as being female 60 percent of the time while 70 percent of the angry throws were associated with a male pitcher.

"It's OK -- even expected -- for men to express anger," Johnson said. "But when women have a negative emotion, they're expected to express their displeasure with sadness. Similarly, women are allowed to cry, whereas men face all kinds of stigma if they do so. Here, we found that these stereotypes impact very basic judgments of others as well, such as whether a person is a man or woman."

So, we’ll just go with that gender bias and assume that when Kerry Wood was coming inside on Jed Lowrie, it was most likely out of anger, not sadness.

See also: Youth Baseball Pitchers Need To Stay Under 100 Innings Per Year and Virtual Reality Lab Proves How Fly Balls Are Caught

Breaking Curveballs And Rising Fastballs Are Optical Illusions

(Credit: iStockphoto/Barry Howell)
Curveballs curve and fastballs go really fast, but new research suggests that no pitcher can make a curveball "break" or a fastball "rise."  Led by Arthur Shapiro of American University and Zhong-Lin Lu of the University of Southern California, the researchers explain the illusion of the curveball's break in a publicly available study in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study comes a year after the same group won the prize for best illusion at the Vision Sciences annual meeting with a demonstration of how an object falling in a straight line can seem to change direction.  That demonstration led to debates among baseball fans over the existence of the break in curveballs, breaking balls and sliders.

There is no debate in the researchers' minds.

"The curveball does curve, but the curve has been measured and shown to be gradual," Shapiro said. "It's always going to follow a parabolic path. But from a hitter's point of view, an approaching ball can appear to break, drop or do a whole range of unusual behaviors."

A little terminology: to many batters and pitchers, a break is a deviation from the relatively straight path of a fastball. In that sense, all curveballs break.  The authors of the study use the term to describe an apparent sudden drop or other change in trajectory as the ball nears home plate. That, they say, is an illusion.

The PLoS ONE study explains the illusion and relates the perceived size of the break to the shifting of the batter's eye between central and peripheral vision.

"If the batter takes his eye off the ball by 10 degrees, the size of the break is about one foot," Lu said.
He explained that batters tend to switch from central to peripheral vision when the ball is about 20 feet away, or two-thirds of the way to home plate. The eye's peripheral vision lacks the ability to separate the motions of the spinning ball, Lu said. In particular, it gets confused by the combination of the ball's velocity and spin.

The result is a gap between the ball's trajectory and the path as perceived by the batter. The gap is small when the batter switches to peripheral vision, but gets larger as the ball travels the last 20 feet to home plate.

As the ball arrives at the plate, the batter switches back to central vision and sees it in a different spot than expected. That perception of an abrupt change is the "break" in the curveball that frustrates batters.

"Depending on how much and when the batter's eyes shift while tracking the ball, you can actually get a sizable break," Lu said. "The difference between central and peripheral vision is key to understanding the break of the curveball."

A similar illusion explains the "rising fastball," Lu added.  The obvious remedy for a batter, repeated by parents and coaches everywhere, is to "keep your eye on the ball."  That is easier said than done, according to the authors. As the ball nears home plate, its size in the batter's field of view spills out of the eye's central vision.

"Our central vision is very small," Shapiro said. "It's the size of the tip of your thumb at arm's length. When an object falls outside of that region, strange perceptions can occur."

Lu noted that the spin of the ball tends to draw the eye to the side, making it even harder for the batter to keep the ball in central vision.  "People's eyes have a natural tendency to follow motion," Lu explained.  His advice to hitters: "Don't trust your eyes. Know the limitations of your visual system. This is something that can be trained, probably."

Lu, Shapiro and their co-authors plan to build a physical device to test the curveball illusion. Their study was carried out with volunteers tracking the movement of a disk on a computer monitor.
To the authors' knowledge, the PLoS ONE study represents the first attempt to explain the break in the curveball purely as a visual illusion. Others have tried to explain the break as a result of the hitter overestimating the speed of a pitch.

