ESPN’s David Schoenfield recently attended the SABR Analytics Conference last week and recapped what he learned. Among the many interesting findings, baseball teams’ increasing interest in neuroscience tops the list.
Schoenfield detailed how Jason Sherwin and Jordan Muraskin, the co-founders of a company called deCervo, developed an EEG headset that monitors brain activity while a subject uses a phone or computer app that simulates hitting a pitch. They are able to quantify things such as response time and motor execution. As Schoenfield notes, an average player’s response time is 31 feet and motor execution happens at 38 feet on average.
“We’re looking at what happens to the point when the players make that decision,” Sherwin said. “We’ll view cognitive measurement and accurate cognitive measurement as something we couldn’t believe we lived without for the last 100 years. We’ve focused on the physical aspect. That’s going to be the huge impact in the future value-wise.”
The uses for this kind of information are endless. For instance, a team that has interest in drafting a particular college player could look at his brain profile and see that he has a slow reaction time, or he has trouble picking up breaking balls. A team could, as the Athletics did with on-base percentage at the beginning of this millennium, identify underrated players. Teams could predict decline with greater accuracy.
We will, at some point, also need to have an ethical conversation about this. Once it’s codified as legitimate by sports leagues, other employers will be happy to adopt the practice. We as a society have already accepted that physicals and drug tests demanded by employers are not invasive enough, but will brain examinations cross that line? Will employers use it as another excuse to limit one’s hours or benefits? Will this further a classist divide, as those with healthier brains are likelier to come from wealthier areas?
At the outset, though, the increasing interest in neuroscience is at least interesting as baseball continues to evolve as more and more information becomes accessible.