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© National Strength and Conditioning Association Volume 29, Number 3, pages 72–76

Keywords: baseball; running speed; training

Running Speed in Professional Baseball Eugene Coleman, EdD, CSCS Program in Fitness and Human Performance, University of Houston–Clear Lake, Houston,Texas

Introduction

summary Research on running speed in professional baseball players indicates that (a) the fastest players do not always participate at the majorleague level; (b) there is no significant difference in speed between right- and left-handed batters; (c) significant differences exist among positions; (d) Major League Baseball

rofessional baseball is a sport in which running speed plays a significant role. It is one of the 5 tools that professional Major League Baseball (MLB) scouting agents assess when evaluating talent (6). Speed is the only common denominator of both offense and defense. Given the amount of time that scouts spend looking for speed and the importance awarded it by management and coaches, it is surprising that the research on this topic is very limited. The purpose of this paper is to review the published research on speed in professional baseball. Six findings concerning speed in professional baseball will be discussed.

P

(MLB) players run to first base at less than 85% of maximum speed; (e) MLB players run “all out” to first base approximately 1 time per game; and (f )

maximum

speed

does

not

change during the course of the MLB season. Examples of ways to utilize these findings with amateur athletes are presented.

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Finding 1 The fastest players do not always participate at the major-league level (Table 1). Data collected (5) on 210 professional players in the 30- and 60-yd dash indicate that the fastest players were at the AA level (second to lowest level in professional baseball). The AAA players (second highest level in professional baseball) were the second fastest group, followed by MLB (highest level in professional baseball) and A-level players (lowest level in professional baseball), respectively. Olympic records indicate that most

June 2007 • Strength and Conditioning Journal

champion sprinters are younger than 25 years of age (7). Members of the AA teams are approximately 23 years of age. The more experienced AAA and MLB players are older than 25 years of age. The authors concluded that the Class A players were the slowest because they represented a heterogeneous population with the least amount of playing experience and ability. Approximately 60% of A-level players studied had less than 1 year of professional experience and limited instruction in running technique. Of the 132 A-level players evaluated, only 74 were placed eventually on one of three Class A teams. The remaining 57 were released or assigned to the extended spring training squad. The Class AA team had only 25 players on its active roster and represented the best of the young talent. The fact that only 20% of A-level players eventually make it to the AA level suggests that many of the younger players do not belong in professional baseball. The typical AA player runs to first base at a velocity of 24.7 fps. The typical AA player would reach first base 3.0 ft ahead of the average Class A player, 0.5 ft ahead of the average AAA player, and 2.6 ft ahead of the average MLB player.


Finding 2 Despite popular belief among baseball coaches and players, there is no statistically significant difference in the time required to run to first base between right-handed batters (RHB) and lefthanded batters (LHB). Data collected (4) on 316 MLB players as they ran to first base in game situations indicated that the average MLB player ran to first base in 4.33 ± 0.15 seconds. Mean time for LHB was 4.31 ± 0.17 seconds, whereas mean time for RHB was 4.35 ± 0.15 seconds. Even without a statistically significant difference, these times might be meaningful. The average LHB reached first base approximately 10 in. ahead of the average RHB. Baseball is a game of speed with the difference between making a defensive play and/or reaching base safely often being a matter of inches. The fact that LHB reaches base approximately 10 in. ahead of RHB places added stress on the defensive player and provides a slight edge to the runner on close plays. Finding 3 Significant differences in speed exist among positions at the major-league level (Table 2). In the same study (4), the fastest players were those who played the positions located in the center of the field (center field, shortstop, and second base). Table 2 presents a ranking of time by position from fastest to slowest MLB players. Center fielders were significantly faster than all other positions. These findings are consistent with the philosophy that teams need speed up the middle because these positions have more ground to cover on defense (6). Faster players tend to bat earlier in the lineup so that their speed can be used to get on base and the slower, more powerful players can drive them in. Slower players tend to play behind the plate (catcher) and the corner positions (first base, third base, left field, and right field). Players in these positions have less ground to cover on defense, tend to be heavier, and are selected more for their

Table 1 Comparison of Running Speed Times by Level of Performance (5) Level

Distance (yd)

Time (s)

Major League

30

3.75 ± 0.11

AAA

30

3.66 ± 0.15

AA

30

3.64 ± 0.12

A

30

3.77 ± 0.18

Data were collected from a lead-off stance with running shoes.

