Eugene Coleman, A.1,2; Amonette, William E.2
Speed or velocity is defined as distance divided by time (1). From a practical sport perspective, sprinting velocity is the ability of an athlete to move his or her body through a given distance quickly (6). In Major-League Baseball (MLB), peak running velocity has been traditionally measured using the 60-yd (180 ft/55 m) sprint time (5,8). Because the bases are 90 ft (27.4 m) apart and most baseball plays in game situations seldom require players to run 60 linear yards, many in professional baseball have questioned the validity of using the 60-yd sprint as a true indicator of a player's speed in game situations (5,9). Recent data indicate that there is a shifting emphasis from testing the 60-yd sprint toward the use of times obtained in game situations (i.e., time from Home-Plate to First-Base and from base-to-base) as indicators of running speed (2–4).
Running velocity can be divided into 2 phases: acceleration and maximum velocity. Acceleration, or rate of change in velocity, can be further subdivided into 2 categories: pure and transitional acceleration. The pure acceleration phase of sprinting begins with initial movement and continues for approximately 15 m. Transitional acceleration is the time required to move from maximum acceleration to top speed; it lasts from 15 to 30 m (7,9). The fastest baseball players are able to accelerate rapidly and reach their top speed quickly. Because the First-Base line is clearly marked at 13.7 m (Foul-Line) and 27.4 m (First-Base), pure and transitional acceleration can be assessed by evaluating game situation sprint times from players at bat. When batting, initial (i.e., pure) acceleration begins at bat contact and ends after about 15 m (i.e., the Foul-Line). Transitional acceleration occurs from 16 to 30 m (Foul-Line to First-Base).
Previous research suggests that there are significant differences in sprint times to First-Base among MLB players (3). This is important as arriving safely at First-Base is crucial to offensive scoring potential and ultimately to winning baseball games. However, it is unclear from previous research if time to First-Base is determined by initial acceleration from the batter's box (i.e., pure acceleration), acceleration during the second half of the sprint to first base or if it is affected equally by transitional acceleration. Therefore, the purpose of this analysis was to (a) quantify and report the interval sprint times between the Home-Plate and the Foul-Line and the Foul-Line and First-Base during actual MLB games, (b) determine if differences exist in interval velocities and acceleration between left- and right-handed batters or between-position groupings and, (c) quantify determinants of time to First-Base in MLB games. It was hypothesized that significant differences would be evident in all interval velocities and accelerations between left- and right-handed batters and between-position groupings. Moreover, it was hypothesized that time to First-Base in MLB games would be equally affected by interval sprint time from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line and between the Foul-Line and First-Base.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
A retrospective cohort study design was used to accomplish the study objectives and assess the study hypotheses. One thousand eight hundred and ninety-six sprint times (N = 1,896) from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line and the Foul-Line to First-Base were collected during the 2007–2010 MLB seasons. The sample included players from 14 American League and 16 National League Teams and comprised approximately 67% of the 450 position players on all active rosters of the 30 MLB teams. Retrospective analyses were completed on these data to determine differences in interval velocities and accelerations between left- and right-handed batters and between-position groupings.
Data were collected on 302 (N = 302) MLB players who completed a total of 1,896 timed runs from Home-Plate to First-Base. One hundred and twenty-two athletes batted left-handed (184.2 ± 7.0 cm; 92.6 ± 9.9 kg; 29.8 ± 4.6 years); 180 batted right-handed (184.9 ± 5.3 cm; 92.7 ± 11.2 kg; 29.1 ± 4.2 years). All positions, except for pitcher and designated hitter, were represented in this analysis. There were 35 catchers (183.9 ± 5.2 cm; 97.1 ± 8.2 kg; 29.7 ± 4.5 years), 138 infielders (183.6 ± 6.0 cm; 90.6 ± 12.1 kg; 29.4 ± 4.5 years), and 129 outfielders (186.1 ± 6.0 cm; 93.7 ± 9.2 kg; 29.3 ± 4.3 years). Because of the retrospective nature of the study and blinded analysis, institutional review board approval was not necessary.