Responding to comments from baseball fans, Lu agreed that on television, pitches filmed from behind home plate appear to break. He called it a "geometric illusion" based on the fact that for the first part of a pitch, the viewer sees little or no vertical drop.

The ball is falling at the same rate throughout the pitch, Lu said, but because the pitcher tosses the ball at a slight upward angle, the first part of the pitch appears more or less flat.  As a result, the drop of the ball near home plate surprises the eye.  For Shapiro and Lu, who have studied visual perception for many years, the PLoS ONE results go beyond baseball.

"Humans constantly shift objects between central and peripheral vision and may encounter effects like the curveball's break regularly," the authors wrote. "Peripheral vision's inability to separate different visual signals may have f ar-reaching implications in understanding human visual perception and functional vision in daily life."

Source: University of Southern California and Arthur Shapiro, Zhong-Lin Lu, Chang-Bing Huang, Emily Knight, Robert Ennis. Transitions between Central and Peripheral Vision Create Spatial/Temporal Distortions: A Hypothesis Concerning the Perceived Break of the Curveball. PLoS ONE, 2010; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013296

See also: Morning Type Pitchers Do Better In Day Games and Virtual Reality Lab Proves How Fly Balls Are Caught

How Should Cheating Be Defined In Sports?

When Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano reports for spring training in April, he will be anxious to demonstrate the effects of a performance-enhancing off-season. His brain will benefit from a sharper focus while his throwing arm will boast an extra boost that has been missing since 2006. Stimulants? Steroids? Scandal? No need to panic, he just had LASIK surgery for his eyes and "Tommy John" surgery for his injured elbow. Of course, had he chosen amphetamines to improve his focus or steroids to increase his strength, he would have been banned and berated. 

Society Decides
There is confusion over the means and methods athletes have available to enhance their performance. Certainly, corrective eye surgery to raise your vision level to 20/20 seems fair, but many athletes go into the procedure hoping to come out with enhanced 20/15 or 20/10 eyesight. Replacing a damaged elbow ligament with a tendon doesn't seem like cheating, but what if its done on a healthy elbow hoping for a few more miles per hour on a fastball that has faded over the years?

Earlier this month, a commentary in the journal Nature recommended a fresh look at cognitive-enhancing drugs and where to draw the line in the sand between natural performance and enhanced performance. The authors, an esteemed group of neuroscientists and ethicists, argued that "enhanced" is only defined by the rules set by society.
Certainly, abuse of prescription drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall, is illegal because of the potential, harmful side effects. Still, reports of the rising use of these drugs by college students and professionals show the demand for options beyond nutrition, exercise and sleep.
These drugs are just the first generation of possible brain boosting supplements, which is why the Nature commentators are calling for an organized, stigma-free approach to evaluating the risks, benefits and ethics of future products.

Even in Major League Baseball, there is mounting evidence that cognitive-enhancing drugs may be on the rise. Since MLB banned amphetamines in 2006, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of therapeutic use exemptions issued to players for attention-deficit disorder diagnoses, for which drugs like Ritalin and Adderall can be legitimately prescribed. In 2006, 28 players applied for the exemption, while a year later there were 103. There is suspicion that many of these ADD diagnoses are just excuses to get the pills.

Legal Jolt

So, what if there was a cognitive-enhancing, sports supplement that increased alertness, concentration, reaction time and focus while also decreasing the perception of muscle fatigue? Even more encouraging, this supplement is sold in millions of outlets and is socially accepted worldwide. It comes in three sizes, tall, grande or venti – coffee. More specifically, caffeine has been the subject of many recent studies of its effectiveness, both cognitively and physiologically.

Earlier this year, Dr. Carrie Ruxton completed a literature survey to summarize 41 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials published over the past 15 years to establish what range of caffeine consumption would maximize benefits and minimize risk for cognitive function, mood, physical performance and hydration. The studies were divided into two categories, those that looked at the cognitive effects and those that looked at physical performance effects.
The results concluded that there was a significant improvement in cognitive functions like attention, reaction time and mental processing as well as physical benefits described as increased "time to exhaustion" and decreased "perception of fatigue" in cycling and running tests.