Table 2 Ranking of Time by Position at MLB Level, Fastest to Slowest While Sprinting to First Base During Games (4) Position

n

Time (s)

Velocity (fps)

CF

44

4.16 ± 0.14

21.63

SS

25

4.26 ± 0.13

21.13

2B

35

4.27 ± 0.14

21.08

RF

28

4.29 ± 0.16

20.96

LF

39

4.30 ± 0.14

20.94

U OF

12

4.30 ± 0.15

20.91

U IF

24

4.32 ± 0.12

20.83

3B

35

4.39 ± 0.13

20.45

Catcher

43

4.48 ± 0.11

20.11

1B

31

4.50 ± 0.12

20.02

All

316

4.32 ± 0.17

20.81

MLB = Major League Baseball, CF = center field, SS = shortstop, 2B = second base, RF = right field, LF = left field, 3B = third base, 1B = first base, U OF = utility outfield, U IF = utility infield.

power production (home runs and runs batted in) and ability to hit for average than for their speed and defense (6). Table 3 contains data indicating the distance ahead or behind (in feet) players at one position are compared with players at another position when reaching first base. Although many of these differences are not statistically significant, they might be meaningful in game situations. The difference between shortstop and right field, for example, though not statistically significant, might be mean-

June 2007 • Strength and Conditioning Journal

ingful because the higher mean running velocity of shortstop causes that position to reach base ahead of right field by 0.65 ft or 7.8 in. Finding 4 The average player runs to first base fewer than 3 times per game. Analysis of more than 5,000 plate appearances by MLB players indicated that players ran to first base in 72% of their plate appearances and walked back to the dugout or to first base (base on ball or hit by pitch) 28% of the time (3). The

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Table 3 Distance (ft) From First Base: Comparison Between Positions (4) Position

Catcher

1B

2B

SS

3B

LF

CF

RF

U IF

U OF

Catcher

0.00

0.39

4.44*

4.66*

1.62

3.81*

6.82*

3.80*

3.23*

3.59*

1B

0.39

0.00

4.86*

5.09*

1.93

4.23*

7.24*

4.20*

3.63*

3.99*

2B

–4.34*

–4.75*

0.00

0.23

–2.68

–0.59

2.36*

–0.52

–1.06

–0.72

SS

–4.56*

–4.97*

–0.19

0.00

–2.88*

–0.80

2.15*

–0.73

–1.27

–0.92

3B

–1.55

–1.95

2.75*

2.97*

0.00

2.14

5.18*

2.21

1.65

2.00

LF

–3.74*

–4.14*

0.64

0.86

–2.11

0.00

2.96*

0.06

–0.49

–0.14

CF

–6.82*

–7.24*

–2.31*

–2.10*

–4.91*

–2.87*

0.00

–2.81*

–3.33*

–3.00*

RF

–3.80*

–4.20*

0.43

0.65

–2.18

–0.08

2.90*

0.00

–0.55

–0.20

U IF

–3.23*

–3.63*

1.06

1.28

–1.64

0.48

3.46*

0.55

0.00

0.35

U OF

–3.59*

–3.99*

0.64

0.86

–1.98

0.04

3.10*

0.20

–0.35

0.00

*Significant at the p < 0.05 level; positive values indicate distance ahead. 1B = first base, 2B = second base, SS = shortstop, 3B = third base, LF = left field, CF = center field, RF = right field, U OF = utility outfield, U IF = utility infield.

Table 4 Changes in Mean Max Speed and Mean Max Velocity From Month to Month (3)

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Variable

April

May

June

July

August

September

Speed (s)

4.33 ± 0.16

4.30 ± 0.14

4.31 ± 0.12

4.31 ± 0.13

4.32 ± 0.14

4.33 ± 0.15

Velocity (m/s)

6.34 ± 0.20

6.38 ± 0.19

6.37 ± 0.19

6.37 ± 0.19

6.35 ± 0.19

6.34 ± 0.20

average player ran to first base 2.4 times per game, about 65 times per month.

threshold level (80–89%) and 19.7% were at less than 80% effort.

