Physics to Mark Teixeira: Don’t Dive

Most people will remember the bad out call of Mark Teixeira by Jerry Meals from Saturday’s game against the Orioles. While Teixeira was obviously safe on replay, but perhaps the entire thing could have been avoided if Teixeira had simply run through the bag instead.

There have been a multitude of scientific studies on the merits of running through the bag or diving, including this recent one from ESPN’s Sports Science. The video is worth watching, but the conclusion is definite – running through the bag was 10 milliseconds faster on average than diving, and the difference can be significantly larger if the dive results in too much kinetic friction due to landing in the dirt too early. How good was Teixeira’s dive? Let’s take a look.

As you can see in the GIF, Teixeira doesn’t come anywhere close to landing on the base with his hand, and has to slide through the dirt for several feet before he reaches first base. This is exactly the kind of dive that was evaluated to add even further deceleration, and so the gap between running through the bag and diving was likely much more than 10 milliseconds.

To test this further, I decided to break out the old stop watch and compare this double play to another one that he hit into from the left side and ran through the base from earlier in the season (May 22 vs. Royals). I timed each run to first, and as expected, the time he ran through the bag was a fraction of a second faster. Here are the two double plays from the point of contact to touching 1B.

When creating the two GIFs, the one from earlier in the season ended up being one frame shorter (each frame is 0.1 sec). Diving didn’t seem to help him get to the base any faster, and this lines up with all the other research on the subject previously.

If Teixeira was not going to gain any time by diving into first base, he should have run through the bag. The umpire is positioned and ready to get a good view of the runner’s foot when it reaches the bag and the ball getting to the 1B. When a player dives, they throw off the umpire’s line of sight and make the call more of a toss-up, as the umpire then has to measure both ball and hand with his eye, a significantly more difficult distinction than listening for the sound of the foot hitting the bag while concentrating on the ball.

However, there is an extenuating circumstance here. This was Teixeira’s first game back since missing 10 days with a calf injury, and he admitted after the game that he aggravated the injury on the play. Teixeira didn’t give himself much of a push with his legs on the dive, as this was more of a fall forward type of dive, and it is possible that his calf injury prevented him from continuing to run through the bag at full strength. Whether or not that grimace on his face right before he leaves the ground is simply effort from trying to beat out the throw or pain from an injured leg muscle is obviously impossible to determine, but we have to acknowledge that Teixeira’s full sprint speed might also have been reduced in this instance.

Diving into first base is almost always a bad idea, with only tag or collision avoidance as a reasonable defense for leaving your feet on a close play at first base. Had Teixeira continued to run through the bag as fast he could, there’s a stronger chance he would have been called safe, and the game would have continued with a tie score. If Teixeira didn’t have the calf injury, we could safely call this a blunder on his part. Given that injury, however, it’s possible that he felt diving gave him a better chance to beat the throw, especially if he knew he wasn’t going to be able to push off that leg one more time. So, Teixeira’s calf gives him a little bit of a pass, but also illustrates that diving into first base remains a poor idea in almost every circumstance.




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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

84 Responses to “Physics to Mark Teixeira: Don’t Dive”

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  1. TheoK says:

    The ump listens for the ball hitting the glove, not the foot hitting the bag.

    He looks for the foot hitting the bag.

    I agree that a dive can throw the ump off, however.

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    • Stephen says:

      It’s almost like there are bang bang plays at 2nd and 3rd base all the time when players are sliding into forces. If an ump can’t handle a player sliding into first, then they shouldn’t be umping in MLB

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    • AK7007 says:

      I remember an interview with Omar Vizquel where he said he dove at first expressly to throw off the upm when he knew that he wouldn’t beat the throw legitimately. Dunno how that helps, but it might be part of Texiera’s reasoning.

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  2. Fred Vincy says:

    “I don’t think I’ve ever dove into first base in my life,” [Teixeira] said. “But I just couldn’t get there running. I did my best, I got there, but the call didn’t go our way.” –http://yankees.lhblogs.com/2012/09/09/postgame-notes-its-not-a-bang-bang-play/

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      Yes, the absence of this quote is rather glaring for this article.

