Red Sox Among MLB Teams Using Brain Training In Scouting, Development

John Farrell, Ben CheringtonWell, 90 percent of baseball is half mental. Right, Yogi?

As Major League Baseball teams search for ways to gain a leg up on the competition, the Boston Red Sox are among those deploying neuroscience in the hopes of assessing and developing how hitters’ brains function. The idea is to improve how a hitter reads and reacts to a pitch — with pitchers’ velocity increasing and strikeout numbers climbing — through the use of video games that measure certain variables.

“There’s a connection there,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told The Wall Street Journal while discussing the correlation between the visual stimulus of a pitch and a hitter’s decision of whether to swing. “And if you’re trying to hit a baseball moving at 90 miles per hour and moving in different directions, it probably helps for that connection to be strong.”

The use of neuroscience isn’t a new concept for the Red Sox. According to The Wall Street Journal, the organization began working with a Massachusetts neuroscience company called NeuroScouting several years ago, with the objective to develop software that could improve hitters’ ability to recognize pitch types and decide — with greater speed and accuracy — whether they should swing. The concept began in Boston during Theo Epstein’s tenure as general manager, but Red Sox manager John Farrell touched on the organization’s use of neuroscience in player development back in spring training.

“Whether it gives an assessment on a player’s instincts, it’s more for his ability to process information and make decisions,” Farrell said in March. “When you’re dealing with reaction times that are in the split seconds, you start to get a better understanding of what that person’s ability to make the right decision is. Whether that shows up on the base paths, the box, pitch recognition, all those things begin to measure the ability to process information and make decisions.”

Farrell identified Mookie Betts as one player who stood out in pre-draft neurological tests. Betts, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2011, remembers meeting a Red Sox scout in high school and completing a series of video games on a laptop.

“I was thinking, ‘What does this have to do with baseball?’ ” Betts told The Wall Street Journal. “I guess I did pretty well, since he kept on pursuing me.”

Betts since has made his way to the majors, where he looks poised to become a key part of the Red Sox’s future. Good scores on neurological tests don’t guarantee on-field results, though, and the goal instead is to aid players’ offensive development at a time when the league is being dominated by pitching.

“Intuitively, it would make sense that this would be a helpful tool,” Cherington said. “But I just don’t know if anyone yet can prove that it’s predictive. The hope is maybe it can be.”

Something to think about.

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