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Visual cortex training: coming to a baseball team near you

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This is fun. Some neuroscience researchers at UC Riverside had the UCR Highlanders baseball team take part in an experiment aimed at sharpening the way their visual cortex processes stimuli. Specifically, they looked at patterns on cards called Gabor patches, designed to increase vision and perception. The results were dramatic. From the research abstract, published in Current Biology:

We applied this training program to the University of California Riverside (UCR) Baseball Team and assessed benefits using standard eye-charts and batting statistics. Trained players showed improved vision after training, had decreased strike-outs, and created more runs; and even accounting for maturational gains, these additional runs may have led to an additional four to five team wins. These results demonstrate real world transferable benefits of a vision-training program based on perceptual learning principles.

The study is explained more generally at the L.A. Times.

The big caveat to all of this: the measurement of how much the team improved was based on sabermetric analysis of the team’s performance compared to performance from the previous year, with researchers finding that “the Highlanders’ improvements exceeded what would be expected from simply maturing and playing additional games.” My suspicion is that variation and uncertainty in any projection/prediction of how a baseball team does — especially a college team, which has way less of a body of data behind it than big league teams — is pretty great. Maybe there was marked and significant improvement. But how much is probably extremely wide open given how inexact a science baseball projections represent compared to your average neurological research data.

Still: intriguing. If time with some pattern recognition exercises is truly effective, might time in the batting cage be cut a few minutes each day?

Giants acquire Gordon Beckham from the Braves

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 27: Gordon Beckham #7 of the Atlanta Braves hits an RBI double against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on July 27, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Giants have acquired infielder Gordon Beckham from the Braves in exchange for cash considerations, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Eduardo Nunez injured his hamstring on Sunday, leaving the Giants with another hole to fill at third base. Beckham isn’t eligible for inclusion on the Giants’ postseason roster.

Beckham, 30, hit .217/.300/.354 with five home runs and 30 RBI in 273 plate appearances with the Braves. He spent most of his time at second base but also spent some time at third base and shortstop. Beckham has nearly 1,500 career innings at third base, so moving back to the hot corner shouldn’t be a big deal.

Steven Matz to undergo “imminent” elbow surgery

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14:  Steven Matz #32 of the New York Mets pitches in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field on August 14, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Mets GM Sandy Alderson addressed the media about the status of starter Steven Matz on Tuesday afternoon. Alderson said that Matz will undergo “imminent” elbow surgery to address a bone spur in the lefty’s elbow, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. That will end Matz’s season.

Matz was expected to return this past Friday, but was scratched due to shoulder soreness. According to Carig, the shoulder doesn’t appear to be a major issue.

Matz, 25, finishes the season with a 9-8 record, a 3.40 ERA, and a 129/31 K/BB ratio in 132 1/3 innings. It was a pretty good showing for his first full season in the majors.

The Mets enter Tuesday’s action a half-game up on the Giants for the first of two National League Wild Card slots. If the Mets can secure one of those slots and then advance to the NLDS, they will likely use a rotation that includes Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman.