You Can’t Think and Hit at the Same Time: Neural Correlates of Baseball Pitch Classification

Hitting a baseball is often described as the most difficult thing to do in sports. A key aptitude of a good hitter is the ability to determine which pitch is coming. This rapid decision requires the batter to make a judgment in a fraction of a second based largely on the trajectory and spin of the ball. When does this decision occur relative to the ball’s trajectory and is it possible to identify neural correlates that represent how the decision evolves over a split second? Using single-trial analysis of electroencephalography (EEG) we address this question within the context of subjects discriminating three types of pitches (fastball, curveball, slider) based on pitch trajectories. We find clear neural signatures of pitch classification and, using signal detection theory, we identify the times of discrimination on a trial-to-trial basis. Based on these neural signatures we estimate neural discrimination distributions as a function of the distance the ball is from the plate. We find all three pitches yield unique distributions, namely the timing of the discriminating neural signatures relative to the position of the ball in its trajectory. For instance, fastballs are discriminated at the earliest points in their trajectory, relative to the two other pitches, which is consistent with the need for some constant time to generate and execute the motor plan for the swing (or inhibition of the swing). We also find incorrect discrimination of a pitch (errors) yields neural sources in Brodmann Area 10, which has been implicated in prospective memory, recall, and task difficulty. In summary, we show that single-trial analysis of EEG yields informative distributions of the relative point in a baseball’s trajectory when the batter makes a decision on which pitch is coming.

Accepted 19 December 2012
Download Now

Latest News & Links

See All News