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Boswell: “Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player”

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You probably saw that Bryce Harper was benched on Saturday after he didn’t run out a ground ball (it was hit back to the pitcher). Matt Williams called it a lack of “hustle” and made a point to call him out publicly after the game. We already covered this one for the most part, but for what it’s worth — and keeping in mind this is a nitpick — I think “hustle” isn’t exactly the issue here. At least not as we usually think of it.

Generally speaking, Harper is nothing if not hustle (the Nats’ program the very day of that game is evidence of that). Indeed, until Saturday the biggest talking point about Harper was whether he hustled too much and whether he should slow down some in an effort to not tax his body. The play on Saturday, I feel, was less about physical effort than it was about (a) quitting mentally; and (b) Williams sending a message to his team in general, even if Harper was the pretext for it. If Harper slowly jogged all the way to first I’m guessing Williams doesn’t bench him, even if that’s not exactly “hustle” as usually defined. It’s more about just giving up on the play. If the Nats had been playing better baseball lately, I’m guessing Williams doesn’t react the way he did.

That’s not a major point, but feel like “hustle” or the lack thereof has become a proxy for laziness and that so often the “hustle” conversation inspires false hustle and needless hustle in ways that are unnecessary. Williams was trying to make Harper and the Nats in general mentally sharper. To not quit or lose focus. He wasn’t — I hope anyway — trying to instill a culture where guys sprint after ball four and in from the bullpen like Pete Rose or something. For that reason he was fine to bench Harper, even if I take issue with him (a) calling him out publicly like he did, which seems unprofessional to me; and (b) couching it in terms of hustle which is such an amorphous and malleable word in sports these days. One which leads to a lot of dumb and unproductive inferences and incentives.

Anyway, with that aside, let’s look at something less nuanced and far, far dumber. It’s Tom Boswell of the Washington Post going off on Harper about this in his latest column. After several paragraphs of ripping Harper and lauding Matt Williams for sending Harper a message, Boswell uncorks this:

Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

This is what I’m talking about. You put a guy in the crosshairs like Williams did by calling him out in a postgame presser and you declare this a conversation about hustle, you give people license to take their knives out and go insanely over the top because, hey, not hustling is, like, the WORST THING YOU CAN DO and arglebarglebagleblah!

Boswell famously created a stat called Total Average one time. It has been widely debunked as a useful analytical tool and it’s actually pretty misleading. So, perhaps it is not so shocking to see him totally whiffing on a point of analysis here. But hey, if he can get anyone inside baseball to agree that Harper is some mediocre player because of a mental lapse or that they’d rather have Anthony Rendon than Bryce Harper now, five years from now or 20 years from now I suppose I’ll moderate my stance.

Shelby Miller will return to D-Backs’ rotation on Wednesday

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 06:  Shelby Miller #26 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field on July 6, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that Shelby Miller will return to the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation on Wednesday to start against the Giants at AT&T Field.

Miller had an abysmal first half of the season, which included a stint on the disabled list with a finger injury caused by his follow-through. In 14 starts with the D-Backs this season, Miller put up a 7.14 ERA with a 50/34 K/BB ratio in 69 1/3 innings.

Miller was demoted to Triple-A Reno and made his first start shortly after the All-Star break. In eight starts in the minors, Miller compiled a much-improved 3.91 ERA with a 55/10 K/BB ratio in 50 2/3 innings.

The Diamondbacks acquired Miller along with minor leaguer Gabe Speier from the Braves this past winter in a heavily-criticized trade that sent Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair, and 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson to Atlanta.

Video: Keith Hernandez has fun with the telestrator

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17:  Former Major League Baseball first baseman Keith Hernandez gets readt to throw out the first pitch prior to game one of the 2015 MLB National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets at Citi Field on October 17, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Mets’ broadcast trio of Gary Cohen and former major leaguers Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez ranked third out of 30 teams in FanGraphs’ 2016 Broadcaster Rankings for good reason. Beyond great play-by-play calling and in-game analysis, the three clearly have fun doing their jobs. It’s what makes bad broadcasts stick out like a sore thumb and makes other broadcasts, like the Mets’, a daily must-watch.

During the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game between the Mets and Marlins, Hernandez decided to test out a new telestrator installed in the SNY broadcast booth. First, he drew a circle over Darling’s head, then replaced it with a spotshadow circle. Before putting his toy away, Hernandez showed off the “cone of silence,” which he quickly renamed the “Gary Cohen of silence.”

10/10, would watch again.