Given these results, how exactly does caffeine perform these wonderful tricks? Dr. Ruxton explains from the study, "Caffeine is believed to impact on mood and performance by inhibiting the binding of both adenosine and benzodiazepine receptor ligands to brain membranes. As these neurotransmitters are known to slow down brain activity, a blockade of their receptors lessens this effect."
Bottom line, the chemicals in your brain that would cause you to feel tired are blocked, giving you a feeling of ongoing alertness. This pharmacological process is very similar to that of the ADD drugs.

If caffeine is such a clear cut performance enhancing supplement, why did the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) first add caffeine to its banned substance list, only to remove it in 2004? At the time that it was placed on the banned list, the threshold for a positive caffeine test was set to a post-exercise urinary caffeine concentration of about 3-4 cups of strong coffee.
However, more recent research has shown that caffeine has ergogenic effects at levels as low as the equivalent of 1-2 cups of coffee. So, it was hard for WADA to know where to draw the line between athletes just having a few morning cups of coffee/tea and those that were intentionally consuming caffeine to increase their performance level.

So, if Chris Capuano has a double espresso before pitching, his brain, eyes and arm should enhance his performance in the game.  Is that an unfair advantage? Science will continue to offer new and improved methods for raising an athlete's game above the competition. Players, league officials and fans will have to decide where to draw the line.

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Baseball Brains - Fielding Into The World Series

With the crack of the bat, the ball sails deep into the outfield. The center-fielder starts his run back and to the right, trying to keep his eyes on the ball through its flight path. His pace quickens initially, then slows down as the ball approaches. He arrives just in time to make the catch. What just happened? How did he know where to run and at what speed so that he and the ball intersected at the same exact spot on the field. Why didn't he sprint to the landing spot and then wait for the ball to drop, instead of his controlled speed to arrive just when the ball did? What visual cues did he use to track the ball's flight?  Did Willie Mays make the most famous catch in baseball history because he is one of the greatest players of all-time with years of practice? Maybe, but now take a look at this "Web Gems" highlight video of 12 and 13 year-olds from last year's Little League World Series:

Just like we learned in pitching and hitting, fielding requires extensive mental abilities involving eyes, brain, and body movements to accomplish the task. Some physical skills, such as speed, do play a part in catching, but its the calculations and estimating that our brain has to compute that we often take for granted. The fact that fielders are not perfect in this skill, (there are dropped fly balls, or bad judgments of ball flight), begs the question of how to improve? As we saw with pitching and hitting (and most sports skills), practice does improve performance. But, if we understand what our brains are trying to accomplish, we can hopefully design more productive training routines to use in practice.

Once more, we turn to Mike Stadler, associate professor of psychology at University of Missouri, who provides a great overview of current fielding research in his book, "The Psychology of Baseball".

One organization that does not take this skill for granted is NASA. The interception of a ballistic object in mid-flight can describe a left fielder's job or an anti-missile defense system or how a pilot maneuvers a spacecraft through a three dimensional space. In fact, Michael McBeath , a former post doctoral fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center, (now an associate professor at Arizona State University), has been studying fly ball catching since 1995, beginning with his research study, "How baseball outfielders determine where to run to catch fly ball". 

His team developed a rocket-science like theory named Linear Optical Trajectory to describe the process that a fielder uses to follow the path of a batted ball. LOT says the fielder will adjust his movement towards the ball so that its trajectory follows a straight line through his field of vision. Rather than compute the landing point of the ball, racing to that spot and waiting, the fielder uses the information provided by the path of the ball to constantly adjust his path so that they intersect at the right time and place.

