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Implications of Speed in Baseball

by Developing Speed
Kinetic Select June 2017

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It is apparent that speed plays a vital role in successful baseball performance. Because of the short distances involved in the game, players rarely, if ever, achieve maximum speed and in actuality, it is acceleration that plays a much greater role in baseball.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Speed, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

While simple sprint speed can be useful in baseball, sport-specific speed is often a better indicator of success. One of the most common assessments of baseball-specific speed is the home-to-first base time, measured from the time the batter makes contact with the ball to the time he reaches first base. In the major leagues, the average right-handed batter reaches first base in 4.35 seconds, while the average left-handed batter reaches first base in 4.31 seconds. While the difference of .04 seconds may not appear significant, it actually equates to a left-handed batter reaching first base approximately 10 inches (25 cm) before a right-handed batter. Clearly, this can affect whether a player gets on base or is thrown out.

As in the 60-yard dash, outfielders are the fastest home-to-first runners, with an average time of 4.24 seconds (center fielder 4.16 sec., left fielder 4.30 sec., right fielder 4.29 sec.). Infielders are second fastest with an average of 4.36 seconds, with middle infielders averaging 4.27 seconds (shortstop 4.26 sec., second baseman 4.27 sec.) and corner infielders averaging 4.44 seconds (first baseman 4.50 sec., third baseman 4.39 sec.). The average catcher runs from home to first in 4.48 seconds (Coleman and Dupler 2005). So what do these running times mean? Are they significant in relation to baseball performance?

To answer these questions, let’s look at the implications of a routine ground ball and subsequent close play at first base. The average centerfielder arrives at first base 2.10 feet (.64 m) ahead of a shortstop, 4.91 (1.50 m) feet ahead of a third baseman, and 6.82 (2.08 m) feet ahead of a catcher. The average shortstop arrives at first base .73 feet (.22 m) ahead of a right fielder, .80 feet (.24 m) ahead of a left fielder, 2.88 feet (.88 m) ahead of a third baseman, and 4.56 feet (1.39 m) ahead of a catcher. The average second baseman arrives at first base .52 feet (.16 m) ahead of a right fielder, .59 feet (.18 m) ahead of a left fielder, 2.68 feet (.82 m) ahead of a third baseman, and 4.34 feet (1.32m) ahead of a catcher (Coleman and Dupler 2005). Obviously, in a sport often referred to as “a game of inches,” such differences are significant to the success of players reaching base safely and having a greater impact on their team’s success.

Additionally, speed can have an important effect defensively. In the outfield, faster players can cover more ground in a given time. This allows faster players to make more plays, resulting in fewer hits for the opposition. In the infield, faster players may also be able to make more plays than slower players, improving a team’s defensive scores. All this illustrates that speed can make an individual player better, and enhanced speed can improve a team’s performance.

Based on these results, it is apparent that speed plays a vital role in successful baseball performance. Ironically, because of the short distances involved in the game, players rarely, if ever, achieve maximum speed (Cronin 2009). In actuality, it is acceleration that plays a much greater role in baseball than maximum speed because of the explosive starts and stops needed for success in the sport (Gambetta 2007).

With Developing Speed, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has created the definitive resource for developing speed training programs that optimize athletic performance. Including assessments and the application of speed training to eight specific sports, this authoritative guide provides all the tools needed for maximizing speed. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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