Calling Dr. B - LASIK worth 12 wRC+ ?!, part 2

CRUNCH:  SSI's guess is that if a player suddenly manifests 20/10 vision, he's going to hit better.  How's that for going out on a limb.

We remember a famous Babe Ruth anecdote where somebody asked him to read something, go to the movies, or whatever ... quote, "If my eyes went bad even a little bit, I wouldn't be able to hit home runs."

Little Joe Morgan has stated that All-Star hitting isn't based on physical reflexes; it is based on being able to see the spin of the baseball as early as possible in its flight.  Think about that.

Ted Williams, even in his 50's, was able to consistently identify where on the ball his bat connected... "Got that *#@#$ a quarter-inch above the lace," he'd say.

In My Turn At Bat, he confirmed the anecdote... he went off to boom the Nasties for 4-5 years, got back, stepped up to the plate ... "Hey!  The plate's off-center!"  They got out a surveying team and found the plate was shifted 0.25 inches to the left...

You could find a jillion stories like that, great hitters with freakish eyesight.

SSI presumes that small differences in vision will mean big differences at the plate. 


CRUNCH:  It would be interesting to know if performance enhancement persisted in years 2 and 3.  I bet it tails off by at least 50%.


CRUNCH:  Sully goes further and finds this:

  • Lasik -2Y = 112 wRC+
  • Lasik -1Y = 97 wRC+
  • Lasik +1Y = 109 wRC+

This could be a "response to frustration" or it could be there was a tendency for these players to be experiencing the problem of deteriorating (adjusted) eyesight.  If that's true, the LASIK was partly restorative, not enhancement-oriented.

Still:  if a LASIK patient can figure on 20/15 or 20/10 eyesight, that is enhancement, no argument from me.  I dunno.  Is that what a 27-year-old LASIK patient can plan on?


CRUNCH:  If Dr. D is on the FDA board, he goes in with the bias that Lasik does not carry the health risks associated with performance drugs.  But he could be swayed by the right arguments.

For doctors, "benefits of procedure X" is only half the question.  "Costs associated with procedure X" is the other half.

Weightlifting isn't illegal because medical studies have not correlated it with liver failure.  We seriously doubt that Lasik has been correlated with liver failure, either.  Steroids aren't illegal because they have benefits associated.  They're illegal because the risks associated are deemed too heavy.

But that's not SSI's question.  SSI is wondering whether Lasik is a quick route to a big year at the plate.

I bet it is.


CRUNCH:  In Rob Johnson's case specifically:  buy, buy, buy.






I dunno... there really are too many confounding variables to make any kind of definitive case based on those data.
However, I agree that it would be counterintuitive if it turned out Lasik did not help hitters hit...


I posted this on the previous discussion about Lasik, but I guess you missed it. I googled "Lasik results" and looked through several results. They all said something to the effect of: More than NINETY percent of patients will end up between 20/20 and 20/40 and you shouldn't bet on getting 20/20. Of course, if your vision is starting at 20/80 or 20/100 and getting worse, then 20/40 is just peachy


But it's a cognitive dissonance against the fact that baseball players are proceeding with Lasik. 20/30 is no good to a ballplayer.
I wonder if the industry warning is (1) under-promise, over-deliver, (2) broadband targeted to people age 50, 60 etc, or (3) what. My Advil bottle says take two, but that's one sentence written to 300 million people... my doc says for you, Jeffy, it's four...
If the chances were 9 in 10 that Rob Johnson was going to be between 20/20 and 20/40, there isn't any way he signs up for the treatment.


This is another one of those situations in which the variables quickly spiral out of control.
But me personally, I don't need a legal proof that 20/10 is an advantage hitting a baseball. :- ) Nor do I need a formal proof that if a hitter was blindfolded, that he couldn't.
Scientific experimentation is wonderful, but it's not the alpha and omega of human decisionmaking. If you can better your eyesight, you're going to hit better.


That's without correction, though.
Or if Lasik can correct astygmatism that could be of benefit.
Doc, the main question in regards to MLB hitting is whether correction with Lasik is better than a more traditional method like glasses or contacts. Most guys going to Lasik will have been wearing contacts or glasses already...


Though if that's the case, if Lasik corrects to (say) 20/25 and then contacts are prescribed to 20/10, it's not the same discussion...
Don't think Johnson wears contacts, does he?