The LOT theory is an evolution from an earlier theory called Optical Acceleration Cancellation (OAC) that had the same idea but only explained the fielder's tracking behavior in the vertical dimension. In other words, as the ball leaves the bat the fielder watches the ball rise in his field of vision. If he were to stand still and the ball was hit hard enough to land behind him, his eyes would track the ball up and over his head, or at a 90 degree angle. If the ball landed in front of him, he would see the ball rise and fall but his viewing angle may not rise above 45 degrees. LOT and OAC argue that the fielder repositions himself throughout the flight of the ball to keep this viewing angle between 0 and 90 degrees. If its rising too fast, he needs to turn and run backwards. If the viewing angle is low, then the fielder needs to move forward so that the ball doesn't land in front of him. He can't always make to the landing spot in time, but keeping the ball at about a 45 degree angle by moving will help ensure that he gets there in time. While OAC explained balls hit directly at a fielder, LOT helps add the side-to-side dimension, as in our example of above of a ball hit to the right of the fielder.  More recently, McBeath has successfully defended his LOT theory here and here.

The OAC and LOT theories do agree on a fundamental cognitive science debate. There are two theories of how we perceive the world and then react to it. First, the Information Processing (IP) theory likens our brain to a computer in that we have inputs, our senses that gather information about the world, a memory system that stores all of our past experiences and lessons learned, and a "CPU" or main processor that combines our input with our memory and computes the best answer for the given problem. So, IP would say that the fielder sees the fly ball and offers it to the brain as input, the brain then pulls from memory all of the hundreds or thousands of fly ball flight paths that have been experienced, and then computes the best path to the ball's landing point based on what it has "learned" through practice. McBeath's research and observations of fielders has shown that the processing time to accomplish this task would be too great for the player to react.

OAC and LOT subscribe to the alternate theory of human perception, Ecological Psychology (EP). EP eliminates the call to memory from the processing and argues that the fielder observes the flight path of the ball and can react using the angle monitoring system. This is still up for debate as the IPers would argue "learned facts" like what pitch was thrown, how a certain batter hits those pitches, how the prevailing wind will affect the ball, etc. And, with EP, how can the skill differences between a young ballplayer and an experienced major leaguer be accounted for? What is the point of practice, if the trials and errors are not stored/accessed in memory?

Of course, we haven't mentioned ground balls and their behavior, due to the lack of research out there. The reaction time for a third baseman to snare a hot one-hopper down the line is much shorter. This would also argue in favor of EP, but what other systems are involved?

Arguing about which theory explains a fielder's actions is only productive if we can apply the research to create better drills and practices for our players. The LOT theory seems to be  getting there as an explanation, but there is still debate over EP vs. IP . So many sport skills rely on some of these foundations, that this type of research will continue to be relevant.  As with pitching and hitting, fielding seems to improve with practice.

And then there's the ultimate catch of all-time, that baseball fans have long been buzzing about.  Your reward for getting to the end of this article is this little piece of history...

You were looking for Willie Mays and "The Catch", weren't you?  This ball girl would own the best all-time fielding achievement... if it were real.  But no, just another digital editing marvel.  This was going to be a commercial for Gatorade, then it was put on the shelf.  After it was leaked onto YouTube, the video hoax became a viral hit.  So much so, that Gatorade left it on YouTube and did make a commercial out of it for the 2008 All-Star game.  But, you don't need to tell your Little Leaguers.  Let them dream...

Baseball Brains - Hitting Into The World Series

Ted Williams, arguably the greatest baseball hitter of all-time, once said, "I think without question the hardest single thing to do in sport is to hit a baseball". Williams was the last major league player to hit .400 for an entire season and that was back in 1941, 67 years ago! In the 2008 Major League Baseball season that just ended, the league batting average for all players was .264, while the strikeout percentage was just under 20%. So, in ten average at-bats, a professional ballplayer, paid millions of dollars per year, gets a hit less than 3 times but fails to even put the ball in play 2 times. So, why is hitting a baseball so difficult? What visual, cognitive and motor skills do we need to make contact with an object moving at 70-100 mph?

