Elite defense is a huge value that 5 Tool players provide to their teams. It is the ability to not only make the routine plays, but take away hits on difficult plays that ultimately save runs from scoring. Baseball players practice all day long on the sport specific skill of making the routine plays, but to take the next jump to become an elite defender a large emphasis needs to be placed on enhancing speed, agility and acceleration. The top defenders in baseball are usually the fastest players on the team and have elite short area quickness. This needs to be a huge piece of a baseball athletes offseason training. The great news is, your training should not only improve your speed & agility to become a better baserunner/fielder, but simultaneously improve your throwing velocity, swing velocity and exit velocity.
Speed, Agility And Acceleration Predicts Fielding Performance
To understand just how seriously professional organizations take the value of having elite defenders on the field let's take a look at a few studies. In a study called, Game Speed Training In Baseball by Ryan Crotin, they found that a strength & conditioning coach has a huge responsibility to an organization to help develop faster more athletic players for both offensive scoring and defensive run prevention.
“With respect to both prospect designations, optimizing an athlete’s speed, power, quickness, and redirection capabilities will most definitely translate to an increase in player value and winning percentages bearing that the athlete has developed game instincts. A faster, more athletic defensive fielder has an opportunity to protect runs by taking away hits. On offense, a player who demonstrates a high percentage of ability to steal second base should be worth 0.50 runs to his organization the majority of times he reaches base. Similarly, an enhanced ability to beat out infield ground balls, double plays, advance 2 bases per hit, or advance on a bobbled ball will further add to a player’s scoring potential. The enhancement of a team’s scoring potential and run prevention capabilities is just one of the many ways by which the strength and conditioning coordinator in baseball contributes to a winning organization.” (1)
In another study called, Predictors Of Fielding Performance In Professional Baseball Players by Gerald Mangine they found agility and power to be the best predictors of defensive runs saved during a season and thus should be useful tools to determine players who are most capable of contributing to the team.
“Considering the importance of individual and team fielding performance to the outcome of a professional baseball game and season, our data suggest that athletes and coaches should focus on developing and maintaining agility and power, which appear to be the best predictors of elite baseball fielding performance. Our results, therefore, suggest that spring-training measurements of LBM, vertical-jump power, and proagility run may be the best predictors of season-long value in runs a position player is defensively worth (UZR/150). Consequently, strength coaches and team managers may find this information useful in the early identification of the players who are most capable of contributing to team fielding performance or who need to improve agility and power.” (2)
Hopefully, this is beginning to paint a picture of the importance that teams place on their players ability to play defense. This is why you need to have a year round training program to enhance your speed & agility, throwing velocity, bat swing and exit velocity.
Enhancing Speed, Agility And Acceleration
Let's take a look at how to improve these tools. The weight room is absolutely vital for building a speed machine. The science says that sprint speed can be enhanced by improving stride frequency and improving strike length. Stride frequency is the rate at which you take steps as you run and stride length is the distance you cover with each stride. Improving both of these relies heavily on how much force you can apply to the ground to overcome your own bodyweight. In a study called, Faster Top Running Speeds Are Achieved With Greater Ground Forces Not More Rapid Leg Movements by Peter Weyand they concluded,
“We conclude that human runners reach faster top speeds not by repositioning their limbs more rapidly in the air but by applying greater support forces to the ground.” (3)
We see the same thing in Ryan Crotin's study earlier on sprint speed and acceleration for baseball players.
“Large muscular forces generated by the body act on the ground producing large opposite ground reaction forces that translate to produce forward motion. Essentially, a base runner’s ability to rapidly impart peak muscular and ground reaction forces, for his given body mass, will contribute to greater relative acceleration capabilities (acceleration = force produced/mass of body).” (1)
So, the amount of force applied to the ground with each step is key for sprint speed/acceleration. There is no better way to develop your ability to apply force to the ground than in the weight room. Crotin goes on to show that maximal strength training at 85% or above of your 1 rep max is crucial for developing elite speed and acceleration capabilities.
“The development of maximal strength (.85% 1 repetition maximum training) and power (the product of force and velocity) is critical to the improvement of running speed (covering a distance in the shortest period) and initial and transitional acceleration (vector quantities indicating the rate of speed development).” (1)
Incorporating and becoming very strong at exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges and even bench press are extremely beneficial for developing a baseball speed demon. At Topvelocity we want our athletes to get as close as they can to a 2X bodyweight backsquat. This is a good indication that they have a very good base of strength. However, it doesn't stop there, you need to be good at rapidly tapping into that strength. Things like plyometrics, olympic lift variations, resisted sprints, agility drills and short acceleration sprints 10-30 yds need to be incorporated to round out your training. They are excellent exercises to help bridge the gap between speed & strength. An emphasis also needs to be placed on your sprint biomechanics and joint mobility, but remember the most important factor is rapidly pushing force into the ground.
Improve All 5 Baseball Tools
Incorporating this form of training will not only improve your defense/baserunning, but will also improve your throwing velocity, swing and exit velocity. If you need a program to follow and want the latest in sports science to improve your defense, baserunning, hitting and throwing velocity. Check out the 5 Tool Prospect Manual or get down to a 2X Velocity Camp and train with us! We take the guesswork out of training our athletes. Everything we do is about applying the latest in sports science to build you into a bigger, faster, stronger and more resilient athlete to help you reach your goals. Hope you guys got some value from this article. If you have any questions or need some advice please reach out to me on Instagram: @stevenguadagni.
- Crotin, Ryan. “Game speed training in baseball.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 31.2 (2009): 13-25.
- Mangine, Gerald T., et al. “Predictors of fielding performance in professional baseball players.” International journal of sports physiology and performance 8.5 (2013): 510-516.
- Weyand, Peter G., et al. “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements.” Journal of applied physiology 89.5 (2000): 1991-1999.