Finding 5 The typical MLB player runs “all out” to first base approximately 1 time per game. Data collected on 2,683 runs to first base during a 162-game season indicated that the typical player ran to first base at 84.1% of maximum velocity (3). The threshold for the development and maintenance of running speed is 90% of maximum velocity (7, 8). In addition, athletes who train at less than 90% of maximum velocity are working on something other than speed (1, 8). On average, MLB players run at subthreshold intensity slightly more often (50.6%) than they run at threshold intensity (49.4%). Approximately onethird (31.8%) of the runs were at near-

Finding 6 Maximum running velocity does not change from month to month during the course of a MLB season. The data in Table 4 collected on 10 MLB players as they ran to first base indicate that, although there were differences in velocity from month to month, these differences were not statistically significant. Maximum velocity was lowest in the first and last months of the season and highest in midseason (3). Given the fact that players ran to first base about 2 times per game and that these runs were at threshold intensity less than 50% of the time, one might expect a significant reduction in speed

June 2007 • Strength and Conditioning Journal

from the beginning to the end of the season. The fact that players did not slow down significantly might be attributable to the other forms of running required during the season. However, running in game situations is not limited to runs to first base. Players have several opportunities to run in both offensive and defensive situations. Offensively, players run out base hits and errors. Once they reach base, they may be required to steal a base or to participate in hit-and-run plays. They also get involved in run downs and advance one or more bases on hits, errors, passed balls, and wild pitches. Defensively, in addition to making routine plays, they sprint to balls in the gaps, cover bases, back up teammates, participate in cutoff and relay plays, and engage in run downs. The MLB schedule requires that each


team play 162 games in a period of approximately 180 days. Many of the game-related movements within each contest are at maximum or near-maximum speed. The number of games played and the frequency with which game-related movements are performed allow the players ample opportunities to move at an intensity sufficient to maintain running speed.

Practical Application Although this information was obtained on elite professional athletes, it has several practical applications for coaches and players. First, there is a minimal level of maximum speed required to be successful at the professional level. Because speed is 1 of the 5 essential tools that scouts look for, players with exceptional speed (<4.00 seconds) to first base or (<6.8 seconds) in the 60-yd dash will automatically draw at least minimal interest from some scouts. Coaches should encourage these players, especially those who lack power potential, to maintain their speed and to spend extra time working on the other essential tools— fielding, throwing, hit for average, and hit for power—that will make them more attractive to scouts. Likewise, coaches of players who are 1–2 standard deviations slower than average (4.33 ± 0.15 seconds) should realize that unless they play one of the corner positions and display a high level of power, these players are not likely to draw the attention of professional scouts. Slower players with high power potential should be encouraged to improve running mechanics and to participate in drills designed to improve running speed. Second, as indicated previously, significant differences exist among positions. The faster players are in the middle of the field (second base, shortstop, and center field) and the slower players are on the corners of the infield (first base and third base) and outfield (right field and left field). The slowest position is catcher.

Table 5 Tool Priorities by Position (6) Catcher

First Base

Second Base

Shortstop

Catch

Bat

Bat

Field

Throw

Power

Field

Throw

Bat

Field

Run

Run

Power

Throw

Power

Bat

Run

Run

Throw

Power

Third Base

Left Field

Center Field

Right Field

Bat

Bat

Run

Bat

Power

Power

Field

Power

Field

Run

Bat

Field

Throw

Field

Throw

Throw

Run

Throw

Power

Run

The 5 tools (skills) that scouts look for when evaluating position players are speed, ability to hit for average, ability to hit for power, fielding ability, and arm strength/accuracy, but not necessarily in that order. Each player is evaluated on the 5 different physical attributes or tools and given a score of 2–8 on each, with 5 being average and 8 being outstanding. Players are evaluated for both present status and potential for future development. The information presented in Table 5 provides insight into the quality of performance that scouts are looking for (6).

among pro athletes from opening day until the end of the season. Pro athletes, however, play a 162-game schedule. College teams play 56 scheduled games and high school teams play only 21 scheduled games. The length of the pro season and the frequency of games (162 games in 180 days) provide pro players with greater and more frequent opportunities to run at threshold intensity than are given high school and college players. In addition to shorter schedules, high school and college teams also are subject to league and conference rules that limit practice and training time.

