The Refractive Error of Professional Baseball Players

For MLB Players, 20/20 Vision Just Isn't Enough

The Elite Vision of Major League Baseball Players

In the professional leagues, hitting a pitched baseball has been described as one of the most difficult tasks in any sport. A baseball, barely 3 inches in diameter, is pitched at speeds over 90 mph, taking less than half a second to reach the plate. And in that time, the batter must judge the pitched ball and decide if and when to swing, in just milliseconds. It’s not difficult to understand that remarkable level of difficulty. Think about that next time you’re arguing that the Cubs only won the 2016 World Series because of the rain delay.

Generally speaking, baseball players can see with substantially more precision than the average human, with an extraordinary ability to focus on an object. Normal vision for the average person is typically described as being 20/20. Baseball players, on the other hand, have shown to have visual acuity approaching 20/12 (20/8 is often considered to be the best humanly possible vision). Elite vision clearly indicates a profound ability to quickly judge how to successfully hit a pitched ball. Maybe this can shed some light on why Michael Jordan, arguably one of the best athletes of all time, for the life of him could not successfully hit a baseball.

So to those of you normal 20/20-vision people, with the “baseball’s the most boring sport to watch” and the “baseball requires little athleticism” comments, get out and try to hit a professionally-pitched ball before judging a player for whiffing one of Corey Kluber’s pitches.

MLB players have elite vision - Smart Vision LabsWith the help of ophthalmologist Dr. Daniel Laby and the SUNY College of Optometry, we conducted a study to prove our hypotheses. During the 2016 Spring Training Season, Dr. Laby tested over 600 MLB players using our handheld wavefront autorefractor, the SVOne. The results of the study showed that the SVOne autorefraction system can successfully measure the small, yet significant, refractive errors in the sample of players that were tested. In general, almost all of these athletes are clinically proven to have little to no error in refraction, which differentiates them from the general population and consequently leads to their profound ability at hitting a baseball

The results of the exam did conclude, in fact, that baseball players tend to have visual acuity around 20/12, meaning that a baseball player can see from 20 feet away what the average person can see from only 12. And for those demonstrating slight refractive error, if left uncorrected, it could decrease vision to at least 20/20, likely making them inadequate at batting at a similar level to most MLB players.

But I’m not saying that almost all baseball players naturally have vision better than 20/20. In fact, Laby estimates that up to 20% of MLB players wear corrective lenses when playing. And players with 20/20 vision are increasingly wearing lenses to achieve this level of elite vision that so many of their teammates naturally have.

So imagine when scouting players, you can use Smart Vision Labs’ portable autorefractor to conduct vision tests. You potentially might find that a player with tremendous potential has a slight refractive error, and given even the slightest correction, it could be the difference between this rookie batting an average of .260 versus a .300.

Only about 5% of minor league players end up making it to the major leagues. By being able to accurately detect any slight refractive error and subsequently correct for that error, players are then competing for the few major-league spots on an even playing field. And even if you still don’t end up making it – just blame it on your subpar, natural 20/20 vision. Or maybe even use that “rain delay” excuse.

Like I said, hitting a baseball requires being able to judge the rotation of the ball – coming at you around 90 mph – standing 60.5 feet away. In the milliseconds it takes to reach the plate, the batter has to process what he sees and then decide how to effectively swing. The quicker the batter can identify the type of pitch thrown, the more time they have to prepare for their swing – hitting earlier on a fastball and later on a curveball. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that it just might help to be able to see as best as humanly possible.

Some MLB players have vision better than 20/12. Take Red Sox second-baseman Dustin Pedroia, for example. In his book, he wrote that his vision is “something like 20/10” – although that’s really not much of a surprise. And as if people don’t already love to gather ammunition about Yankees players, retired player Kevin Youkilis has been said to have 20/11 vision. Evidently, above-average visual acuity is essential to succeed in baseball.

So whether you’re a major-leaguer looking to improve your batting average, a minor-leaguer looking to land one of those few major league spots, or maybe you’re just someone hoping for a career in professional sports, why not ensure you’re giving yourself the best chances at successfully hitting a ball and, on a larger scale, improving your overall hand-eye coordination? With the SVL exam, you can check for these potentially minor refractive errors and subsequently correct for them. And who knows, with this newly corrected, elite vision, maybe the Indians will – after almost 70 years – finally again win the World Series.

Issy Bonebrake is a born-again New Yorker living down in the Village. She considers herself to be a self-proclaimed, cautiously optimistic futurist. As a classic rock aficionado, she enjoys binge watching rockumentaries from the coziness of her less than 500 square footage apartment. Ironically, Issy is a Cleveland Indians fan and actively asserts that the 10th inning rain delay is why they lost the 2016 World Series.

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New Study reveals the SVOne Autorefractor successfully measures the small yet significant refractive errors of professional baseball players


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