There is nothing more important to major league baseball players than their eyes. You can’t hit what you can’t see.
Legend has it Ted Williams, the player many consider to be the greatest hitter of all-time, had 20/10 vision, which basically means he could see at 20 feet what the average person sees at 10. Most of today’s players are 20/15 or better.
Now comes an interesting study to see if eye color affects a hitter’s performance in day and night games.
You might recall Josh Hamilton a few years ago blamed his day-game hitting woes on his blue eyes. It’s a known fact that people with lighter-colored eyes have a harder time filtering out the glare from the sun. Hamilton’s day-night splits for batting average—which could be attributed to other things—were as disparate as .250 in 2011 and .100 in his 2010 MVP season.
Must be the eyes, right?
Well, then how do you explain the baby-blue eyed Cal Ripken, who actually hit a little better during the day throughout his 21 seasons?
Gerald Schifman from Hardball Times tried to do just that. In an extensive study, Schifman broke down players’ eye color into nine categories and examined day-night splits from 2006 through 2014.
Schifman writes about players with light-colored eyes:
In turn, their contrast sensitivity (the ability to appreciate subtle differences in the foreground and background) is reduced. Sensitivity to contrast is vital in processing the spin of a pitched baseball’s red seams as it hurtles forth. Exacerbating the matter, light-eyed people are slower than dark-eyed people to recover from this dazzled state. For a batter, these two issues would compound the difficulty of taking 0.2 seconds to decide whether to swing, and then 0.2 seconds to actually swing. You can see this creating a disadvantage for light-eyed hitters in matinees, and well, Kris Bryant has very bright blue eyes. Cubs fans may find Bryant’s blues to be dreamy, but maybe they’ll leave him adversely affected, to a particularly large degree, as he plays more day games in Chicago. That gives rise to my question here—are players’ daytime numbers really impacted by whether they have light or dark eyes?
After deep-diving into the data, Schifman’s results were startling: lighter-eyed players actually performed better during the day than night.
Across nearly all eye colors, hitters walk more (and strike out more) in the day. In terms of walks, the lightest-eyed players perform a bit better in the daytime than at night, and in many cases top the darker-eyed players. Light-eyed players do strike out more in the daytime than at night, but the differences are comparable to those posted by their dark-eyed counterparts. More and more, it doesn’t look like eye color, in and of itself, is a prevailing factor for any differences in day/night performance in major league baseball.
What could possibly explain this?
Schifman surmises that MLB players are already starting with a higher vision level than the average population, and lighter-eyed players might have a higher baseline than their darker-eyed counterparts.
A missing piece here is whether light-eyed players have vision characteristics that are superior to those of dark-eyed players—this could show whether the bar for performance is set higher for lighter-eyed players to be major league quality. But lacking this information doesn’t take away from the finding that eye color is a non-issue across the league. So those bright blue eyes shouldn’t present an obstacle for Kris Bryant.
By the way, Ted Williams had green-brown eyes.