Like Teddy KGB, elite hitters are always on the lookout for clues to what the opponent is thinking and going to throw next. As I've written about before, pitchers get top hitters out mostly by disrupting the batter’s timing at least as much as they try to attack a flawed swing. I’ve heard stories - some true, some embellished, some possibly fabricated entirely - of hitters able to spot a pitcher tipping the incoming offering by the movement of a pitcher’s glove, the exposed index finger outside of the glove, facial mannerisms, arm actions/arm angle, and even hitters that can spot the grip of a pitch during the downward arm swing of the pitcher on the mound.
For the rest of us mortals, the main way to identify a pitch is by picking up the seams of the ball after the pitcher releases it. A high spinning 4-seam fastball would appear almost white, and a 12/6 curveball could look the same. A 2-seam fastball would have an “ugly spin” - meaning the white of the baseball was broken up by the 2 seams in the middle of the ball moving vertically on its path to the plate. The tell-tale sign of a slider was the red dot in the middle of the ball, caused by the bullet-like rotation of the ball when a pitcher releases it with his hand largely on the side.
The earlier a hitter can spot these differences, the sooner he/she can decide whether it’s a good pitch to swing at or not. In the scouting world, we always talked about (and were on the lookout for) hitters that saw the ball early - Barry Bonds was the best example - and these were hitters that could spot the spin of the baseball and know where it was going instantaneously. For other flawed hitters, it was the opposite; no matter how finely tuned their swing might be or how much speed they swung the bat with, they recognized the spin of the ball much too late to be able to make accurate decisions on whether to swing or not.
And this is why I’ve been especially excited about Vizual Edge’s new contrast sensitivity training as part of our Edge Trainer program. The ability to pick up subtle contrasts in the seams of a ball quickly often is the difference between a so-so hitter and a great one. Now, there’s a way to intentionally train your contrast sensitivity with our software.
Again - as players move up and advance each year (from 10u baseball all the way to the major leagues), hitting becomes as much a visual and cognitive exercise as it is a physical one, so it’s imperative to train the “whole hitter” if you’re to develop to your ceiling as a player.