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UNDERSTANDING THE HOME TO FIRST TIME AND STRAIGHT-LINE SPEED VS BASEBALL SPEED

Mon November 9, 2015

By Chris FullerKentucky Scouting Director

Most people understand what a good 60-yard time is at the high school level, but what about the home to first time? Depending on where we run our events, we either record 60 times or home to first times as a player’s measurement of speed (dictated by NCAA rules regarding where scouting services hold events). If you have attended events where we record home to first times, we take the time to explain the home to first time to you so you have an understanding of how your time stacks up. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the home to first time and straight-line speed versus baseball speed.

The 60-Yard TimeFor the purpose of this article, we’ll use the average major league times for both the 60-yard dash and home to first to give us a base line from which to work. The average 60-yard time for a major league player is somewhere around 6.8-seconds. Keep in mind that this takes into consideration all positions, from center fielders (often the fastest players on the field) to catchers and first basemen (often the slowest).

The Home to First TimeAgain, for the purpose of this article, we’ll use the average major league home to first base time. The average home to first time for a major league right-handed hitter is around 4.3-seconds. For left-handed hitters, who begin in the box closer to the first base bag, you can deduct a tenth of a second making the average left-handed home to first time 4.2-seconds.

It’s important to understand how the home to first time is actually timed. If you sit in the stands at a game with scouts in attendance, you will hear them clicking their stopwatch on each pitch. Why? Because the home to first time starts on the player’s contact with the baseball. In order to get an accurate home to first time, a scout has to anticipate contact as the ball is crossing the plate. The watch stops the moment the player’s foot touches the first base bag. Again, it is necessary to anticipate the player’s contact with the bag so the watch is stopping at the exact moment the foot contacts the base.

Straight-Line Speed vs. Baseball SpeedIt’s important to understand the difference between straight-line speed and in-game baseball speed. Looking at the major league averages, a 6.8 runner in the 60-yard dash should equate to a 4.3-second home to first time if the player is a right-handed hitter, right? The answer to that is a resounding “sometimes.”

Being able to transfer straight-line speed to the baseball field is key in maximizing a player’s ability to affect the game to his team’s advantage. I’ve seen 6.8 runners in the 60 who are 4.5 runners down the line from the right side. There can be a number of reasons for this. Maybe he has a long follow through on his swing and is slow out of the box. Maybe he’s just a slow starter in general, meaning he is more of an accelerator than a quick starter in the 60, and given that the bases are 30 yards apart, by the time he reaches his maximum speed he is already approaching first base. Regardless of the reason, how many bang-bang plays do you see at first base where two-tenths of a second can be the difference between safe and out? Plenty. Don’t get me wrong , straight-line speed is an important measurement; if it wasn’t we wouldn’t bother doing it. But straight-line speed simply tells us just that, how fast a player can run from point A to point B in a straight line.

I remember a phone conversation I had awhile back with a college coach about a particular player. In February at one of our events, the player, a shortstop, didn’t exactly light up the stopwatch when he ran a 7.40 60-yard dash, a time that is certainly below average for the shortstop position. Despite the 60 time, the conversation quickly turned into how the coach wasn’t concerned with it because the kid played faster than the 60 time showed. Bingo! In fact, I stated he “plays faster than his 60 time indicates” when I did his evaluation from that event. What exactly does that mean? It means defensively this kid had a very quick first step and moved fluidly while taking precise angles to balls hit to either side of him. He had baseball speed that only a scout’s eyes, not a stopwatch, could measure. Offensively, he proved the point at his next event four months later when he posted a 4.39 home to first time from the left-side of the plate. He was quick out of the box, and it showed in posting a faster home to first time than his 60 time would indicate.

There are obvious other ways that transferring straight-line speed to the baseball field affect the game, but we’ll save that for another time.

Always Run HardI see it all the time when scouting games. A player hits a hard ground ball to shortstop and pulls up 10 feet from the bag when he realizes he is out. If you have a stopwatch at home, grab it and see how fast two-tenths of a second is. It doesn’t take much at all to slow your home to first time down significantly. A scout/college coach may have only one opportunity to get a true home to first time on you during a game. Get in the habit of running hard through the bag. Ingrain it in your game, and you’ll never have to worry about showing your best.

Daniel MetzingerComment