      Diving into first is stupid, and it’s worthwhile to point that out, but Tex was hurt at the time and literally thought he could not keep running through the bag. This was not a case of faulty running strategies, it was a case of desperation.

      Also it was still an abjectly terrible call.

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  3. Jonathan says:

    If you listened to the game yesterday (I am doubting) Michael Kay posed this question. Ken Singleton explained exactly what you are saying. However he hedged that had Tex run hard as possible instead of sliding, its possible he tears the entire muscle. So while Teixeira may have made a bone head move for the individual play (which I disagree), he probably prevented himself from needing surgery (I say probably, because he is being evaluated).

    So as a Yankee fan, I assume this is right call. Any objective fans out there disagree?

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    • Jonathan says:

      The general rule of thumb being that you should never, ever dive head first into first, my thinking is that he shouldn’t have been playing at all if his leg is in such a condition that he can’t make it down the line.

      The Yankees have so much money wrapped up in Teixeira that I have to imagine they don’t want him pulling crap like this, pennant race or not. If they’re trying to get under the luxury tax threshold, they can’t afford to have their $20MM+ a year 1B breaking himself in half.

      If I had to make a decision, I’d say he should’ve run through. If he felt his leg couldn’t handle it, he should’ve hobbled in. The fanbase would cry all over the place, but at least he’s not aggravating his injury.

      So, short answer: there’s no right answer as to what he should have done, but diving headfirst was definitively the wrong move. Not only did he not get the call because of how awkward it is to judge a head first slide, he also aggravated the injury.

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      • TX Ball Scout says:

        “The general rule of thumb being that you should never, ever dive head first into first”

        That is ridiculous!

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    • drewcorb says:

      I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying he was fine running 80 feet but had to dive the last 10 (or whatever it was)? Why is he even playing if he might destroy his whole calf just by putting the ball in play?

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      • Preston says:

        He said that he re-aggravated it while running to first. He probably shouldn’t have been playing, but there’s no way to know for sure.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Tex:

        “I had to try it out,” Teixeira said. “If you wait until you’re 100 percent, you wait months. You have to see if you can play. … …I pulled my quad in 2007, missed a month. It was tight for another year and a half. It was tight for a long time. Am I not going to play for that long? I thought it was just tight (Saturday) night but obviously it was still healing. I couldn’t play through it.”

        Teixeira said his calf was tight throughout Saturday’s game, but it gave out when he tried to beat out that double play ball in the ninth.

        “I do believe he was ready to go,” Girardi said. “But I believe he just got in a crazy play.”

        http://yankees.lhblogs.com/2012/09/10/the-risk-and-reward-of-getting-healthy/

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    • chuckb says:

      This sounds like a homer announcer making excuses for what was unquestionably a horrible decision by Teixeira.

      Needless to say, I am extremely skeptical that Teixeira’s decision to slide headfirst into 1B was a decision calculated to prevent further injury and/or surgery. He dove into 1B b/c he wanted to beat out the DP ball. He was hustling as much as he could and made a bad decision that shouldn’t have mattered b/c he beat the ball anyway.

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      • Jonathan says:

        100% agree so I think the opposite is as ridiculous (hence why this story has no point) and I am absolutely shocked it was posted.

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  4. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    i don’t get it…

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  5. vivalajeter says:

    After 2 years or so, I finally have someone who has stolen my name. Any chance fangraphs will finally make people register before posting, so that each username can only be used by one person?

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  6. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    the ump blew the call. it shouldnt matter whether he ran or dove. you are correct in saying that diving is harder for the umpire to see, but is that really teixeira’s burden? he said he chose to dive because he reaggravated the calf while running to first, and that he normally never does it. sounds like a reasonable explanation to me.

    i guess i just dont understand the point of the article. we already knew diving was slower. he had a reason he did it, and that reason seemed legit. he was still safe by a mile, and was called out. thats not his fault.

