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.

Dodgers acquire Manny Machado from Orioles for five minor leaguers

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The Orioles and Dodgers are expected to finally complete involving SS/3B Manny Machado, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports. The Orioles will receive five prospects from the Dodgers: Yusniel Diaz, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop, Rylan Bannon, and Breyvic Valera.

Machado, 26, is in the final year of his contract, so this is currently a rental for the first-place Dodgers. Machado ended the first half batting .315/.387/.575 with 24 home runs, 65 RBI, 48 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. In Los Angeles, he will handle shortstop, allowing Chris Taylor to move over to second base.

MLB Pipeline rated Diaz as the Dodgers’ No. 4 prospect and No. 84 across baseball. Kremer was No. 27 in the Dodgers’ system and Bannon was No. 28.

Diaz, 21, is considered the centerpiece of the trade. The outfielder hit .314/.428/.477 with 20 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 36 runs scored in 264 plate appearances at Double-A Tulsa this season.

Kremer, 22, was selected by the Dodgers in the 14th round of the 2016 draft. He spent most of his season with High-A Rancho Cucamonga before earning a promotion to Tulsa earlier this month. Overall, in 17 starts, the right-hander posted a 3.03 ERA with a 125/29 K/BB ratio in 86 innings.

Pop, 21, was selected by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. He has spent his season between Rancho Cucamonga and Single-A Great Lakes. Overall, he compiled a 1.04 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 13 walks in 43 1/3 innings of relief.

Bannon, 22, was selected by the Dodgers in the eighth round of the 2017 draft. With Rancho Cucamonga this season, the infielder batted .296/.402/.559 with 20 home runs and 61 RBI in 403 PA.

Valera, 26, has appeared in 20 games at the major league level for the Dodgers this season, batting a meager .172 with a .445 OPS in 34 PA. Valera has versatility, having played second base, third base, and corner outfield this year while also having experience in center field, shortstop, and first base.