Is Sliding Head-First Linked To Gardner’s Injury History?

Could Brett Gardner be too gritty? When you consider his injury history, and the elbow surgery he’ll now undergo next week, the answer seems to be yes. The left fielder has always been solid, consistent, and produced one of the highest WARs in the game, with the downside of the occasional missed game. Perhaps I believed it was the life of a speedy and scrappy player to face injuries more often than your everyday power hitter. I spoke to one scout this week, who posed this question, would Gardner be injured if he were stealing bases feet-first? It was his belief, that the recent elbow problem was likely caused by his head-first sliding approach.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball Prospectus’ player card on Gardner is littered with arm and upper body injuries. Since 2009, the left fielder has dealt with a right shoulder contusion, a headache from a collision, a fractured thumb, a sore thumb, and a forearm contusion. Add to this his elbow surgery next week, and wrist surgery he dealt during the 2010 offseason, and I’m starting to see a pattern with these injuries. This newest elbow problem will likely cost Gardner the 2012 season, and I find it hard to believe upper body injuries won’t continue if he keeps up the head-first slide technique. Why can’t he just slide feet-first?

One study done at the University of Kentucky measured the speed it took college players to advance to the next base, using both a head-first slide technique, and a feet-first slide technique. Although nearly 70% of all players felt the head-first slide was quicker, the results were insignificant. It took runners 3.67 seconds to advance using the feet-first slide, as opposed to 3.65 seconds using the head-first slide. However, 90% of participants in the study believed that sliding feet-first was the safer technique. The fact that coaches continue to teach this method, with these types results, astounds me.

“If somebody wants to argue with me about it,” Gardner said, “I’ll sit them down in front of a computer for two minutes and show them that I do get there faster.”

Gardner claims to have timed himself thoroughly, and genuinely believes there is a significant difference in his head-first slide. Although it conflicts with the experiment done with college players, I won’t argue with the research he’s done. The question remains, are the few milliseconds that Gardner presumably gains in sliding head-first worth the injury risk? While the majority of his injuries are likely caused by his head-first approach, the Yankees will have to reevaluate his approach  when he returns from his ongoing elbow injury.

Mike is the co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money. Outside of blogging baseball, Mike is also a musician, a runner, and a beer lover.

8 thoughts on “Is Sliding Head-First Linked To Gardner’s Injury History?

  1. TheOneWhoKnocks

    Gardner is a player who derives his value from his elite speed.
    Anytime you tell a player like that to change his approach and willingly shave even milliseconds of speed off his technique that’s a dangerous game to play.

    Those milliseconds will cost him a couple singles a year, they’ll turn a couple doubles into singles. Turn a couple triples into doubles. Turn a couple diving catches into him letting the ball drop in. Turn a few stolen bases into outs.
    I’m sure plenty of people would disagree with me but I’d rather have those milliseconds. Those milliseconds are what separate Gardner from being an average player. Injuries can happen regardless, especially when you tell a player to play differently from how he has always played and is comfortable playing.

  2. roadrider

    Gardner claims to have timed himself thoroughly, and genuinely believes there is a significant difference in his head-first slide

    So what? baseball players believe those stupid titanium necklaces give them an edge too (which actually raises an interesting question WRT artificial performance-enhancing substances – is this not intent to cheat even if it’s bogus quackery?).

    The mind-boggling thing is that teams are actually teaching head-first sliding? Yeesh!

  3. bg90027

    It makes some intuitive sense that you would have more momentum and thus more speed in a head first slide than you do in a feet first slide. I’m surprised though that that players consider a little more speed the primary benefit. I would think a greater benefit would be increased ability to avoid a tag head first. I frequently see players either slide behind the bag and reach back for it or do the pull the lead arm back and slide their other hand in maneuver. These types of tag avoidance techniques just aren’t possible when sliding feet first. That’s not to say that it necessarily warrants greater injury risk.

    I don’t recall how Gardner injured his elbow. Was it on a slide? I didn’t think so but I don’t remember the circumstances. I definitely think they should really stop him from sliding into first which not only has a greater potential for injury but most would say is slower than running through the bag. Other than that, I don’t really have a strong opinion.

  4. smurfy

    Different players slide differently, with different techniques for when to jump and how soon to bring your weight down. I’ve seen Nunie go into second virtually on the fly (you better be tough or that’s gonna hurt), and use his toe as a tailhook, plowing the ground, then snagging the base. Whew, I’d agree it would be worth a few milliseconds there, and a few less bases, to get many, many macroseconds of playing time.

    To run, catch and play. Besides, carving up the sand with calves, shoes and ankles is a beautiful thing, sometimes with surprising dodges like cutting it quick or hooking around, or an occasional headfirst slide.

    Excellent idea, Michael.

  5. Michael

    Ummm go Yankees! And I dont like west coast games

    • Professor Longnose

      No game thread. Oh, well. Yanks are losing anyway.

  6. Khannnnn!!!

    Yep, lets look for a reason for why Gardner gets hurt all the time. Hes a guy who makes his money via getting on base, fielding and speed, he goes all out for it. If you take any of that away from Gardner, hes not playing for the Yankees. I said it before on this blog, long before he missed this year. Gardner cant replace Granderson in CF because he cant stay healthy, and if he could, he may not be good enough to play for the Yankees. He has no room to slow his game down, he just not good enough if hes not all out.

  7. Phil C

    I’m not sure I buy the premise here. Of all the injuries mentioned only the fractured thumb (2009) and the current elbow probable resulted in significant (DL) time lost. And the elbow injury was from a catch in the outfield, not a head first slide on the base paths.

    I would like to see a more detailed analysis of injury frequency and severity on the base paths between head first slides and feet first slides. Don’t forget Votto is out 3+ weeks from a sliding injury, and he went in feet first.

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