Head First Slides Hurt Bottom Line
According to FanGraphs, A.J. Pollock tied for second in wins above replacement (WAR) among outfielders last season; and he was fourth overall in WAR in the National League. His unique combination of speed and power (20 HRs/39 SBs) make him a must-have for any fantasy team. And, when paired with Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke, he helped make the Diamondbacks a force to be reckoned with in the NL West. That is, until the final weekend of Spring Training. That is when Pollock dove home and fractured his elbow — which occurred either as he stopped his dive or as he pushed himself up.
But regardless of what actually caused the break, it seems that this injury could have been avoided in the most simplistic of ways: don’t slide into a base — especially home plate, where the catcher, his equipment, a loose bat, and even the umpire, are all obstacles that present potential for severe injury — head first.
Which begs the question: Why do players insist on diving into any base? The common argument is ‘that is how we have always played, so we can’t change now’. Unfortunately for today’s players, that argument doesn’t hold water. Little League doesn’t allow head first slides, and various leagues have outlawed the practice at first base and home plate. The fact is, players could — if they so choose — slide feet first.
But this issue is more important than just old-school vs. new-school, or player preferences. This is a true bottom line issue — players are getting injured sliding head first, and it is costing teams millions of dollars in lost time (not to mention the medical care/rehab costs attendant to such injuries).
What is set forth below is by no means a comprehensive list — rather just a representative list — of players who have been injured over the past few years sliding head first, how many games they missed, and the total salary cost of that missed time (based on their salary in the given season):
- Josh Hamilton (2014, home plate): $154K/game x 48 games = $7.4M
- Rafael Furcal (2011, third base): $80K/game x 75 games = $6M
- Ryan Zimmerman (2011, third base): $55K/game x 44 games = $2.45M
- Ian Kinsler (2013, third base): $80K/game x 25 games = $2M
- Melky Cabrera (first base): $49K/game x 22 games (season-ending injury) = $1M
- Ryan Ludwick (2013, third base): $12K/game x 116 games = $1.4M
- Michael Bourn (2013, first base): $43K/game x 20 games = $864K
- Bryce Harper (2014, third base): $13K/game x 57 games = $756.5K
- Ben Zobrist (2014, second base): $43K/game x 13 games = $561.7K
- Nolan Arenado (2014, second base): $3K/game x 37 games = $111K
- Alex Gordon (2010, second base): $7K/game x 9 games (missed Opening Day) = $63K
And those are just a handful of the quantifiable injuries. There are many others, like Dustin Pedroia, who tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb on Opening Day in 2013 diving into first base. Pedroia played the entire season with the injury (he had surgery in the off-season), but suffered his lowest homerun output in six seasons, a then-career-worst slugging percentage, and a then-career-worst OBP. Pedroia was paid $10M for this injury-caused below-average season.
As of today, we don’t know how many games A.J. Pollock will miss, but it may be the whole season. He is due $3.5M, regardless.
Of course, insurance offsets some of the lost amounts set forth above, but teams are not paying these players huge salaries to have them sit on the bench or the trainer’s table or in the operating room. They pay them to play — and play well. And one easy way to at least protect against a stupid injury is for players to use their head, and then use their feet.