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Watching a runner take off during the pitcher's windup to try for a stolen base is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Both the player and the ball are headed for the same place, but the winner in this race depends on precision, speed, and split-second timing.

In this lesson, students will examine some of the mathematics behind stealing second base. They will calculate speeds, distances, and times, and will convert between different units of measurement. Along the way, they'll also use some geometry to explore the mechanics of this race. Ultimately they'll answer the question, Just how hard is it to steal a base, anyway?

Students will

  • Find an unknown distance using the Pythagorean Theorem or special right triangles
  • Compare the time it takes to complete a throw to second with the time it takes a baserunner to run, by reasoning and calculating with distances and speeds
  • Convert speeds given in miles per hour to feet per second, so they can be used in calculations

Before you begin

Students should be able to convert miles per hour to feet per second, and be familiar with the relationship between distance and time at a constant rate. There is one question in which students are asked to solve for the hypotenuse of an isosceles right triangle, given the lengths of the legs. If they have not learned about the Pythagorean Theorem yet, you could simply tell them this distance, and the remainder of the lesson is all about rates and proportions.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices