Speed* is one of the five tools that scouts, coaches and management look for when evaluating talent, and the only tool that is used on both offense and defense in game situations. Everyone appreciates the importance of speed, but how much do we actually know about speed in game situations. The following information was obtained by measuring times from home plate to first base on both home and opposing teams during MLB games for over 20 years and is presented to help coaches and players understand how speed is used during game situations.
- How often do MLB players run to 1B in game situations? Data indicate that the average player runs to first base approximately 2.4 times per game, about 65 times per month. The remainder of the time, he either strikes out, pops up or flys out in foul territory walks or is hit by a pitch. Players run to first base in 72% of their plate appearances and walk back to the dugout or to first base 28% of the time (foul out, walk, HBP or K).
- How fast (speed / velocity) do MLB players run to 1B in game situations? On average, players run to first base at 84.1% of peak velocity. Most run all-out only when they are trying to beat out an infield hit, bunt or round first on an extra base hit that will be close at second or third. The average time to first base is 5.17 ± 0.98 sec. (17.4 ± 1.08 fps). The average peak time to first is 4.35 ± 0.12 sec. (20.7 ± 0.02 fps) for right handed batters and 4.32 ± 0.13 sec. (20.8 ± 0.03 fps) for left handed batters.
- How often do players run at threshold intensity in game situations? Research on track and field athletes indicates that the threshold for the development and maintenance of running speed is approximately 90% of peak velocity and that athletes who train at less than 90% of max velocity are working on something other than speed. The average MLB player runs to 1B at threshold intensity about 50% of the time in game situations. The remainder of the time he either jogs out a routine play or breaks out of the box hard and then slows down when the ball goes into the outfield. Approximately 30% of the runs to 1B are at near-threshold level (80-89%) and 20% are at less than 80% effort in game situations. The average player runs at threshold intensity slightly less than 1.2 times per game and 30-35 times per month in game situations.
- Does peak velocity in game situations change from month-to-month? The data in the following table indicate that, although there are differences in speed and velocity from month-to-month, these differences are not significant. Peak speed and velocity are the slowest in the first and last month of the season and highest in mid-season. Slower times in the first month of the season have been related to poorer weather conditions (cold, rain, etc.) while those in the last month have been related to factors such as injuries, fatigue, motivation, etc. resulting from the marathon-like schedule of 162 games in 180 days.
Change in mean peak speed and mean peak velocity from month-to-month*
|Speed (sec)||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 (fps)||20.78 ± 0.20||20.93 ±0.19||20.88 ± 0.19||20.88 ± 0.19||20.83 ± 0.19||20.78 ± 0.20|
A few of the takeaways from these findings include:
- Most players don’t run all-out to first base on every at bat.
- The running that players do before and during games is sufficient to maintain speed among most starting, position players from game 1 to game 162.
- The 90% threshold guideline recommended for track does not fully apply to the sport of baseball. Baseball is a game of acceleration, not top speed.
- Running in game situations is not limited to runs to first base. Players have several opportunities to run on offense and defense. The length of the season, number of games played and game-related movements allow players ample opportunities to work at a level sufficient to maintain running speed to first base. Coaches should take this into consideration when designing in-season running programs for position players.
*Based on 2,632 timed runs to 1B during course of a MLB season.
- Brunner, R. and B. Tabachnik. Soviet training and recovery methods. Pleasant Hill. Sport Focus Publishing. 1990.
- Coleman, A. E. and T. L. Dupler. Changes in running speed in game situations during a season of MLB. JEPonline, 7:89-93, 2004
- Coleman, A. E. and T. L. Dupler. Differences in running speed among MLB Players in game situations. JEPonline, 8:10-15, 2005.
- Coleman, A. E. Running speed in professional baseball. Strength and Conditioning Journal 29(3):72-76, 2007.
- Coleman, A. E. and W. E. Amonette. Pure acceleration is the primary determinant of speed to first base in MLB game situations. J Strength and Conditioning Research 26(6):1455-1460, 2012.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.