In the second of three posts in the Baseball Brains series, we'll take a quick look at some of the theory behind this complicated skill. Once again, we turn to Professor Mike Stadler and his book "The Psychology of Baseball" for the answers.  First, here's the "Splendid Splinter" in action:

A key concept of pitching and hitting in baseball was summed up long ago by Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, when he said, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” To sync up the swing of the bat with the exact time and location of the ball's arrival is the challenge that each hitter faces. If the intersection is off by even tenths of a second, the ball will be missed. Just as pitchers need to manage their targeting, the hitter must master the same two dimensions, horizontal and vertical. The aim of the pitch will affect the horizontal dimension while the speed of the pitch will affect the vertical dimension. The hitter's job is to time the arrival of the pitch based on the estimated speed of the ball while determining where, horizontally, it will cross the plate. The shape of the bat helps the batter in the horizontal space as its length compensates for more error, right to left. However, the narrow 3-4" barrel does not cover alot of vertical ground, forcing the hitter to be more accurate judging the vertical height of a pitch than the horizontal location. So, if a pitcher can vary the speed of his pitches, the hitter will have a harder time judging the vertical distance that the ball will drop as it arrives, and swing either over the top or under the ball.

A common coach's tip to hitters is to "keep your eye on the ball" or "watch the ball hit the bat". As Stadler points out, doing both of these things is nearly impossible due to the concept known as "angular velocity". Imagine you are standing on the side of freeway with cars coming towards you. Off in the distance, you are able to watch the cars approaching your position with re
lative ease, as they seem to be moving at a slower speed. As the cars come closer and pass about a 45 degree angle and then zoom past your position, they seem to "speed up" and you have to turn your eyes/head quickly to watch them. While the car is going at a constant speed, its angular velocity increases making it difficult to track.

This same concept applies to the hitter. As the graphic above shows (click to enlarge), the first few feet that a baseball travels when it leaves a pitcher's hand is the most important to the hitter, as the ball can be tracked by the hitter's eyes. As the ball approaches past a 45 degree angle, it is more difficult to "keep your eye on the ball" as your eyes need to shift through many more degrees of movement. Research reported by Stadler shows that hitters cannot watch the entire flight of the ball, so they employ two tactics.

First, they might follow the path of the ball for 70-80% of its flight, but then their eyes can't keep up and they estimate or extrapolate the remaining path and make a guess as to where they need to swing to have the bat meet the ball. In this case, they don't actually "see" the bat hit the ball. Second, they might follow the initial flight of the ball, estimate its path, then shift their eyes to the anticipated point where the ball crosses the plate to, hopefully, see their bat hit the ball. This inability to see the entire flight of the ball to contact point is what gives the pitcher the opportunity to fool the batter with the speed of the pitch. If a hitter is thinking "fast ball", their brain will be biased towards completing the estimated path across the plate at a higher elevation and they will aim their swing there. If the pitcher actually throws a curve or change-up, the speed will be slower and the path of the ball will result in a lower elevation when it crosses the plate, thus fooling the hitter.

To demonstrate the effect of reaction time for the batter, FSN Sport Science compared hitting a 95 mph baseball at 60' 6" versus a 70 mph softball pitched from 43' away.  The reaction time for the hitter went from .395 seconds to .350 seconds, making it actually harder to hit.  That's not all that makes it difficult.  Take a look:

As in pitching, the eyes and brain determine much of the success for hitters. The same concepts apply to hitting any moving object in sports; tennis, hockey, soccer, etc. Over time, repeated practice may be the only way to achieve the type of reaction speed that is necessary, but even for athletes who have spent their whole lives swinging a bat, there seems to be human limitation to success. Tracking a moving object through space also applies to catching a ball, which we'll look at next time.

Baseball Brains - Pitching Into The World Series

With the MLB League Championship Series' beginning this week, Twenty-six teams are wondering what it takes to reach the "final four" of baseball which leads to the World Series. The Red Sox, Rays, Phillies and Dodgers understand its not just money and luck. Over 162 games, it usually comes down to the fundamentals of baseball: pitching, hitting and catching. That sounds simple enough. So, why can't everyone execute those skills consistently? Why do pitchers struggle with their control? Why do batters strike out? Why do fielders commit errors? It turns out Yogi Berra was right when he said, "Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical." In this three part series, each skill will be broken down into its cognitive sub-tasks and you may be surprised at the complexity that such a simple game requires of our brains.

