Matt Williams won’t ask Bryce Harper to change the way he plays


(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Nationals Manager Matt Williams today joined MLB Network Radio’s Mike Stanton and Jim Memolo on SiriusXM to talk about — what else? — Bryce Harper’s injured thumb.

“He’ll be missed a lot,” Williams said. “He’s one of our most exciting, certainly one of our best players. Unfortunately he had to get that thing fixed. So he got it fixed yesterday, he’s on the road to recovery, all went well. That six-to-eight week time frame is out there; we’ll have to see how he does. He’s young and he heals fast, but he’ll start his rehab pretty soon and he’ll get back to us, hopefully very soon.”

Williams was later asked if he’s planning to have a conversation with Harper about changing the way he plays to improve his chances of staying healthy.

“It’s hard to talk to someone that is as dynamic as Bryce in that regard because you don’t want to take away from his playing ability,” Williams said. “One of the reasons that he’s so good is his aggressiveness. So, we certainly don’t want him to get injured again, but if I look at this season alone, the first series of the season we were in New York and he slid [feet-first] into second base and had a potential concussion. He slid feet-first last year and hurt himself. So, it’s kind of freak stuff.

“You don’t want to take away his aggressiveness, but I certainly want him healthy and he wants to be healthy. There’s a study out there — somebody did a study — about feet-first as as opposed to headfirst, and there’s really no difference as far as injuries go. There are going to be times when he’s trying to avoid a tag going into second base, or into third base, certainly, when he’s going to need to slide headfirst because that’s the best way to get around the tag. On the other hand, I don’t want anybody sliding headfirst into first base and sliding into home, certainly there’s a catcher there with gear on, so you want to be careful there. So there’s different dynamics to the game and how that play is going to unfold, which may dictate which way he’s gotta go. I would love him just not to get injured; that would be great.”

As ESPN’s Stephania Bell notes, there has been no published study about whether a headfirst slide is significantly more dangerous than a feet-first slide.

“There was a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2000 that compared incidence and technique (head- versus feet-first) in sliding injuries among collegiate baseball and softball players. In this study, the injury rate in baseball players was higher for feet-first slides (7.31 per 1000 slides) than for headfirst slides (3.53 per 1000 slides).”

There’s little evidence to suggest that a headfirst slide gets a base runner to a base significantly faster than a feet-first slide, but that doesn’t account for the advantage, if any, the headfirst slide has over the feet-first slide in eluding a tag.

So continue sliding headfirst in certain situations, Bryce. Just don’t get injured, okay? That would be great.

Scott Allen writes about all things DC sports. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSAllen.
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