Time to the Foul-Line and First-Base was measured by a single coach positioned in the dugout and even with first base using a hand-held calibrated digital stopwatch (Seiko Memory 100). The stopwatch had an average error of <0.01%. Times were recorded for both home and visiting teams during 324 MLB games over the 4-year period (2007–2010). The digital stopwatch was started when the bat contacted the ball for each player and split times were recorded when the player crossed the major-league Foul-Line (45 ft/13.7 m) and when his lead foot made contact with First-Base (90 ft/27.4 m). Each player completed at least 2 runs to first base, and only the fastest sprint time was used in the analysis. If a player overtly ran at submaximal speeds, the time was not recorded or used in the analysis
Player height and mass were obtained from a publicly available website (www.mlb.com). Timing data from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line (13.7 m), the Foul-Line to First-Base (13.7 m), and Home-Plate to First-Base (27.4 m) were entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and inspected for abnormalities. Velocity was calculated for each timed interval as the distance divided by time (meters per second). Acceleration (meters per second squared) was calculated using the difference between the final and initial velocity, divided by the interval time. Interval velocities and accelerations were computed for Home-Plate to Foul-Line, Foul-Line to First-Base, and Home-Plate to First-Base.
Ranked data statistics were calculated on time, velocity, and acceleration for the entire data set, right- vs. left-handed batters and by position groupings. The players were grouped into 3 position categories: catchers, outfielders, and infielders. For each comparison, the range (minimum to maximum), median (50th percentile) and interquartile range (IQ range; 25th to 75th percentile) scores were calculated. Statistical hypotheses were tested using SigmaPlot 12.0 (Systat Inc., San Jose, CA, USA) statistical software package. Comparisons of interval sprint velocities and accelerations between left- and right-handed batters were made using a Mann-Whitney U statistical test. Between-position comparisons of velocity and acceleration were completed using an analysis of variance (ANOVA) test of ranked data. Pearson's correlations were used to determine the association between sprint time to First-Base and the interval accelerations between Home-Plate and the Foul-Line and the Foul-Line to First-Base. Pearson's correlations were also computed between the sprint time to First-Base and athlete body mass and height. Alpha was set at p ≤ 0.05 before analysis.
Differences Between Left- and Right-Handed Batters
Interval timing data for left- and right-handed batters are provided in Table 1; box plots depicting distribution of velocity and acceleration scores are provided in Figure 1. The median interval velocity from the Foul-Line to First-Base was 6.89 m·s−1 (IQ = 6.61–7.13 m·s−1) for left-handed batters and 6.74 m·s−1 (IQ = 6.42–6.95 m·s−1) for right-handed batters. The median difference between Home-Plate and the Foul-Line was significantly different between groups (p = 0.006). Conversely, the median difference in interval velocity between the Foul-Line and First-Base was not different (p = 0.07) between left- (Med = 10.05 m·s−1; IQ = 9.62–10.61 m·s−1) and right-handed batters (Med = 10.12 m·s−1; IQ = 9.80–10.55 m·s−1). There was a significant difference in the average velocity from Home-Plate to First-Base for left- (Med = 8.20 m·s−1; IQ = 7.99–8.47 m·s−1) and right-handed batters (Med = 8.08 m·s−1; IQ = 7.89–8.31 m·s−1) between Home-Plate to First-Base (p = 0.02).
