Performance Requirements in 12U vs. 13U Baseball
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSSC*E and Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC
In an attempt to better serve the coaches, players, and parents involved in youth and high school baseball, the PBSCCS periodically publishes information on factors that can affect conditioning and performance at these levels. Topics are selected from questions submitted by participants, coaches and parents involved in youth and high school sports.
The question for this posting was from the parent of a 12U baseball player who said – “My 12-year son is a good hitter and can make most of the routine plays in the field, but he is one of the slowest players on the field. Over the next two years, the dimensions of the field will increase significantly. As a 13-year old, the bases will move from 70 to 80 feet, an increase of approximately 14%. The following year, the bases will move to 90-feet, an additional 12% increase. My son is getting thrown out by about 2-3 feet now and if he doesn’t get faster, I am worried that he will get thrown out by 3-4 feet next year, get discouraged and give up the sport.”
13U baseball is a time to celebrate and cry at the same time. Current 12U players will be required to make big jumps in distance and, when they get there, they will quickly realize what they are up against. The increase in distance between the mound and home plate and bases can be a major shock to many players, coaches and parents. 12U players move from 70-foot bases to 80-foot bases and from 50-foot mounds to 54-foot mounds when they move up to 13U.
The increase in base path distance is often a major challenge because most kids don’t grow physically and athletically in the same proportion as the skills needed to run, field and throw at the new distances. Boys’ bodies usually take 2-3 years to catch up to the longer distances on the diamond. The distance between the bases, for example, increases 14% and the distance between the mound and home plate increases 8%. Height, however, increases by only 3-4% and weight by approximately 10% between the ages of 12 and 13. Unfortunately, increases in weight can have a negative effect on the ability to lift the body, move quickly and control body weight (strength, speed, agility, balance and coordination) if the increases are not accompanied by increases in muscle strength. And, we know that increases in strength don’t fall off the wall and land on boys playing Fortnite. If you want to make sure that your game gets better next season, you have to put down the controls, pick up the jump rope, dumbbells, tubing, etc. and get started in a comprehensive, year-around fitness program between now and next season.
Boys increase in weight first and strength second so, if you gain 5-10 pounds, don’t assume that you are going to be stronger. Mass that is not muscle makes you slower, not stronger or faster. The Baltimore Orioles have a saying – “Fat birds don’t fly”. Fat is dead weight that limits the ability to run, jump, throw and control your body.
Let’s look at some of the things that an increase in distance can affect. According to Baseball USA, the average time from home to first base (70’) for a 12-year old is 4.35 seconds or 16.1 fps. The average time for a 13-year old (80’ bases) is 4.79 seconds or 16.7 fps. If you are an average 12-year old runner (16.1 fps) and don’t get faster, you will reach 1B about 3 feet behind the average 13U runner. If you are a below average 12-year old runner, you will reach 1B 5-6 feet behind the average 13U runner.
Average fastball velocity for 12-year old pitchers is 55 mph. Average for 13-year olds is 60 mph (81 fps). It takes .62 seconds for a 55-mph fastball to travel the 50 feet between pitcher’s mound and home plate. A 60-mph fastball (88 fps) travels 54 feet in about the same time (.62 seconds) so, there is not much of a difference for hitters or pitchers who can throw 60 mph. If, however, you continue to throw at 55 mph, it will take .68 seconds for your fastball to reach the plate. This .08 second difference does not seem like much, but a 60-mph fastball will reach home plate (54’) approximately 5 feet sooner than a 55-mph fastball. Hitters are at an advantage when facing blow average pitchers because they have between 7 and 8% more time to determine if the slower pitch is a strike and start their swing.
The faster you throw, the less time that a hitter has to evaluate and react to your fastball. An above average 13-year old pitcher throws approximately 65 mph and the hitter has only 0.57 seconds to react. An outstanding pitcher throws 70 mph and the hitter has 0.53 seconds to react and an exceptional pitcher throws 75 mph and the hitter has to react in 0.46 seconds. Twelve-year old hitters have only 0.43 seconds to respond to faster maturing pitchers who throw 80 mph at 50 feet, and it doesn’t get any better at 54 feet.
As previously mentioned, the distance between pitcher’s mound and home plate for 13U pitchers is 4 feet farther than it is for 12U pitchers (50’ vs. 54’). For catchers, the distance is approximately 14 feet farther (99’ vs. 113’ 3”). When 13U pitchers move up to 54-feet, they are experiencing an 8% increase in distance. Catchers, however, are having to throw approximately 14 feet farther, a 14% increase. 12U catchers who are bouncing the ball or just getting it to 2B at 99’ are going to find that it is harder for them to throw an additional 14 feet to 2B than it is for pitchers to throw 4-feet farther to home.
Distance is also a potential problem for 13U infielders, especially SS and 3B. Instead of throwing 99’ feet across the diamond, third basemen, like catchers will have to throw 113 feet on balls near the bag and 100 feet on balls in the hole. Shortstops will have to throw between 75 and 115 feet with 80-foot bases vs. 65 to 100 feet with 70-foot bases.
And, it doesn’t get any better for outfielders. The recommended dimensions for 12U diamonds are 225-feet down the lines and 275-feet to center fields. For 13U fields, the distances increase to a max of 265-feet down the lines and 275-feet to centerfield. Outfielders not only have to throw farther; they have to cover more ground. Data suggest that an average 12U player should be able to throw 175-feet. The average for a 13U player is 200-feet, 14% farther. Outfielders with below average arms and speed are going to find it harder to make throws and plays in the larger 13U outfields.
The good news is that research shows that most 12U players should be able throw faster and farther next year. The average 12-year old should increase fastball velocity by 1.5 mph by age 13 just by getting older. Likewise, a 1-inch increase in stride length should provide an additional 1.2 mph in velocity. Additional increases have been associated with increases in leg and core strength and improvements in pitching mechanics. For max results, 12U players need to start working out now to ensure that they can throw hard enough, throw far enough, run fast enough, hit hard enough and move efficiently enough to compete next season.
Start now because adaptation takes time. You can’t microwave improvement. You can’t wait until the week or month before the season to start training. Increases in strength, for example, take at least 2-3 months. Improvements in speed and agility take at least 8 weeks when training sessions are held 3-4 times per week, longer with less frequent training sessions. Flexibility is improved day-to-day, i. e, you have to work on it almost every day and it can take at least 2-6 months to see improvements in most and as long as 12 months in some. Improvements in work capacity can take 8 weeks or more.
Training needs to be specific. You can’t train for strength and improve speed. There is no “universal” workout that will improve every energy system and physical attribute needed to excel in any sport. Move resistance, body weight, dumbbells and/or tubing for muscular strength and endurance. Run fast for speed. Start, stop and change directions for agility, balance and coordination. Hop, skip and jump for power. Run intervals and shuttles for work capacity. Work on 1-2 things per day, e.g. speed and strength, and everything 2-3 times per week. Get in and get out quickly. You should be able to see significant improvements working as little as 20-30 minutes per day. Limit the number of exercises and movements to only those that you need to do to get better in baseball. Focus on what you need to do to get better in baseball. Limit or omit the things that would be nice to do.
Gene Coleman is a S&C consultant for the Texas Rangers, Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org. Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC, is the Major League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Rangers.