Janne1720's picture

My line of thinking is spot on the Dr. D right here, although there is alot more that goes into vision than 20/25 vs. 20/10. If RJ could see 20/10 after surgery much kudos goes to both him and the surgeon, as first of all RJ had the potential to see 20/10 in the first place (not all peope do, but a statistically higher percentage of high-level athletes can compared to the population as a whole.), RJ must be a good healer, who followed his post-operative directions to the T, and the surgeon must have taken off just the right amount to not screw with the aforementioned visual potential. The statistics for high level athletes to have all of these criteria met has not been that great, although they dont have to worry about glasses being jarred loose, or dirt/sweat under contacts which is nice regardless.
The ability to see 20/10 vs. 20/25 is the ability to discern the contrast of a 100% black letter vs. 100% white background, that is also not moving, given a reasonable amount of time (F,Z,B,kinda looks like an D,E) As we mere observers of the battlefield can attest, this situation does not come up much in a major league at bat, with a rotating red on (maybe) white ball moving towards the observer in 0.4 seconds or less. So while 20/10 is great, there is much much more to vision than meets the eye...bad pun. Would be happy to delve deeper if interest in there.
Dr. B


IIRC, Dave Dellucci had a quantum eye year after getting LASIK -- (between '04 and '05 seasons). He posted a pair of 120+ OPS+ seasons in '06 and '07 -- (which also happen to be the only two seasons after his age-24 rookie year that anyone gave him 300 PAs).
But, it does beg the question -- if LASIK is fine -- if eye-glasses are fine -- then why are steroids "cheating"?


Point well taken also about the stationary high-contrast background.  Still, a hundred people who measure 20/10 are going to test better, as a group, on low-contrast and moving backgrounds than a hundred people who measure 20/30, right?  Or no?
Also would be interested to hear your comment on the reductio ad absurdum, that a 20/100 test subject would never be able to hit baseball pitching with vision uncorrected.


I believe the Teddy Ballgames and Joe Morgans, when they say that the key to elite hitting is to *read the spin on the ball* out of the pitcher's hand.  They're talking about visual acuity when they say this, taking experience as a given.
Don't doubt that other factors enter in to this, in addition to 20/20 or 20/10 acuity.  If you had a mind to discuss these, would love to hear them :- )
If you had ten guys who tested at 20/20, and as an optometrist you had to pick one and predict he'd be able to better see the seams on a pitched ball, what visual factors would go in to that?


Weightlifting doesn't cause liver failure.  The FDA has to decide what's controlled and what's not, based on a balance sheet of benefits and costs.
In a democracy, *somebody* has to decide what these substances are.  (The same applies, on a smaller scale, to MLB's rules panel.)
Once you make a rule against it, the players who follow the rule are being pushed out of jobs by players who don't follow it.
Interesting catch on David Delluci!  He was a subject of some debate in M's-ville.


That's where I work. :-)  I program the software the classifies all deaths in the U.S.  So, I do know a thing or two about health risks.  Like - dozens die each year from Aspirin overdoses -- none die from Marijuana.  Oh, well.
Steroids have been *ILLEGAL* since '92/'93.  If the arguments were simply - "they broke the law - they should be punished (by the law)," I'd be less annoyed.  But, the primary argument for many is that because steroids help them be better - they are cheating.  But, glasses, LASIK, Tommy John, etc., etc., etc -- well, THOSE aren't cheating.
If Lopez goes and has Liposuction instead of actually working to lose the weight - is that fare game - or it that cheating?
For me?  Cheating is what is specified as cheating in the rules of the game *AND* where said rules are enforced.  Just like going 37 in a 35 isn't speeding (except in small towns in the south, if you're wearing out-of-state plates).    :-)


the only thing you didn't address, that I'd like your opinion on if possible:  Ken Griffey Jr. plays clean, Mark McGwire doesn't -- is McGwire cheating Griffey?

EA's picture

It would be natural to assume that fighter pilots benefit from better vision like ballplayers naturally should.  However, the military discourages pilots from getting LASIK.  LASIK does come with possible complications such as problems with halos from lights at night (and the vast majority of games are played under the lights) that don't make it so clear cut.


Incredibly relevant analogue, and we can certainly assume that the military did its due diligence.

Janne1720's picture

Fantastic observation EA. We actually deal with this alot in my clinic, as many pilots and flying personnel end up getting laser eye surgery, but there are different types. The Air Force currently allows pilots to get LASIK, but they then have to wait an entire year to return to flight duty. Most pilots would not dare being grounded for so long, so they elect for a different surgery called PRK, which is a little more discomforting for them, but only has about a 4 month downtime period. Visual outcomes from both procedures have been statistically the same. Halos around light tend to be a problem the first few months after the surgery, but (most) fade over the course of 2-3 months. There is the potential for some form of them to remain in certain indiviuals, but it must be taken on a case-by-case basis.


I drive the speed limit.  If Sam drive 20 mph over the speed limit, he doesn't cheat me - he cheats himself.  He is risking his car, his insurance rates, etc. - exchanging leaving a couple minutes early for those extra mph.  (It's an imperfect analogy, because he risks MY life, too - but we'll ignore that here to continue the analogy).
Everyone has the same opportunity to CHOOSE between following a rule or not.  McGwire can NEVER know what he would've done clean.  Griffey already does. 
Moreover, it is patently clear that the players who have been caught or admitted using have been severely damaged in the eye of the public.  If anything, the choices of the professed users ENHANCES the reputations of the clean players.
The problem here is that you've got an X-axis as well as a Y.  Use or not is one axis.  The other is - public knowledge or not.  From all the books and discussions yadda, yaada, yadda ... it's pretty clear that the PLAYERS have always had a good idea of who was juicing and who wasn't - and they ALL agreed to allow it (whether imbibing or not), until Canseco came forward. 
Me?  My ire is directed at MLB - not the players.  The league sets up the rules, and the mechanisms of enforcement.  In a world where the speed limit is 55 - but all police departments are disbanded, and the Highway Patrol doesn't exists -- there IS no speed limit. 
Big Mac cheated himself out of knowing what he could've done clean.  He may have cheated himself out of some years on this planet, (depending on the long-term detrimental impact of his choice). 
As for the game outcomes?  That's the responsiblity of the umpires and the league.  If anyone cheated - it was the league in knowingly allowing games to be played with multiple players on PEDs.  From spitballs to scuffed balls to corked bats to PEDs ... players who are attempting to WIN games doesn't raise my ire.  Players using performance SUPPRESSING substances - those are the ones I get angry with.  You know - those who would drink all night and come to the park hung over, (like Mantle). 
The umps are supposed to police those who get overzealous in doing what they are paid to do.  NOBODY can police those who opt to take the money and then not give 100%.

Janne1720's picture

First comment, a hundred natural quantum eyes who can see 20/10 will test better as a group on other aspects of vision that I will allow Dr. Laby to touch on below. Dr. Laby's assertion is that there are definitely more quantum eyes in baseball than the average population. Much of his research is with the AAA ballplayer who views LASIK as their shot into the show. While this ballplayer might achieve the same 20/10 vision, their other aspects of vision might actually be decreased by the (un-natural) surgery. The statistics Dr. Laby presented to me in a recent study of his agreed with this conclusion, which I am attempting to obtain for you all.  
Would definitely agree that 20/100 uncorrected vision will prevent you form reaching your potential in Little League, let alone the bigs. However, we tend to view your visual acuity as the bottom of the pyramid for vision, the foundation to build upon other skills related to the tasks inherent in balls sports like baseball.
Dr. Laby, whom I have met and is one of the leaders in vision research related to baseball, recently had an interview which gives a good overview of the work he has done and continues to do. I really like the last question and answer, kudos to the interviewer for asking the obvious.


Reasonable position.  From your worldview, then, roids kind of go into the category of stepping in front of the rubber or erasing the back line or stealing signs.  Kind of a good-natured "part of the game if you can get away with it" factor.
And I take it that if you ran MLB, you wouldn't put any penalties on PEDs other than what the feds put on when they haul you off to jail :- )
Much prefer your position to that of the media lynch mobs that gleefully ruin the lives of guys like Mark McGwire.


If I were in charge, then MLB would've had a PED policy with penalties and policing waaaay before 2004.  My foundation principle is government's purpose, (and in this case, MLB is the governing body for the sport of American Baseball), is to define the MINIMUM standards of behavior - with the power and authority to police and punish those that break those rules.
ABSENT rules against *AND* a mechanism to punish and enforce - yes, steroids are players attempting to do everything to win.  IMO, it's no more the responsibility of the players to outlaw steroids than it is for them to call their own balls and strikes.  Not what they're paid to do.  (Mind you - since steroids were illegal - if the police haul them off to jail - then the police are doing their job - and the players are SOL).
I think pre-Selig, MLB was maybe a year away from implementing an actual good-for-the-game anti-PED policy.  But, once Selig took over, the players and owners *ALL* agreed to pretty much let the pharmacy door stay wide open.
The tricky part with my foundation philosophy is "minimum standard" changes over time.  Once upon a time beer was illegal, and Babe Ruth imbibed with the best of them -- breaking the law of the land (during Prohibition) every bit as much as Big Mac or Bonds broke it.  The difference is the modern players were doing it to INCREASE their ability to do what they were paid to do -- while the classic players were suppressing their abilities. 
IMO, if modern players are "cheaters" -- then every player playing hung-over is guilty of "fixing" games.  When Jordan takes the court deathly ill with the flu and throws down 50 points while throwing up on the side-line -- that is sports heroism.  When Mantle or Ruth is puking in the dugout because they were out until 4am drinking -- that is an insult to the game and the fans. 
Recently - MY #1 bad guy is Selig -- who did HIS job as commish about as well as the Wall Street bankers did theirs during the 21st century -- he stopped doing his job completely, and concentrated solely and completely on how to make the quickest buck possible TODAY.  IMO, he didn't spend a single passing thought to the integrity of the game until he was backed into a Congressional corner - (at which point he blamed the players -- just like the bankers, who paid to re-write lending laws tried to say it was the guy foolish enough to take out a $1 million dollar mortgage on a salary of 20K that caused the housing meltdown.)
Sorry - I'll suspend my ranting.  Back to baseball.

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