Acceleration for left-handed batters (Med = 2.68 m·s−2; IQ = 2.47–2.87 m·s−2) was significantly greater than right-handed batters (Med = 2.56 m·s−2; IQ = 2.40–2.75 m·s−2) between Home-Plate and the Foul-Line (p = 0.003). However, interval accelerations between the Foul-Line and First-Base were not different between left- (Med = 1.83 m·s−2; IQ =1.40–2.25 m·s−2) and right-handed (Med = 1.94 m·s−2; IQ = 1.59–2.25 m·s−2) batters (p = 0.08). The average acceleration for the entire 27.4-m sprint from Home-Plate to First-Base was greater (p = 0.03) in left-handed (Med = 1.90 m·s−2; IQ = 1.80–2.02 m·s−2) than right-handed batters (Med = 1.85 m·s−2; IQ = 1.76–1.96 m·s−2; p = 0.02).
Differences Between Positions
Interval timing data between positions can be seen in Table 2. Figure 2 provides plots of the distribution of velocity and acceleration scores by position groupings. The ANOVA statistic revealed a significant difference in the interval velocity between Home-Plate and First-Base among position groupings (H = 41.7; p < 0.001). Outfielders (Med = 6.89 m·s−1; IQ = 6.66–7.13 m·s−1) and infielders (Med = 6.78 m·s−1; IQ = 6.56–7.01 m·s−1) were significantly faster (p < 0.05) from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line than catchers (Med = 6.41 m·s−1; IQ = 6.20–6.71 m·s−1). A significant position difference was also detected in the interval velocity between the Foul-Line and First-Base (H = 10.7; p = 0.005). Outfielders (Med = 10.27 m·s−1; IQ = 9.79–10.75 m·s−1) were significantly faster (p < 0.05) from the Foul-Line to First-Base than catchers (Med = 9.87 m·s−1; IQ = 9.68–10.18 m·s−1). There were no significant differences in the interval velocities from the Foul-Line to First-Base between outfielders and infielders (Med = 10.09 m·s−1; IQ = 9.58–10.53 m·s−1) or between infielders and catchers (p > 0.05). Finally, there were significant differences in position groupings for the entire interval sprint from Home-Plate to First-Base (H = 43.3; p < 0.001). Outfielders (Med = 8.23 m·s−1; IQ = 8.03–8.49 m·s−1) were significantly faster (p < 0.05) than catchers (Med = 7.83 m·s−1; IQ = 7.63–8.03 m·s−1) and infielders (Med = 8.12 m·s−1; IQ = 7.95–8.36 m·s−1). Also, infielders were significantly faster than catchers (p < 0.05).
Significant differences were also evident in the interval accelerations between-position groupings The ANOVA statistic revealed a significant difference in the interval acceleration between Home-Plate and First-Base among position groupings (H = 41.7; p < 0.001). Outfielders (Med = 2.68 m·s−1; IQ = 2.50–2.87 m·s−1) and infielders (Med = 2.60 m·s−1; IQ = 2.43–2.78 m·s−1) accelerated at a greater rate (p < 0.05) from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line than catchers (Med = 2.32 m·s−1; IQ = 2.17–2.54 m·s−1). There were also significant differences (p < 0.05) in the interval acceleration from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line between outfielders and infielders. However, no significant difference was detected in the interval acceleration between positions from the Foul-Line and First-Base (H = 0.87; p = 0.65): outfielders (Med = 1.95 m·s−1; IQ = 1.55–2.27 m·s−1), infielders (Med = 1.90 m·s−1; IQ = 1.49–2.29 m·s−1), catchers (Med = 1.90 m·s−1; IQ = 1.68–2.08 m·s−1). Finally, there were significant differences in position groupings for the entire interval sprint from Home-Plate to First-Base (H = 43.3; p < 0.001). Outfielders (Med = 1.91 m·s−1; IQ = 1.82–2.03 m·s−1) accelerated at a greater rate (p < 0.05) than catchers (Med = 1.73 m·s−1; IQ = 1.64–1.82 m·s−1) and infielders (Med = 1.86 m·s−1; IQ = 1.78–1.97 m·s−1). Also, infielders accelerated at a greater rate than catchers (p < 0.05).
