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First Pitch: What is SPEED?

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SPEED.

It’s a word that is commonly associated with being fast. We don’t talk about the SPEED of a first baseman, just like we don’t discuss the POWER from a light hitting backup shortstop. It’s simply not notable in the game of baseball to identify when a player lacks a skill and doesn’t project to gain in that area. We only discuss SPEED when a player moves faster than our eyes expected.

SPEED itself is a simple calculation of distance over time. Miles per hour is the speed we are most familiar with in America. Distance per second is what we use to evaluate the speed of humans moving from point A to point B.

The game of baseball grades SPEED on a 20-80 scale, most commonly using the home-to-first times to evaluate a player. Those grades play out as follows:

Grade: Home-to-First Time in Seconds (Right/Left)
80: 4.0/3.9
70: 4.1/4.0
60: 4.2/4.1
50: 4.3/4.2
40: 4.4/4.3
30: 4.5/4.4
20: 4.6/4.5

There is a slight adjustment for left-handers, as they have a shorter distance to move.

Players also are graded on their 60-yard dash time for their SPEED. An 80-grade is 6.4 seconds, an average 50 grade is 6.9-7.0 seconds, and a 20 grade is 7.5+ seconds.

The area where we notice SPEED the most comes from stolen bases. This is where we find that SPEED in the game of baseball isn’t necessarily about how fast you are, but instead more about your decision making and your mind’s resolve.

WHAT IS SPEED?

In my first look at the tools of baseball, I wrote about the chess match that takes place between a pitcher and a batter. Each plate appearance requires an intense level of focus as the pitcher and batter fight for momentum in the plate appearance, putting their minds against each other. Whoever can utilize their POWER the best in that moment usually wins the battle.

When the batter reaches first base, he doesn’t get to rest, though he does get to react. Unless he has SPEED. At that point, he’s a threat to steal second base.

The process of stealing second base is another chess match. The base runner now has to study the pitcher, trying to find the earliest sign of movement to identify when to take off for second base. The wrong type of movement identified could leave the runner hanging off the bag as a pickoff attempt is fired over to first.

Even if the right type of movement is identified, the player needs the ability to steal the base. That involves pivoting his body 90 degrees, working his arms and legs as fast as they can work, and then having the awareness to time and guide a slide into second base — potentially with the need to swim around a tag.

The thing about stealing a base is that, while it’s incredibly complex and requires the player to think about a lot of things at once, it’s a very repeatable process. Once you learn the physical act of stealing a base, it’s the same muscle memory movement over and over. The only focus comes down to timing the movement of the pitcher. In a race of seconds, you gain an edge in milliseconds.

Considering this comes after a mind battle at the plate, you have to consider that the runner on first has a fatigued mind and tired eyes — at least when compared to when he first stepped up to the plate. Players with the ability to consistently steal second after winning a battle with the pitcher are the players who display the most internal resolve. To win one of the toughest mind battles in sports, then turn around and immediately want to battle again? That’s a tenacious approach that I can’t help but respect.

Stealing a base involves SPEED, but it’s a POWER move to continue impacting the pitcher’s mind when you’re not even at the plate.

That’s why so many POWER/SPEED guys end up as first rounders, or MLB All-Stars, or Hall of Famers.

It’s not that they’re strong and fast. It’s that their brain has developed enough to be able to c o n t r o l and apply their POWER and SPEED — by staying focused with the intent to manipulate their body in the correct way on demand for the desired result.

This is also why so many SPEED only guys get drafted and given chances, despite often having horrible stats, and sometimes having barely any baseball experience. The team is adding the mind and the ability to c o n t r o l the body — and hoping it will translate with a baseball bat or glove in their hands. 

Next up in the tools of baseball series: c o n t r o l.

It has been about five years since I’ve had a daily writing role on this site. I started moving away from that in 2018, as I was getting overwhelmed and burnt out.

Over a decade ago, I started this column as a daily feature to challenge me to write something every day of the season. That challenge can be daunting, especially during the dog days of summer in losing seasons. Our daily column now is Pirates Prospects Daily, which is written by Anthony Murphy.

Starting today, I’ll be writing a daily column, which for now will be identified by my last name. This column will follow a similar format to the old daily First Pitch articles.

What about First Pitch?

This article will remain a weekly feature, giving me a place to push my writing beyond what I’m doing in my daily articles.

A lot of what I’m working on in First Pitch is explaining the game of baseball from a sensory perspective. I’ve realized over the last few years that I grew up with undiagnosed sensory issues, which were a big cause of a lot of my constant migraines, or moments of sensory overload. What sucks is that the answer is simply “sleep a healthy amount, eat a healthy diet, and drink lots of water”. The problem there is that I’ve never been good about having routines. In fact, I succeeded on this site in the early days because I would eschew sleep in favor of additional articles.

Not these days, in my age-40 season and my 15th year covering the Pirates. You’ll find me in bed when I’m tired, and these articles might get published late.

Still, this is my livelihood. I have X amount of articles I plan to write this year to make my salary. Everyone else is getting paid off their articles with the new ads. We’re accepting contributions, which I’ll discuss below. However, I’d like that to go to growing the site for future years. Thus, I need to write in order to get paid. Thus, I’m going back to a daily column.

My hope is to establish a healthy set of routines with this new column. Mostly, I kind of missed writing about baseball so frequently. I had to step back for various reasons, but I feel I’m finally ready to jump back in the mix — and at that perfect time where Artificial Intelligence is about to take over the game.

Not here though. You won’t find me writing articles with ChatGPT. I mean, what am I going to do? Have ChatGPT write me a promotional section to garner support for the site? You all would see right through that.

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TODAY ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

The ChatGPT-free article drop today features sleepers, Cody Bolton, and that first column.

It’s Tuesday, which normally would mean an article drop. With minor league seasons starting, we have article drops hitting the site every day this week. We’ve got our season previews rolling out over the next few days.

**Williams: I’ve Got It

My first daily column looks at a play between Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski, and argues that Suwinski should be the center fielder.

**First Pitch: What is SPEED? – READING

I’ve been having fun writing this series on my view of the tools of baseball. I have a feeling that the formatting style of these articles is leading to the death of at least two Boomers per article. Just like with COVID, we all have to make sacrifices to keep the economy going. In this case, the economy is thinking about the game of baseball like a game of chess.

**Five Sleepers to Follow in the Pittsburgh Pirates System in 2023

Kicking off our minor league coverage, I gave five sleepers to follow in the Pirates’ system this year. Deep tracks only!

**Cody Bolton Amped-Up For Move to the Bullpen

Cody Bolton has moved to the bullpen as a full-time reliever in Indianapolis. Ryan Palencer talked with the right-hander, who was amped up about the new, consistent role.

FUQUAY VINYL PLAYLIST

I didn’t have time to put together a playlist this week. Here are my ten favorite songs lately, some old and some new, but all of them likely shared before as Song of the Day choices, or in previous playlists.

Over – CHVRCHES
Flowers – Miley Cyrus
Aquamarine – Danger Mouse and Black Thought
No Role Modelz – J. Cole
N95 – Kendrick Lamar
All the Stars – Kendrick Lamar, SZA
Hey, Hey, What Can I Do – Led Zeppelin
Starlight – Muse
Super Rich Kids – Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt
goonies vs. E.T. – Run the Jewels

We were only sharing female artists for our Pirates Prospects Daily Song of the Day during the month of March. As such, in place of a playlist this week, here is a great performance by some of my favorite artists today: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus of boygenius. I’ve got to pick up their new album.

WEEKLY PIRATES QUIZ

Mitch Keller joined this list last week.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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