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    • chuckb says:

      Of course it matters whether he ran through the base or dove. It also matters that the ump blew the call but you can’t excuse his poor decision by saying that the ump blew the call. If he runs through the base, it’s not going to be as close and so it’s more likely the ump will get the call right.

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  7. Jay says:

    Well, technically, it is Teixeira’s burden. Because it’s no secret to anyone who’s played baseball for many years that diving into First is a bad idea. Unless you’ve had dimwit coaches, it’s been pounded into your head that you are to run through the bag unless avoiding a tag. It’s not just because it’s slower but because the umpire has a more DIFFICULT job making the appropriate call.

    That said, the headfirst dive can result in an improper out call OR an improper safe call. And therefore, from a certain perspective the tactic has some merit… although not in this situation (calf situation notwithstanding). Gamesmanship is an inextricable component of baseball because of the fallible nature of umpiring. Teixeira’s burden, then, is taking the appropriate action that most likely results in gaining a safe call. Like the umpire in this situation, Teixeira must also make a split and confident decision. If he believes he will more likely be out, perhaps the headfirst dive that retards the umpire’s ability to make the correct call, is the right action. If he believes that he will be safe, the headfirst dive therefore hurts his chances of receiving the appropriate safe call at First.

    So how about acknowledging that both Meals AND Teixeira made the wrong split-second judgment call.

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    • shibboleth says:

      “So how about acknowledging that both Meals AND Teixeira made the wrong split-second judgment call.”

      Amen, ghesundheit.

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  8. Ed says:

    Whether or not that grimace on his face right before he leaves the ground is simply effort from trying to beat out the throw or pain from an injured leg muscle is obviously impossible to determine

    It’s not impossible to determine. He’s admitted that the dive was a reaction to the pain. He didn’t have any intention to dive, he simply collapsed due to the injury. If you’re running full speed and your leg gives out, you fall forward, which just happens to look like to an ill-advised dive.

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  9. drewcorb says:

    I really don’t think Sports Science should ever be cited as supporting a conclusion of any sort, except for the conclusion that Sports Science is worthless and devoid of actual science.

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  10. Corey says:

    I saw this play on the highlights the other night, and had no sympathy for Teixeira. A couple of things though, first One of the big reasons diving into first is a bad idea is that it dramatically increases the chances of getting hurt, Teixeira was already hurt not sure why he wanted to risk hurting his wrist as well as his hand. I hadn’t really thought about type of dive before, but the type of dive that loses minimal speed according to your post is also precisely the type of dive more likely to cause the player to break his wrist jamming it into the bag. Second, while diving into the bag increases the likelihood the umpire will screw up the call, I feel (entirely anectdotally) that batter runners tend to benefit from bad calls when they dive into first more than they get hurt by bad calls, so it might be that while diving dramatically increases the odds of the wrong call getting made, it also increases the chances that said wrong call will go in favor of the runner. I have no idea if that second point is true, but it seems true to me, since players shouldn’t be diving into first anyway I almost feel like any degree of doubt on the umpires part if the runner dives in without a tag play should lead to an “out” call, so I was kind of happy to see Teixeira get improperly called out here.

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  11. TX Ball Scout says:

    When perfectly excetued, the dive is a touch faster.

    But Tex’s flop was anything but. Guys like that should stay on their feet.

    -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TX Ball Scout says:

      executed (wow)

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    • chuckb says:

      No. It’s just not.

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    • Nick Punto says:

      “When perfectly excetued, the dive is a touch faster.”

      +1

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    • jpg says:

      That is absolutely wrong. Watch a 100 meter sprint or any sprint for that matter. Believe me, there is a reason that nobody has ever seen Carl Lewis or Usain Bolt diving at the finish line

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    • ben says:

      i’ve actually heard this is true. if you’re running motion is head down and you can make the dive as one fluid motion from your feet forward, that you CAN get a slight time boost. of course, Tex’s motion is pretty rigidly straight up and wasn’t appropriate for the dive.

