A great swing and athletic talent can only take a ball player so far in their career. More often than not, the trait that separates average from elite hitters is their vision, which is one of the most overlooked aspects to baseball performance. In this article, we'll discuss vision at a foundational level, how it influences on-field performance, and how every baseball player can improve their visual skills right from home.
Vision is commonly thought of as wearing contacts, glasses or having '20/20', but it is often confused with sight. Functional vision or 'vision', relies on an individual's ability to identify, process and react to what their eyes are seeing. This can be translated to a player's ability to identify what their eyes are seeing, relay that information to the brain for processing, and trigger a motor response to the appropriate part of the body to react, such as swing a bat at the correct time. Sight on the other hand, is just one of the many visual skills, and it focuses on the actual function of the eyes and allowing an individual to physically see a stationary target or object. Considering over 80% of sensory information is visual, vision plays an undisputed vital role into the performance of baseball players, as it is arguably the most visually-demanding sport. Since humans have two eyes, Depth Perception is a major player in the vision world, as it leverages an individual's binocular vision (use of both use) to point the eyes in the same spot. In baseball, a batter needs both their eyes to accurately track the ball from the moment it leaves the pitcher's hand, all the way to the plate.
Unlike one's eye sight, which can generally be corrected by contacts or glasses, vision requires more direction and training in order to ensure it is not holding an athlete (or anyone) back from their true potential. Think of vision as the 'muscles' in your body that help you lift heavy weights. Athletes constantly go to the gym to train their upper and lower body muscles, but why not the eyes? Just like sight is an important visual skills, some of the most critical visual skills pertaining to baseball include Convergence/Divergence, Recognition, and Tracking.
If you've ever had a fastball fly right by you at the plate, your Convergence skill might be holding you back. This is because Convergence is arguably the most important form of depth perception as it relates to hitting since it's your eyes' efficiency to focus on incoming objects (i.e. a baseball approaching the plate). Pitching is getting nastier each year, with balls breaking at the last second and velocities rising each year, and without proper Convergence training, a hitter's eyes won't be able to keep up and translate to the next level. That's why Vizual Edge has found that MLB players tend to have stronger Convergence skills compared to their minor league counterparts!
Before a hitter can actually utilizing their Convergence skill, they need to be able to pick the ball up out of the pitcher's hand, which is exactly where Divergence comes into play. Generally a more difficult skill compared to Convergence for baseball players, mainly due to the nature of the sport, Divergence focuses on the ability to locate objects early and from a distance. Early pitch and early spin detection are all tied towards a batter's Divergence skill. If you struggle as a hitter to locate the ball, seams or spin early, your Divergence skill could be holding you back. Outfielders naturally tend to have better Divergence skills than their infield teammates simply because of the nature of the position requiring them to focus on targets (i.e. the batter and ball) from a very far distance. As soon as the ball leaves the barrel of the bat, an OF needs to leverage their Divergence skill to locate and track the ball from a distance.
Baseball players use both their Convergence and Divergence skills constantly throughout the course of a game, which is also called "Visual Flexibility," another trainable skill. In the hitting example, batters' first use Divergence to pick the ball up early, as their eyes are aligned outward towards the pitcher's hand. Then, as the ball approaches the final ~10 feet, the batter's eyes start to move inward, also known as Converge, to track it all the way to the plate. The same skills apply towards the defensive side of the game; first locate the ball from a distance (Divergence), then track it all the way into your glove (Convergence).
Coaches preach about pitch recognition all the time, but players generally left guessing at the last second based on what pitch they think is on the way. A 2017 study from The Seattle Times found that "a 100-mph fastball takes roughly 375-400 milliseconds to reach the plate," which is an incredibly short amount of time for a player to identify, process, and react to a fast moving object. But what if you could train your brain's ability to pick up visual cues faster and react quicker? That's exactly where visual Recognition comes into play and can drastically improves a hitter's pitch identification while in the box, generally leading to enhanced overall plate discipline as well. Recognition not only plays an important role in the box, but also on defense as well. Making the 'right' or 'smart' play often is thought of as being one of the intangibles that coaches sometimes can't actually improve. However, quicker and more accurate decision-making starts with a player's visual processing and Recognition skillset to execute effectively. The elite decision-makers and those recognized with 'top baseball IQ' all have one thing in common: superior Recognition skills. If you feel like you're not always making the 'heads up' or 'right play' as an INF or OF, your visual Recognition skills could be impacting you!
There are two main types of visual tracking (both of which Vizual Edge trains), Saccades and Smooth Pursuits. The Vizual Edge baseline test measures an athlete's saccadic tracking skills by assessing speed and accuracy surrounding a visual target that jumps in various spots on the screen, similar to a ball leaving the bat and a SS needing to immediately react to its position to make a play. Defense relies heavily on an athlete's Tracking skills, both from a reaction speed and focus standpoint. Tracking can hold a player back in terms of misjudging the trajectory of a ball, or losing focus on a fly ball or line drive, as well as being a step too slow to react. Hitting certainly depends on a the ability to track the ball all the way to the plate as well. Just as Convergence relates to focus on incoming objects, a player's overall ability to track a target stems from both their Saccadic and Pursuits tracking skill set. Catchers, for example, need to be able to track and adjust incredibly fast to a pitch to ensure it does not go past them, potentially allowing the other team to score. Regardless of your position, batting order or current level of play, without elite Tracking skills, your performance could be suffering!
At the end of the day, vision alone isn't going to make you become an MLB player, but it does play a critical role in performance. There are many variables that make the entire profile of an athlete, and Vizual Edge believes visual skills are one of them. As an athlete, you are already training the rest of your body and muscles, but majority of you are missing the most important skill you possess... your eyes! Separate yourself from other players by enhancing your pitch recognition, timing, contact, fielding skills, throwing accuracy and much more - all in just a few minutes of training.
Vizual Edge trains each of these visual skills in a simple, online platform called the Edge Trainer. It is designed to improve each of these skills in just 15 minutes, 3x a week, right from home and all on your own computer/iPad. Vision training is the easiest way to improve performance, and knowing how important vision is in baseball, what are you waiting for? Sign up for your at-home plan and learn more at vizualedge.com/baseball.