Blue Jays and Speedy Ways: Better Baserunning

This worked out pretty well for Game 5, didn’t it? I thought I’d try it again before Game 6Last time we talked about core stability and how it can influence swing power. This time, what about running speed? Baseball occasionally depends on “beating out throws to first” — using your speed to put pressure on the other teams defence and generate offence.

So what do you think, which player will be fastest: the player who reaches the highest overall speed before getting to first base, or the player who gets the best “jump” out of the batter’s box (the best “first step”)?

Baserunning in baseball: Acceleration or Top Speed?

This topic was investigated in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2012 by Colemen and Amonette. They compiled 1,896 sprint times from home plate to first base between 2007-2010, using about 67% of the 450 Major League Baseball players as their sample. Typically, 10 meters is used as a distance to measure pure acceleration — but in baseball, the distance from home plate to first base is 27.4 meters (90 feet), and the the foul line begins halfway to first base, about 13.7 meters. Given this was a baseball specific investigation, they used the 13.7 meters to give an indication of a player’s acceleration.

Blue Jays Baseball Foul Line

After analyzing their data, they found that a player’s time to first base is influenced most by their acceleration from home plate to the foul line. So given the choice between maximizing your total speed before reaching first base, or having the greatest amount of acceleration from home plate to the foul line, players should focus on accelerating quickly out of the batter’s box. As the study’s authors conclude in their practical applications, “pure acceleration may be the most important performance attribute to improve to increase game-specific speed.”

This makes sense because reaching your top speed earlier means you spend more time at that top speed. With a slower acceleration, even if you reach a higher speed before getting to first base, you don’t spend enough total time at that speed. Baserunning in baseball, therefore, is all about acceleration. 

Improving Acceleration for Better Baserunning 

So how can you take this information and get better at baseball for next year? By training acceleration in the off-season. Common training methods to improve acceleration include sprint training (free sprinting), weight training, plyometrics, and resisted sprinting. Each of these can be effective, but which one should you choose?

Lockie et al. tested each of these training styles in 2012. They used 6 weeks of specific training with each of these methods with the goal of improving acceleration, and found that each group improved their acceleration times. No significant differences between the groups were found, which is good — this means you can use many types of training to improve your sprinting acceleration. Of note in this study though, the group using strength training had the least amount of variability in improvement during post-training testing, meaning acceleration improvements were most consistently shown. So, if I had to make a recommendation based on which training style I was most confident would yield improved acceleration times, and ultimately baserunning performance, it would be the strength training group. 

Baseball Stolen Base

Image from lam_chihang via Flickr

Conclusion 

The Blue Jays need every advantage they can get to advance to the World Series. Regarding baserunning, the recommendation here is not to “leg out” each hit to first, but to explode out of the batters box, generating as much acceleration as possible before reaching the foul line (and then keep running to first base!). This appears to be the most important factor in getting to first base the quickest — putting pressure on the opposing team’s defence, and generating additional base-hits. 

The studies noted above suggest your first steps are the most important factor for determining how fast you get to first base — if you were in a race to first base, whoever gets to the foul line quickest is probably going to win. The same would apply for stealing bases — create the most acceleration in your first few steps, and you’re more likely to steal the bag successfully. So if you want to improve your acceleration before next season, I’d start with a strength training program designed to do so (the study group used squats, step-ups, hip flexion, and calf raises — mostly in low repetition, high load designs) — although any of the training types noted here, used appropriately, will give you similar results. 

And as always, Let’s Go Blue Jays!

References:
  1. Coleman A, Amonette W. Pure Acceleration is the Primary Determinant of Speed to First-Base in Major-League Baseball Game Situations. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(6):1455–60.
  2. Lockie RG, Murphy AJ, Schultz AB, Knight TJ, Janse de Jonge X a. K. The Effects of Different Speed Training Protocols on Sprint Acceleration Kinematics and Muscle Strength and Power in Field Sport Athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(6):1539–50.

Dr. Gilliard is a chiropractor in Burlington, ON — if you have questions, comments, or wish to book an appointment, contact him at your convenience by leaving a comment below, visiting his website, via email at drjimgilliard@gmail.com, by phone at (905) 634-6000, or in person at Endorphins Health and Wellness Centre.

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