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      • KDL says:

        If your head is down…you’re running slower to begin with. Contrary to the Book of Grittiness, this does not make you run faster. (To paraphrase above…there’s a reason you never see Carl Lewis or Usain Bolt running with their head down.)
        Also basic physics. If you’re not providing the force from pushing off the ground…you are slowing down, whether you dive as perfectly as a 15 year-old Chinese Olympian or as hilariously inefficiently as Pete Rose.
        Why is this concept so hard for so many people to accept as reality?

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      • ben says:

        because some human beings are critical, thoughtful people? i’m not saying i outright reject it, but the logic of “never slide into 1st” has been around long enough for it to become conventional wisdom. excuse me for questioning it.

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      • KDL says:

        Just because it’s conventional wisdom doesn’t mean it’s wrong, though. Conventional wisdom says the sun will come up tomorrow. At what point can we stop questioning that…and the myth that diving into first is faster?
        I, and others, are also critical, thoughtful people. We have used those faculties to arrive at this truth. I’m not sure the point you were trying to make by dropping the ‘critical, thoughtful’ line. Did what I wrote really come off as mindless repetition of ‘conventional wisdom’?

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  12. Jason says:

    I suspect that top end speed is best achieved by running through, but that there is less variation in times by diving, so you mitigate the risk of the lower possible extreme.

    My thinking is informed by assuming that timing variation can be increased depending on how the players footfalls line up as they approach the bag. You don’t have to adjust your stride length if you dive.

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    • Baltar says:

      The “logic” that people can come up with to deny a fact never ceases to amaze me.

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      • Jason says:

        that was unnecessary. I didnt deny any of the facts presented in the article. I just suggested a more nuanced hypothesis that could be empiracally tested.

        I don’t subscribe to the belief that there is no room for further scientific discovery and that everything worthy of knowing is already known.

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  13. Zach says:

    You claim that the dive makes it less likely that the umpire will call the runner safe due to issues with line of sight, etc. This is far from clear to me. I agree that it makes the call tougher to make, but I think it goes the other direction in that the benefit of doubt tends to go to the runner, for whatever reason. It might be that umpires subconsciously reward the “effort” of the dive or perhaps because sliding with outstretched arms makes it seem like the runner is there quicker than he actually is. I don’t really know, but this appears to be the case to me, at least anecdotally.

    It would be interesting to look at missed calls on these types of plays and see if there is a bias in one direction. If the bias exists and in favor of the runner, then maybe it makes up for the 10 ms lost.

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    • KDL says:

      Wild guesses about the psychological effect this has on umps can swing away way we like though…
      Without any grounds for saying it…Couldn’t we just as easily arm-chair analyze the ump subconsciously assumes the runner knew he was out by taking such a desperate attempt.
      Or that a smart umpire knows diving is slower, and thinks “nope, he slowed down at the end.”

      I do agree that seeing if a bias exists would be a fascinating bit of delightfully useless information to pore over.

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  14. Jason says:

    Another thought that gets passing mention in the article. Anecdotally over the course of a season you see many throughs bring the 1B off the bag to the homeplate side so that the out can only be recorded via tag. In these situations diving would have resulted in the runner being safe. Even if we assume that diving results in a loss of 10 miliseconds I wonder if that would result in more outs over the course of the entire season vis a vis diving to avoid tags.

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  15. Calf says:

    He said he dove because his calf gave out. Not that I don’t agree that diving into first base is really stupid.

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  16. shibboleth says:

    To muddle things even more: Showalter made an interesting observation. The preceeding play was ruled a fielder’s choice (Derek Jeter out at second) but was VERY close to being a double play. Swisher was called safe. I’ve not seen the replay, but Showalter believed it be a blown call. Does anyone know where we can find that clip in slow mo?

    So… it’s not a sure thing even if the runner remains upright. I’ll say this… I’m glad I’m not an ump.

