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THE NEED FOR SPEED: Part 1 of 3 The most talented players are also known as 5-tool players. For the record, the five tools are 1) hitting for average, 2) hitting for power, 3) running speed, 4) arm strength and 5) fielding ability. A current list of five-tool players is a who's who of baseball's best-Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, to name three. Five-tool players get the key hits, big home runs, timely stolen base. They throw out the tying run at the plate and make spectacular defensive plays too. Mark Bonavita of the Sporting News says this about running speed (as it relates to five tool players): Speed is the rawest of the five tools-what you see usually is what you get. It's possible for players to improve their speed, but rarely with substantial gains.
Players with speed are counted on to make things happen-they have to be the catalysts. Unlike the other four tools, the benefits of the fleet-footed player can be seen in most aspects of the game, including hitting, fielding and, of course, base running. With a fast runner at the plate, infielders and outfielders are forced to play shallow. Being closer gives infielders more time to make the play on softly hit balls or bunts. For outfielders, it's easier to keep the batter/runner from taking an extra base. On the other hand, the fielders' adjustments can allow balls to sneak through the infield for hits and into gaps in the outfield for doubles and triples. Once on base, speedsters can be distractions for the pitcher-to the point of giving the batter an edge. If a player is a base stealing threat, then the pitcher often will do anything to keep him close to the base-from pickoff moves to the slide step (a faster delivery to the catcher) to throwing more fastballs (because the pitches get to the plate faster).
Forced to employ these techniques, pitchers put themselves at a disadvantage against the hitter. Even with all of the extraneous attempts to hold runners, most pitchers still struggle to give catchers a fair shake at gunning down runners. In addition to affecting a pitcher's concentration, base-stealers get into scoring position without using sacrifice hits and ground balls, which cost the team precious outs. Speed also is a valuable asset for outfielders. Those possessing good speed usually have better-than-average range and can close on the ball. What scouts look for:Dick Balderson- Atlanta Braves Scout: "Raw speed from home to first is most important. I do think you can improve on speed. You can improve on people's running form. Not everyone gets better, but for those people who have some skills and are dedicated, I think you can." BY THE NUMBERS: 4.2, 6.7 seconds. The first number is the average time, home plate to first base, for a left handed batter (it's 4.3 for a right hander hitter). The second number is considered a good time in the 60-yard dash, the baseball scout's preferred distance to clock (as opposed to football's 40). Next, travelballselect.com will feature University of Florida’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, Steven Orris and the training exercises he developed to improve running speed.