Washington Nationals' Manager Jim Riggleman was apparently serious last season when he said he'd try to get Nyjer Morgan to slide feet-first in 2010 after Morgan suffered a season-ending injury to his left wrist sliding headfirst into third on a stolen base attempt in a late August game with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. (Three pitches after he'd stolen second). In an article yesterday by MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling entitled, "Strasburg surprises Pudge as others focus on sliding feet-first", Mr. Goessling reported that the Nats' Skipper put some players through "...a lengthy sliding drill," designed to begin the process of "retraining" players who have spent their entire pro careers diving headfirst into the whichever base they were attempting to steal.
In addition to Morgan's injury, Mr. Riggleman cites Cardinals' great Vince Coleman as another example of a base stealer he'd seen suffer an injured wrist on a headfirst slide, and he references research he's seen that he tells MASNSports.com's Mr. Goessling, shows a, "...negligible difference in speed between headfirst and feet-first slides," leaving him convinced, as Mr. Goessling writes, that, "...it's not worth the risk."
In an article on Morgan's broken wrist last August, (which has video footage of Morgan suffering the injury), MLB.com's Bill Ladson quoted DC GM Mike Rizzo acknowledging how difficult it might be for some players to abandon the headfirst slide at this point in their career, telling Mr. Ladson that decisions on whether to go head or feet-first, "'...are instinctual things. It's very difficult to change when you get to this level of baseball." Mr. Riggleman acknowleges as much in Mr. Goessling's article where he says he'd like to see Morgan move away from the headfirst slide, but, "...he'd allow the center fielder to return to it if feet-first slides don't become natural."
The New York Daily News' Adam Rubin wrote this morning in a "Mets Notebook" column that appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger entitled, "Rollins declares Halladay best ace", about New York Mets' infielder Alex Cora, who had surgery to repair a torn ligaments in both of his thumbs last August, and has now committed to trying, "...to primarily slide feet-first this season," though the infielder offers, much as I imagine Morgan would, that "...'It's kind of hard in the heat of the game." What's going to happen the first time Nyjer Morgan either walks or singles and tries to turn it into a double? And who plays center if Morgan gets injured this season?
In 2009, Morgan stole (71%) or 42 of 59 bases he attempted to take on the season, just above the 67-70% success rate Bill James claims is necessary to make stolen base attempts useful to a team. Nationals fans will remember a lightning-quick Morgan who was caught in just in 7 of 24 attempts (77%) while Pirates fans saw Morgan caught stealing in 10 of 18 attempts, for a so-low-it's-actually-detrimental (56%) "success" rate. There's no use trying to convince Morgan he doesn't have to steal every time he gets on base from what we saw after the trade to Washington, but it will be interesting to see if Riggleman's conditioning works...