First up, pitching or even throwing a baseball seems effortless until the pressure is on and the aim goes awry. Pitching a 3" diameter baseball 60 feet, 6 inches over a target that is 8 inches wide requires an accuracy of 1/2 to 1 degree. Throwing it fast, with the pressure of a game situation makes this task one of the hardest in sports. In addition, a fielder throwing to another fielder from 40, 60 or 150 feet away, sometimes off balance or on the run, tests the brain-body connection for accuracy. So, how do we do it? And how can we learn to do it more consistently? In his book, The Psychology of Baseball , Mike Stadler, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, addresses each of these questions.

There are two dimensions to think about when throwing an object at a target: vertical and horizontal. The vertical dimension is a function of the distance of the throw and the effect of gravity on the object. So the thrower's estimate of distance between himself and the target will determine the accuracy of the throw vertically. Basically, if the distance is underestimated, the required strength of the throw will be underestimated and will lose the battle with gravity, resulting in a throw that will be either too low or will bounce before reaching the target. An example of this is a fast ball which is thrown with more velocity, so will reach its target before gravity has a path-changing effect on it. On the other hand, a curve ball or change-up may seem to curve downward, partly because of the spin put on the ball affecting its aerodynamics, but also because these pitches are thrown with less force, allowing gravity to pull the ball down. In the horizontal dimension, the "right-left" accuracy is related to more to the "aim" of the throw and the ability of the thrower to adjust hand-eye coordination along with finger, arm, shoulder angles and the release of the ball to send the ball in the intended direction.

So, how do we improve accuracy in both dimensions? Prof. Stadler points out that research shows that skill in the vertical/distance estimating dimension is more genetically determined, while skill horizontally can be better improved with practice. Remember those spatial organization tests that we took that show a set of connected blocks in a certain shape and then show you four more sets of conected blocks? The question is which of the four sets could result from rotating the first set of blocks. Research has shown that athletes that are good at these spatial relations tests are also accurate throwers in the vertical dimension. Why? The thought is that those athletes are better able to judge the movement of objects through space and can better estimate distance in 3D space. Pitchers are able to improve this to an extent as the distance to the target is fixed. A fielder, however, starts his throw from many different positions on the field and has more targets (bases and cut-off men) to choose from, making his learning curve a bit longer.

If a throw or pitch is off-target, then what went wrong? Research has shown that
despite all of the combinations of fingers, hand, arm, shoulder and body movements, it seems to all boil down to the timing of the finger release of the ball. In other words, when the pitcher's hand comes forward and the fingers start opening to allow the ball to leave. The timing of this release can vary by hundredths of a second but has significant impact on the accuracy of the throw. But, its also been shown that the throwing action happens so fast, that the brain could not consciously adjust or control that release in real-time. This points to the throwing action being controlled by what psychologists call an automated "motor program" that is created through many repeated practice throws. But, if a "release point" is incorrect, how does a pitcher correct that if they can't do so in real-time? It seems they need to change the embedded program by more practice.

Another component of "off-target" pitching or throwing is the psychological side of a player's mental state/attitude. Stadler identifies research that these motor programs can be called up by the brain by current thoughts. There seems to be "good" programs and "bad" programs, meaning the brain has learned how to throw a strike and learned many programs that will not throw a strike. By "seeding" the recall with positive or negative thoughts, the "strike" program may be run, but so to can the "ball" program. So, if a pitcher thinks to himself, "don't walk this guy", he may be subconsciously calling up the "ball" program and it will result in a pitch called as a ball. So, this is why sports pscyhologists stress the need to "think positively", not just for warm and fuzzy feelings, but the brain may be listening and will instruct your body what to do.

So, assuming Josh Beckett of the Red Sox is getting the ball across the plate, will the Rays hit it? That is the topic for next time when we look at hitting an object that is moving at 97 MPH and reaches you in less than half a second.