Friday, April 19, 2013
Can facial structure indicate power hitting?
By Jeff Beckham
How much does Miguel Cabrera's facial structure contribute to his home run power?
Baseball insiders may need to expand their reading list to keep up with the game's latest developments.
Tucked into the latest edition of Biology Letters, among articles on emperor penguin surface temperatures and predator-prey size relationship, is a study that suggests that the shape of your face may indicate whether you'd make a good power hitter.
University of London researchers Hikaru Tsujimura and Michael J. Banissy tracked nearly 200 Japanese players in one of that country's two pro baseball leagues over the course of two seasons and found that players with short, wide faces tended to have higher-than-average home run numbers.
Like any good stat, the facial structure measurement has its own abbreviation: fWHR, for facial width-to-height ratio. A high fWHR can be found on people with broad faces like Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, while a low fWHR can be found on persons with longer faces, like Texas' David Murphy.
The study wasn't the first to look for links between fWHR and other qualities. Previous research has found correlations between face shape and grip strength, competitiveness and aggressive play. But those studies worked mostly with white subjects, so Tsujimura and Banissy decided to try their theory out on another ethnic group. Tsujimura, a research assistant at Banissy's university psychology lab, is Japanese and a baseball fan, so Japan's Central League seemed like a good choice to study.
While the analysis of the data was done anonymously (Player 1 had a fWHR of X and had Y home runs), there is some anecdotal support of the theory. One of the top Japanese players of the past two years has been Shinnosuke Abe, one of the greatest catchers in that country's history. He hit .340 with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs for the league champion Yomiuri Giants last year and had 20 home runs in 2011. Photos and video from last season indicate that Abe has a broad face that would result in a high fWHR.
But still, as we learned in high school science, correlation does not imply causation. A high fWHR and high power numbers were linked in the study, but that doesn't mean that one causes the other. Banissy said other factors, such as natural testosterone levels or diet, could also contribute to the findings.
"It is likely that this constellation of traits contributes to the relationship found in our study," Banissy said. "However, it is important to note that this does not explain all variability in batting performance and a variety of other factors will also be important."
Banissy said he and Tsujimura were happy with the findings, which provided the first evidence linking fWHR to baseball performance and to specific outcomes within a new ethnic group. There were some unexpected results as well, such as how fWHR decreased as players got older. All in all, it gives Banissy and Tsujimura a starting point for future research.
"We're interested in extending our research to other sporting professions," Banissy said. "And examining how changes in face structure during development relate to changes in performance."