Time to First-Base was correlated with acceleration between Home-Plate and the Foul-Line (r = −0.76; p < 0.001) and acceleration between the Foul-Line and First-Base (r = −0.23; p < 0.001). Player body mass was also moderately correlated with time to First-Base (r = 0.30; p < 0.001). Height was weakly correlated with time to First-Base (r = 0.18; p = 0.002).
High running velocity and acceleration are important performance attributes for baseball players (5). Regardless of position, all the players accelerate maximally on the base path, approximately 3–4 times per game (4). These data provide a novel analysis of game-specific running velocity and acceleration in a large sample of MLB players. The first hypothesis, that differences in interval velocities and accelerations between left- and right-handed batters and between-position groupings would be present, was accepted. Indeed, distinct differences were observed between left- and right-handed batters; differences were also present between-position groupings. However, the second hypothesis, that time to First-Base in MLB games would be equally affected by interval sprint acceleration from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line and between the Foul-Line and First-Base was rejected. In fact, the critical finding of this study was that differences in time to First-Base are largely determined by time from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line (i.e., pure acceleration; Figure 3). This suggests that pure acceleration may be the most important trainable physical attribute if coaches desire to increase the game-specific speed of their players.
Although there were statistical differences in the running velocity between the Foul-Line and First-Base between outfielders and catchers, there were no other differences in velocity between-position groupings within the running interval. The interval accelerations were similar between all position groupings between the Foul-Line and First-Base. Moreover, left- and right-handed batters were similar in both velocity and acceleration between the Foul-Line and First-Base. This indicates that the majority of differences between left- and right-handed batters in running time from Home-Plate to the Foul-Line are accounted for in acceleration to the Foul-Line. Because the differences in times between players is determined primarily by pure acceleration, maximal effort in acceleration from the batter's box may be the most important factor in determining if a player is “safe” or “out” in game situations. If a ball is hit to an infielder and a batter perceives that he is clearly “out,” he will often accelerate at a submaximal rate from the batter's box. Then, if the position player does not cleanly field the ball the batter will try to quickly accelerate to out run the ball to the base. Because pure acceleration from the batter's box is the key determinant of time to First-Base, running submaximally from the batter's box places a batter at a clear disadvantage to reaching First-Base safely.
The median time to First-Base over the 2007–2010 seasons was 4.36 seconds. The players ran the first and second halves of the sprint to First-Base in 2.62 and 1.75 seconds; respectively. Suppose a player hits a routine ground ball and perceives that he will not safely reach First-Base. Consequently, he runs to the Foul-Line at 85% of maximum median time (3.01 seconds). Then, the ball is not fielded cleanly and the player decides to sprint maximally over the second half of the run to First-Base (1.75 seconds). The difference in time would be approximately 0.40 seconds. Because the average acceleration for most players over the entire 27.4-m sprint to First-Base is 1.90 m·s−2, the 0.40 seconds difference would equate to an approximate difference of 0.58 m (∼2 ft) and could clearly be the difference between arriving safely at First-Base. Even if the player was able to run as fast as the fastest player tested (1.44 seconds) from the Foul-Line to First-Base he would still arrive 0.08 seconds slower, which would equate to approximately 0.15 m (∼6 in.). Therefore, the initial acceleration from the batter's box is profoundly important. Running submaximally over the first half of the sprint to First-Base places the player at a obvious disadvantage because it is the primary determinant in speed differences among player groupings.
The results of this study indicate that left-handed batters are faster than right-handed batters and that there are distinct differences in running velocity to first-base. The primary determinant of these differences was variations in sprint acceleration within the first 14.7 m from the batter's box. This suggests that pure acceleration may be the most important performance attribute to improve to increase game-specific speed. As such, coaches should implement training programs to improve pure acceleration. Moreover, coaches should consider strategies to motivate maximal effort acceleration from the batter's box, such as routinely timing sprint speed in game situations.
No external funding was used for the completion of this study. The results do not constitute endorsement by the authors or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
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