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May 9, 2014

Pebble Hunting

Starling Marte and the Upside of Headfirst Slides

by Sam Miller


Someday, when you’re telling your grandkids about baseball in your day, you might have to explain what headfirst sliding was. Whether a player will continue to slide head-first now qualifies as a low-grade controversy (at least if the player is good enough). The Astros reportedly outlawed it for their minor leaguers for a time, pulling players from the game if they led with their fingers instead of their toes. The Braves teach their prospects not to slide headfirst, and the Indians lecture theirs. “I don't like headfirst slides,” said Houston manager Bo Porter last week, perhaps unintentionally putting a spotlight on headfirsting prospect George Springer. “I really don’t like headfirst slides.”

Or, someday, when you’re telling your grandkids about baseball in your day, you might have to explain what feet-first sliding was. There are two ways this sort of thing can go. Everybody can caution up and decide that the three-month injury is practically never worth the extra out. Or, as the game gets faster, stronger, even more lucrative, even more competitive, it can go the other way: Feet-firsters could be seen as less gritty, less fiery, less interested in winning. “Headfirst slides are much more prevalent than they ever have been,” Mike Scioscia said last week. “Maybe now it's because of swimming pools,” suggests Davey Lopes, confusingly. Runners slide headfirst more and, it’s this writer’s sense, those slides are faster, cheaper, and out of controllier than ever. While teams want to protect their investments, it's hard to think of an example of players ever choosing the cautious, healthy option, especially when the alternative might help them win. In 50 years, I’d expect, the headfirst slide will be eradicated. Or the headfirst slide will be the only slide we see, and it will be at least 35 percent more physically stressful than the headfirst slides of today.

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Related Content:  Starling Marte,  Sliding,  Headfirst Slides

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ClownHypothesis

Jim Margalus wrote a similar piece about Alexei Ramirez doing the same stuff last year.

http://www.southsidesox.com/2013/4/29/4283282/alexei-ramirez-pickoff-stolen-bases-swim-move

I don't suppose there are data about when and where the ball hits the fielder's mitt on these plays relative to where the batter is, but it'd be cool to quantify how often a typical baserunner gets thrown out in these Marte situations and from there how valuable this skill is.

May 09, 2014 08:07 AM
rating: 0
 
oldbopper

It has been a thought of mine during my zillion years of watching baseball that the one time a head first slide is appropriate is running to first, not to beat the throw but to avoid the tag on an inaccurate throw. The runner should concentrate on the 1st baseman and if he appears to shift his body in anticipation of having to jump for a bad throw then the runner should dive at the bag. One interesting byproduct of the replay system has been the return of an actual tag being applied to the runner. As mentioned in the article, the days of the ball simply beating the runner being sufficient to get an automatic out call are gone, along with the incoherent babble of the play by play man trying to explain why a runner was called out when the fielder missed the tag by a foot.

May 09, 2014 09:53 AM
rating: 1
 
huztlers

This is obviously a good time to slide into first - wild throw. It is also a good option if someone is late to cover the bag - one more huge obstacle to worry about. It is a good way to injure a pitcher which is not really the goal but it illustrates the point.

May 09, 2014 13:14 PM
rating: 0
 
eyleraaron

I agree.

I also think the worst time to perform a headfirst slide is into home plate. It makes no sense for a player to risk potentially season-ending injuries sliding exposed into an individual wearing protective armor. Too much can happen.

High throw, catcher jumps, comes down on a player's head (head first slide) as opposed to the less fragile legs (feet first slide).

This may sound heretical, but that one run isn't worth losing a player for the season ESPECIALLY when it is Starling Marte.

May 10, 2014 09:33 AM
rating: 0
 
lmarighi

Is the headfirst slide into first really "cool"? I have seen other authors also describe it this way, yet it has never seemed cool to me. I'm always thinking "man, that looks like a good way to slow down and be out". Do other people actually find it cool? (note: this only applies to first. Growing up a huge Rickey Henderson fan, the headfirst slide into second or third looks awesome).

May 09, 2014 14:26 PM
rating: 1
 
bob4k14

This is very nice from a scouting perspective. I saw that play in St. Louis with Peralta tagging Marte, and I was surprised at the time how close Marte made the play. I see Pittsburgh a lot, but had not noticed how deft Marte is at sliding.

May 11, 2014 08:07 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

I can't count the number of times when discussing this subject someone says if a headfirst slide was faster than why don't sprinters do it ? (ignoring the fact that electronic timing methods measure the position of the torso).

But when a NFL running back is running to a pylon he always dives to get their first on a close play. Nobody calls them stupid.

May 12, 2014 22:32 PM
rating: 0
 
ntallyn

Re: Sprinters -- You can't ignore that fact. That's exactly the reason they don't.

Re: Running Backs -- Because it's the position of the ball when the player is down that matters. So diving head-first (arms in front) gets more yardage.

May 22, 2014 21:37 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

get there first ... sorry

May 12, 2014 22:36 PM
rating: 0
 
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