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    • CS Yankee says:

      That replay was shown 2-3 times during Sunday’s game. It was a closer play but Swish reaches first before the ball enters the glove.

      I’m surprise the Umps stated that the reply they had didn’t make it clear; which leads to bigger issues, IMHO. They should of stated that they blew the call, or that his left hand was partily blocked by the 1B-man’s foot. They choose to take the moronic road.

      Hope this leads Bud/MLB to the conclusion that they don’t have an acceptable relationship with them and they need to move more towards technology.

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  17. jim says:

    anybody else come here because they thought it was a jeff sullivan article?

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  18. Damienadupont says:

    Why isn’t there comparable scorn when a player dives to make a catch?

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  19. coninefan says:

    Why has nobody noticed that Russell Martin totally should’ve been called for interference? Dude had no chance to touch second when he slid at hardy. Watch the replay…Yankees didn’t really get hosed.

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    • jim says:

      russ has enough problems without being called out for meaningless things like that, such as his ever-tumbling BABIP and ever-rising K%

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    • Jon L. says:

      Coninefan, you win the cognitive dissonance award.

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      • coninefan says:

        I don’t follow…obviously meals made an awful call but watch the replay…Martin was way out of the baseline. It should’ve been a dp for that..so to me, the yanks have nothing to whine about. Not sure how that’s cognitive dissonance.

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  20. Kevin M says:

    Silly me… I thought the real culprit here was Jerry Meals, who has a tendency to make mind-numbingly incompetent decisions on the job. Maybe if no one ever slid or dove, he wouldn’t make inexplicable mistakes like calling guys safe who are 2 feet away from the base or guys out who touch the base while the ball is 2 feet away.

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    • KDL says:

      I know a sports discussion is the worst place to say this, because sports (for whatever reason) loves the (overly) simple explanation, but…Can’t they both be wrong?

      Meals may have gotten the call wrong.
      But that mistake doesn’t make Tex a genius for diving. It was still a bad choice on Tex’s part.

      I mean…if I get dinner at Taco Bell and spend the evening on the shitter. Yeah…it’s technically TBell’s food at fault, but what the hell was I thinking !?!?!

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  21. YankeeFan says:

    I’m biased obviously, but even though what he did was dumb it doesn’t change the fact that he was safe.
    Horrible call by the umpire.

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  22. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I always thought the sliding into a base (headfirst or feet first) did two things, 1). made you a smaller target to tag and 2). stopped your momentum so you didn’t go past the base. Applying the concept of stopped momentum so you don’t slide past the bag seems to negate the slide into first base gets you there quicker.

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  23. Everdiso says:

    IF YOU WERE A HOT DOG, AND YOU WERE STARVING, WOULD YOU EAT YOURSELF?

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  24. Everdiso says:

    I know I would! First, I’d smother myself with brown mustard and relish. I’d be so delicious!…So would you?

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  25. Everdiso says:

    DON’T JERK ME AROUND! IT’S A SIMPLE QUESTION. A BABY COULD ANSWER IT!

    IF YOU WERE A HOT DOG, AND YOU WERE STARVING, WOULD YOU EAT YOURSELF?

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  26. jpg says:

    As I said above, if diving got you to the desired destination faster, be it a finish line or the first base bag, we would see every sprinter dive for the line and every base runner dive for first. There is a reason why kids are taught, from tee ball on, to run through the bag. But beyond that, it seems like every time I ever watched someone dive into to first they were called out.

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    • Tom says:

      Well there is that pesky detail of the chest defining the time when the sprinter crosses the finish line so getting your hand across the finish line earlier doesn’t matter.

      And perhaps the biggest reason kids are taught to run through the bag is skill level and injury risk?

      I’m not saying it’s smart to dive into first (unless you are avoiding a tag or are injured, I think it’s dumb), but the reasons you are giving are just poor.

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      • roadrider says:

        It’s not just a matter of diving – it’s sliding, to wit, making contact with the ground, which introduces friction which slows you down. You can’t just dive in the air over the base, you know, It’s necessary to touch it.

