Saturday, March 31, 2007

Curious about Baseball Skills?

This is well worth a read. "The Psychology of Baseball". (Don't worry - it is not about touchy-feely things, except for a small bit.)

Mark Thoma quotes the whole thing here, and nicely ties it to a debate in economics.

Now my view is that if I have to quote the whole thing, I might as well just link to it and let you read it there. This is a tricky question; had Mark followed this strategy, I might not have linked to it. So for the purposes of seducing you into linking to it and reading the whole thig, let me just grab a snippet.

He hypothesized that fielders kept the ball moving through their field of vision in a straight but diagonal line. So if the outfielder is looking at home plate when the ball is hit, he then keeps his eyes on the ball and runs so his head moves along a constant angle until the ball is directly above him, which is when he snags it. To test this, McBeath had fielders put video cameras on their shoulders, and the cameras moved in this manner.

Yet ask any Major Leaguers about this, and you’ll get blank stares. McBeath did talk to pro outfielders, and responses ranged from "Beats me" to "You’re full of it." That’s because there’s no conscious processing involved; it’s all taking place at the level of instinct, even though the geometry is sophisticated.

It turns out that outfielders aren’t the only ones who operate according to McBeath’s strategy. Dogs use it to catch Frisbees, bats and insects use it to catch prey, infielders use the model — only upside-down — to field ground balls, and, now, robots use it, too. Because the algorithm for catching fly balls is actually so simple, McBeath has been able to work with robotics experts to program robots to catch fly balls. (Or at least to get to the right spot; catching is a different problem for a robot with no hands.)

So follow the link and read the whole thing.



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