Sliding Head First Into First Base Is A Bad Process With A Risky Result

Posted on April 9, 2014 | in Baseball, Safety, Sports | by
nick punto first base slide

Many players think sliding into first base is a good strategy, but the risks outweigh the rewards (if there are any).

Why do players think it’s a good idea to slide head first into first base? The baseball season is barely nine games old and already there have been two injuries resulting from head first dives into first base.

Yasiel Puig has missed the past two Dodgers games after suffering a thumb injury while sliding head-first into first base. On Tuesday night, Josh Hamilton slid head-first into first base in the seventh inning and was removed in a crucial situation in the ninth inning because he had injured his thumb.

Players perceive there are two reasons for sliding into first base in an attempt to make it to first safely.

– Avoid the tag of a fielder with the ball
– Get to first base faster

Baseball, being a game of inches, has a lot riding on the line when it comes to bang-bang plays at any bag. Any advantage available to runners or fielders should be carefully considered.

This kind of thing happens in traditional business or manufacturing processes as well. Risks are taken to obtain perceived improvements in process outputs. Moldsetters remove safety glasses to see things better or closer up on their machines. Lab staffers need to react quickly to tests and neglect to put neoprene gloves on before opening the titrating valves. Hospitals keep extra varieties of medicine doses in close proximity to improve reaction time to emergencies, even if those doses are similar in color and can be confused.

Now, back to the subject of sliding into first base. Welp, according to ESPN.com:

Studies have shown runners do not get to first base faster by sliding head-first, so runners, please stop.

Where are these studies? First, let’s look at sliding as a means of reaching a base faster in the first place, let alone just first base.

– According to Mythbusters, sliding into base is faster than flat-out running through a bag (assuming the bag into which you are sliding is the one you intend to hold as the play ends – you aren’t looking to immediately move to the next base).

As you run to base, your body’s mass combined with your speed creates momentum, which changes into angular momentum as you slip into a slide, so the friction created with the ground doesn’t slow you down as much as you might think. You may lose a little speed, but keeping your body stretched out may enable you to touch base sooner than if you kept running the whole way.

~snip~

If you stay on your feet, your momentum will try to keep powering you forward as you near the base, so you’ll slow your speed to stay upright when you stop on base — adding time to your sprint.

– According to a physicist at Washington University, head-first slides are faster than feet-first slides.

Headfirst slides are better than feet-first slides, says Washington University physicist and baseball fan David Peters. According to Peters, it’s simple physics: As a runner slides headfirst, the body’s center of gravity — and therefore its momentum – is thrust forwards. Slide feet first, and the body’s center of gravity falls backwards, away from the base.

So I’m not quite sure where David Shoenfield got his data – not disputing that he has it, but the Mythbusters and a physicist suggest otherwise. But here’s why sliding head-first into first base is not the best idea.

First, the Mythbusters quote ends with the runner slowing down to stay on base…but runners are allowed to run through first base. Stopping to stand on first base isn’t mandatory. Those lost milliseconds due to slowdown are irrelevant. Sliding to stop is applicable to other bases but on a batter hitting the ball and running to first it isn’t always going to work that way.

Second, sliding head-first presents a big safety risk.

Fielders can step on sliders’ hands, which are full of little tiny delicate bones. Breaking one of them not only affects a player’s ability to play but also their livelihood away from the field.
– On a slide the runner’s head is closer to the throwing line between the throwing fielder and the first baseman catching the throw. Helmet or not, getting hit in the head by a throw is a risk that maybe should be avoided.

Basically, the only good reason for sliding into a base, whether it’s first base or any other, is to avoid being tagged by a fielder. Sliding (apparently) gets you there a smidge faster but stops your momentum on that base.

head first slide

Shin Soo Choo was out on his slide into first base on this batted ball, AND he injured himself.

But why do players do it? Let’s ask Shin Soo Choo, a player for the Cincinnati Reds who hurt himself sliding head-first into first base last year, and not to avoid a tag (see the picture above).

“Stupid play,” Choo said. “I tell myself, and I tell a lot of players, the worst play is the headfirst slide into first base and home plate. But I did it. I don’t know why I did it. It’s a situation, big game, tie ballgame, we came about. I don’t know, my body just did it.”

Choo injured himself and put the Reds’ playoff chances at risk by taking a small risk for a small reward of being safe rather than out.

What does this mean from a Lean standpoint? Well, how many operators deviate from a best practice with a different process step because they perceive taking a shortcut or risk will result in improved performance?

Basically, don’t slide head-first into first base. The risks outweigh the rewards. Take the out and try again in your next plate appearance.

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