According to Table 5, players who can hit for average and power, have average arm strength and fielding ability but below average speed should be encouraged to consider playing first base, third base, or right field, because speed is the lowest priority for these positions. Likewise, players with good hands (catch and throw) but who lack power, the ability to hit for average, and speed should be encouraged to become catchers.

Given the importance of skill training, some coaches opt to limit the amount of practice time spent on speed training in favor of more skill training. With creative scheduling, however, coaches can increase the amount of time devoted to speed training by incorporating more high-intensity running into daily practice sessions.

Finally, running performed in game situations is sufficient to maintain speed

June 2007 • Strength and Conditioning Journal

Running mechanics and base running, for example, can be added to the daily warm-up drills (7). Speed work can be incorporated into the workout immediate-

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ly after the warm-up, with players required to meet specific target times for various sprint distances (2). Batting practice is another opportunity for speed training. Traditionally, players will take 5–10 swings in batting practice and then jog to first base after their last swing. Once they reach first base, they will make 1–2 low-intensity breaks and then jog into second base as a teammate takes the allotted swings. From second base, they make a low-level break and then jog into third and walk home. A better approach would be to require the players to run hard to first base after their last swing and make their breaks and runs from base to base at game speed. Another opportunity for running is fielding practice. Often players stand in one place where they field and throw to a baseman and/or cutoff man. Whereas repetition is an essential part of skill training, speed can be added to the drills by having players run the bases once or twice per week as players go through fielding practice and cutoff and relay drills at game speed. Coaches can increase the quantity and quality of outfield running by having the players run side to side and/or front and back for every ball hit in fielding practice, rather than stand in one place and wait for the ball to come to them. Finally, coaches can have an assistant, intern, or student aide time, record, and chart all runs to first base and from base to base in game and specified practice situations. Times can be placed on a spreadsheet with columns for time (s), distance (ft), velocity (fps), and percentage of maximum speed (% maximum velocity). This information can be reviewed weekly to determine how often players run, how hard they run, and how often they run at threshold velocity. Timing players on a daily basis creates an environment in which speed becomes an important attribute of daily performance. Once players become aware of the impor-

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tance of speed, coaches can set team and individual speed goals for specific situations, such as time for base hits (i.e., home to first, home to second, home to third, and home to home) and time from base to base (i.e., first to third, first to home, second to home, and third to home) on sacrifice flys and contact plays. Given the importance of speed and the limited time available for practice, it is important that coaches get maximum results in terms of both speed and skill training in the time available. The suggestions outlined above are examples of a few of the methods that coaches can use to increase both the frequency and intensity of running without sacrificing time for skill training. ♦

5.

6.

7.

8.

Major League Baseball players in game situations. JEPonline. 8(2):10–15, 2005. Available at: http://www. asep.org/journals/JEPonline/issue/ 2004_06. Accessed: April 2005. COLEMAN, A.E., AND L.M. L ASKEY. Assessing running speed and body composition in professional baseball players. J. Appl. Sport Sci. Res. 6: 207–213. 1992. COLEMAN, G. 52-Week Baseball Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000. pp. xi–xiv. DINTIMAN, G., R. WARD, T. TELLEZ, AND B. S EARS . Sport Speed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1998. pp. 46, 189–190. O’D ONNEL , K., AND L. S EAGRAVE . Sprint Training Video Vol. 1. South Euclid: Speed Dynamics, 1991.

References 1. BRUNNER, R., AND B. TABACHNIK. Soviet Training and Recovery Methods. Pleasant Hill: Sport Focus Publishing, 1990. pp. 50–52. 2. COLEMAN, A.E. Target and recovery times for speed training in baseball. Strength Cond. J. 23(6):7–8. 2001. 3. COLEMAN, A.E., AND T.L. DUPLER. Changes in running speed in game situations during a season of Major League Baseball. JEPonline. 7(3):89– 93. 2004. Available at: http://www. asep.org/journals/JEPonline/issue/ 2005_04. Accessed: June 2004. 4. COLEMAN, A.E., AND T.L. DUPLER. Differences in running speed among

June 2007 • Strength and Conditioning Journal

Coleman

Eugene Coleman is chair, Program in Fitness and Human Performance, University of Houston–Clear Lake and strength and conditioning coach, Houston Astros Baseball Team, Houston,TX.


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