Diving into 1st base

Minnesota Twins shortstop Nick Punto takes a lot of guff for diving into 1st base on a close play.  Many people say it slows him down, but he thinks it gets him there faster.  I believe he is right, even though I still question the wisdom of taking that much risk just for first base.

I’ll start with a couple of points.  First, Punto is not sliding headfirst into first, as I think most people believe.  He is aiming his dive to touch the bag with his hand at or before the point when his body lands.  Second, although I’m not taking it to the tenth decimal place, I believe my math is correct.  If anyone disagrees with my math, I’d love to hear your reasoning.

baseball_031A baseball player getting from home to first in 4 seconds (a very fast time) will average 15 mph.  This includes the time it takes him to get started.  So lets say he is moving at 20 mph when he arrives at 1st. That equates to 22 feet per second.

Measuring Nick’s speed, we use his center of gravity, which would be approximately at his navel, between the navel and spine.  If we measure his speed  this way, the runner’s center of gravity is nearly directly above the feet, and crosses the bag within microsends of the foot that steps on the base.

As noted above, when Punto dives, he aims to have his hand hit the bag when or before his body hits the ground.  This is an important point, because it means there will be no drag from ground friction delaying his trip to 1st base.  Diving actually increases his effective speed.  Changing his body into a dive does not change the speed of his center of gravity appreciably.  But doing so moves his hands more than 3 feet ahead of the center of gravity.  This effectively adds 2.0 mph over the last second of travel.  Therefore, he gets there a split-second quicker.  That split-second can make the difference in a close play at first.

Should he do this?  According to Jim Souhan in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (2/25/2009), Punto’s arms “bear the telltale scars of abuse.”  Souhan quotes Punto saying “I started when I was 8 years old.”  Maybe when he’s 38, he’ll wake up to the insanity of it – but in the meantime, we know he’s willing to risk scars and nerve damage to get there quicker, and earned a couple of base hits because of it.

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8 Responses to “Diving into 1st base”


  1. 1 Thomas February 28, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I may have missed it, but i don’t think you are taking in to account the amount of time it takes him to dive.

    I’m not sure what exactly is done when diving, but i would think you need to slow down your feet a bit so that your upper body can get suitably ahead of your lower body, and get both feet next to each other for a jump/shove (which would cost you a step)

    • 2 Callen March 1, 2009 at 10:32 am

      Interesting point, Thomas, but I think you are taking “dive” too literally. He doesn’t dive off of two feet. You’re right – that would slow him down. Punto “dives” off of one leg. While one leg is striding (as it would be if he were still running) he is bending over to launch the dive. I don’t think he loses momentum there, but if he does, not much. It would be interesting to see a scientific comparison.

  2. 3 Thomas March 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Twould. It would be interesting to see a video where someone breaks down and estimates his speed, see if it spikes when he dives.

    • 4 Callen March 5, 2009 at 10:19 am

      Yeah, take some of those markers they use in studying the kinetics of Michael Jordan dunking and put them on the waist and hands… Fox Sports has a show that studies the science of things like that – maybe they’ll do this.

  3. 5 mrgenre May 11, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    “Diving actually increases his effective speed” This is the only point I have to disagree with here. You’re ignoring basic physics. Unless his force increases in some way, he can’t increase his speed unless he’s falling straight down (which means gravity is helping him). The minute distance between his body and the ground will not increase his horizontal speed, only his vertical.

    And yet, there’s still much controversy about this. My only other argument would be “why doesn’t everyone do this if it increases speed?” Even if your response is that they’re all pansy major leaguers, I still don’t see kids in AA giving it a shot either. Nice article.

    • 6 Callen June 1, 2009 at 2:49 pm

      Thanks for your comments. My point is not that he increases speed – you’re right about the physics. My point is that his hands change position in relation to his center of gravity, giving an effective increase in speed. While running, the hands are fairly close to COG but when he dives, the COG maintains roughly the same speed but the hands go 3 feet or so ahead of COG. Of course, if his body lands before he touches the base, he loses a lot of speed fast. (Punto says he aims to touch the bag when or before his body lands.)

      By the way, it is different from diving headfirst on a slide into 2nd or 3rd because there, you land first and slide in, using the slide to keep you from over-running the bag.

  4. 7 Plavuse March 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Ues, but not everthing black and white, something is gray 🙂

    Miranda

  5. 8 Eric July 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    This really kind of weird. First off, I’ve always “known” that diving, not sliding, head first is faster. All the reasons Callen states are correct. The proof is this. When a player can’t get to a batted ball what do they do? They dive. They time their dive to catch the ball in the air without “sliding”. If it was faster to run through, then no one would dive to catch a ball. I vaguely remember a study I read as kid that backs this up, but I have not been able to locate it. Anyway, what is weird to me is this has always been an argument I have with people since I was in Little League an now that I am 42 years old and looking it up once again for solid proof, I come across Callen’s Blog and I have a 3 year old son named Callen. I’ve never heard of anyone else named Callen and the one do now is a proponent of “my” argument. Just weird to me.


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