(Yes the post is ESPN Insider only; if you don’t get ESPN insider then ask yourself why you’re not willing to spend $3 a month for access to quality baseball writers like Dave Symborski, Keith Law, or Buster Olney, as well as access to the whole slew of scouting content from Law’s staff… and that’s just their baseball stuff. $3/month; I spent more than that on my bagel this morning. And if you’re in that whole “anti paywall camp” and believe that God intended that everything on the internet be for free … well I guess I’d just say sometimes you get what you pay for. And to me, ESPN’s insider content is worth the 10 or 11 cents a day that I pay for it. Rant off).
Basically, Law questions whether Matt Williams is in over his head as a major league manager right now. Law questions his lineup choices (as others have repeatedly, especially when the team’s best power hitter his batting 7th. Which to be fair he only did once, but Harper’s been batting 6th for a good portion of the season too, only really moving up when Ryan Zimmerman went out with injury). I too question his lineup choices; why the h*ll is Denard Span still batting leadoff? If Williams felt the need to move Harper to 7th because he was struggling, why hasn’t Span been dropped either? Isn’t Span “struggling” too? Yeah; he’s got a .282 OBP right now and has fewer stolen bases than the 35-year old Jayson Werth; why exactly is he still batting leadoff??
Law also questions Williams’ public bashing of Harper’s hustle. Which led, among other things, to Tom Boswell‘s outlandish claims in a chat two weeks ago that Harper was purposely asking out against tough hitters to maintain a meaningless 9-game hitting streak. Did anyone actually watch the games surrounding the hustle incident? To me Harper was clearly favoring his leg, and he had been frustrated at the plate, and by multiple reports was also struggling with the flu. Maybe everyone would have been happier if Harper had just frigging sat out a couple of games instead? So he didn’t run out a come-backer; that’s human nature. Law correctly points out that only Harper has been bashed openly in the press by Williams; other team issues were handled internally.
Why is that? Is Williams “old school” mentality coming through here? Is he singling out the young Harper in a “youngster hazing” way? Remember where Williams came from; the “grit is the way to win” Arizona Diamondbacks, who now have the worst record in the majors after a slew of trades and moves that were designed essentially to rid the team of players who couldn’t or didn’t get along with either the manager or the staff for some reason or another. I’ve touched on the topic of the Arizona methodology before; you just don’t trade away top 3 draft picks for 50 cents on the dollar because of a personality conflict and expect there to be no consequences. I believe the consequences are going to be a new manager and a new GM this coming off-season after Arizona loses 90+ games.
Law correctly points out that you can’t have the “hustle” narrative both ways either: Harper cannot be simaultaneously a “lazy” player (as Williams went out of his way to state to the media) but then also be the same player who people thought needed to “slow down” and “play within himself” (as was oft-repeated all last year after he bashed his head in running into outfield walls). For me; I tend to believe that Harper is human; he was frustrated after an o-fer day, and didn’t run out a come-backer in a meaningless situation late in a game (like a thousand other major leaguers before him).
I’m not sure if I’d lay the play that ended up with Harper’s injury on the manager (Law seems to intimate that Harper’s “over hustle” on that play was in reaction to his press bashing over the lack of hustle the week before), but many, many other players in this game would have just slowed up at 2nd, knowing they had cleared the bases, and not gone for the triple. Which player would you rather have? For better or worse, the team will now have plenty of time to think about it; Harper’s out for 2 frigging months. For those keeping score at home, we’re not even to May yet and we’ve seen the guys hitting 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th from our opening day lineup now hit the D/L for various lengths.
It bears repeating: Harper, despite being in his 3rd pro season, was STILL the youngest player in the majors on opening day. If he was sitting on Potomac’s roster right now, he’d be one of the youngest players in the league. I guess we all need to take a deep breath sometimes and be thankful for what Bryce Harper is, not what he isn’t. And get well soon…. this team’s offense is going to miss him badly.