Baseball is in full swing, and while it’s not traditionally thought of as a physical sport like football or basketball, plenty of players end up at Silverman Ankle & Foot after injuring their foot or ankle during a baseball game. The most common time for lower body injuries to occur is when a player is sliding into a base, because it’s easy for a foot or ankle to jam and twist in an awkward direction. But is going in foot first actually safer than a head first slide?
Sliding Safety In Baseball
Some high profile MLB stars have been sidelined this year due to injuries that occurred while sliding, including Mike Trout, Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa. It’s never good when the faces of the game are on the disabled list, so Major League Baseball decided to gather some more information on sliding injuries to determine how they are happening and if rule changes should occur.
Trout, Bryant and Correa were all injured on head first slides in which their hand got caught in an awkward position and they hurt a finger. So is foot first the way to go? Here’s the data from the study which looked at all sliding injuries that occurred between 2011 and 2015.
- When an injury occurs, the average time missed due to the injury is 15.3 days.
- 12 percent of injuries required surgery to correct, and if surgery was needed, the player missed an average of two months.
- Players suffered an injury at a rate of one for every 249 head first slides and one for every 413 feet first slides.
- Sliding injuries are four times more likely to occur at second base than at other bases.
- Hands, fingers and thumbs were approximately twice as likely to be injured as feet or ankles.
Taking Sliding Safety
So although it’s clear that sliding feet first is safer, a large number of players still opt to go in head first. Why is that the case? According to major leaguers who prefer to go in head first, they say this technique better allows them to avoid tags and to remain on the base once they’ve reached it because they can grip it with their hands. In today’s game, where video replay can show a slow-motion replay of your foot coming off the base for a fraction of a second as you slide into the base, it’s easy to see why some players prefer to go in with their hands.
Others say that they believe going in head first gets them to the bag faster, but that theory might not be accurate.
“It’s not completely obvious you will always get there quicker one way or the other,” said Alan M. Nathan, a retired physicist at the University of Illinois who studies the physics of baseball. “My take from the experiments is that it’s so close, on average, it’s a wash.”
The study doesn’t say it, but I’d be interested in learning about the differences in injury severity between head first and feet first slides. Kris Bryant’s hand injury only knocked him out for a game or two, but Carlos Correa is missing two months for his thumb ligament injury, so while hand injuries can be severe, I feel like as a whole, foot and ankle injuries are more likely to result in more missed time. Whether it’s a sprained or fractured ankle, these injuries can be season ending injuries. Hopefully MLB looks further into sliding injuries so we can continue to best protect the players at all levels.
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Lance Silverman, MD
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