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      • KDL says:

        No offense, Tom, but you sound a bit like Kirk Cameron talking about Design and bananas.
        They just as likely (probably more so) chose the chest because it was the natural way to finish, and allow runners to go as fast as possible. Not the other way around, as you propose. Kind of like swimming naturally uses a hand touch, rowing naturally the tip of the boat, car races naturally use the front of the car, horse races naturally are won by the nose…

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  27. Tom says:

    Perhaps Tex got to first base faster on May 22nd because he wasn’t playing with a strained calf muscle then?

    I like the article but there are a few more variables when you are looking at split times to first… if you are going to consider 0.1sec significant it would help to understand what the std dev (or std error) is for Teixeira as there are things like:

    - health (which seems like a potential significant factor in this case)
    - location/type of the pitch – which will effect the follow through on the swing and the jump out of the box
    - possibly the weather
    - variability in the stride (final full stride/half stride/lunging stride)

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  28. Matt Hunter says:

    Would like to see more studies on this. The linked video is pretty convincing, but that’s one guy and one study. I’m still not convinced that diving is slower in all situations. I could be convinced with more data though.

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  29. Kevin says:

    Whole article is worthless, he dove headfirst because he was injured.

    Lame.

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  30. Bavarian Yankee says:

    first of all Teixeira injured himself while running down to 1st. He said it, Girardi said it and he sat the final game of that series and will be out for the Red Sox series so I’m sure they didn’t lie.

    2nd: you compare running to 1st (when he’s healthy) and diving to 1st (when he injured himself). I don’t know about you but I would assume that the injured player is always slower, no matter if he dives or runs to 1st. Checking this with a stop watch is just RIDICULOUS. What are you trying to tell us?

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  31. Matt says:

    While the “average” player might be faster running through first (and Texiera might be too), I wonder if that is true for all players?

    I know that Brett Gardener dives into first often. He has stated that this is based on his own timed experiments, which show it to be faster for him.

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    • Breadbaker says:

      It’s not just physics which tells us this is bullshit, it’s geometry. The dive is, in essence, the hypotenuse of a right triangle, which is always a longer distance than either of its legs. So Teixeira, or Gardner, has to travel a longer distance to put his hand on the bag than he has to travel to put his foot on the bag. To travel a longer distance while decelerating and claim its faster is simply not correct.

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      • Matt Hunter says:

        While that makes sense intuitively, it’s not correct. The reason? Gravity. When the player travels down the hypotenuse, he has his own momentum plus gravity on his side, while going on the leg he has only his momentum, since the leg is perpendicular to the direction of gravity. You can see this on video linked in the post, as the test subject actually does gain ground for a bit diving compared to running, but slows down because of deceleration. Were the base hovering 3 feet off the ground, diving would definitely give you an edge.

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      • Matt Hunter says:

        Not to mention you can extend your arms, thus bringing “you” to the base sooner. Not saying Brett Gardner is correct, but that it’s definitely at least theoretically possible.

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      • KDL says:

        Gravity also pulls you straight down, so with deceleration because you’ve stopped running it’s not a straight-line hypotenuse, Your trajectory is a curve downward. The gravity that you think is helping…well, it’s not that simple.

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  32. The Ronin says:

    I have always wondered why runners dont simply take the first baseman out like they do the catcher, I mean arent they worried about winning the damn game? You’ll look like a pansy if you dont try to knock that ball loose! You arent trying to win the game if you arent trying to hurt the opposition, thats how we played ball in my day.

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  33. Kevin says:

    Teixeira’s job is to get to 1B before the ball. He DID his job.

    Meals’ job is to make the correct call. He did NOT do his job.

    KISS

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  34. mike says:

    I cant say I feel bad for the yankees for not gettting this call. Lets go O’s!

    http://www.squidoo.com/funny-baseball-t-shirts

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  35. I wonder how many dives avoid outs on slightly high throws? That’s the point of diving, after all.

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