It's not enough to make pitching coaches call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but current brain research appears to prove the old baseball belief that hitting actually is contagious. And just in time for spring training.
Outliers: The new spring fever
According to an analysis posted on the website Bleacher Report, major league batting averages for hitters coming to home plate following hits by the two batters before him are 50 to 70 points higher than for batters coming to the plate after his teammates have made two consecutive outs.
Citing studies by a researcher at the University of Chicago and researchers in the United Kingdom at Bangor University and the University of Birmingham, the Bleacher Report says the answer for this lies in parts of the brain's learning systems, which are being called “mirror neurons.” (Although Outliers does feel compelled to ask: What do the Brits know about baseball?!)
In one experiment, batters hit significantly better after watching simulations of other batters getting hits—but there were two catches: The more experienced batters showed more improvement than less experienced batters, and the “mirror” effect wore off the longer the time between watching and hitting.
This could be bad news for those who already think baseball is too slow. As this could mean the best way to stop the spread of contagious hitting is a long, turtle-paced visit to the pitching mound by a coach or catcher. They might even want to wash their hands first.
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