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.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Athletics 10, Angels 0: Brett Anderson — the pitcher, not the lead singer for seminal 1990s Britpop band Suede — tossed shutout ball into the seventh while Stephen Piscotty brought The Power, homering and driving in five runs to lead an Oakland hit parade that beat the Angels Black and Blue. It wasn’t a Wild One, but I’m sure A’s fans Can’t Get Enough of their team winning.

Dodgers 5, Rockies 2: Yasiel Puig is having a heck of a month of September. I mean, yeah, his house has been robbed a couple of times lately, but it’s not distracting him on the field. He got the day off to start the day yesterday but then he came on to hit a three-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie and to give the Dodgers a three-game sweep of the Rockies. Puig is hitting .400 with seven homers and 14 RBI in the month of September. Matt Kemp homered too and Walker Buehler struck out 12. The Dodgers, meanwhile, boosted their lead in the NL West to two and a half games with nine games to play. Ten for the Rockies.

Indians 4, White Sox 1: The White Sox carried a 1-0 lead all the way to the ninth inning, backed by a strong performance from Dylan Covey (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER). In the ninth, three different White Sox relievers each allowed a batter to reach to load the bases. The third one of them, Ian Hamilton, then faced Jason Kipnis. On his sixth pitch, Kipnis launched it over the fence in right for a walkoff grand slam that doubled a his 1,000th career hit:

Braves 7, Cardinals 3: Freddie Freeman hit a two-run homer and knocked in three on his 3-for-3 day as the Braves snapped their four-game losing streak. They now start a four-game series against the Phillies, over whom they hold a five and a half game lead in the NL East and hold a magic number of six. St. Louis falls and is now three behind Milwaukee for the top NL wild card but holds its one and a half game lead over the Rockies for the second spot thanks to the Rockies loss in Los Angeles.

Twins 8, Tigers 2: Stephen Gonsalves pitched six scoreless innings of one-hit ball as the Twins second pitcher of the day, striking out four and picking up his first major league win. Twins catcher Willians Astudillo doubled and singled in a run on his three-RBI day as the Twins sweep the Tigers.

Rays 9, Rangers 3: Tommy Pham homered twice to give the Rays a three-game sweep. Ryan Yarbrough picked up his 15th win on the year despite the fact that he has only started six games. The “opener” concept at work. I don’t know if that will become a new part of baseball going forward or if it’ll just be a fad. I don’t think anyone knows that yet. If it is he latter, people in 20-25 years are gonna be looking at baseball stats and wondering why “relievers” had such high win totals.

Phillies 4, Mets 0: Zach Eflin and five relievers combine for a six hit shutout, backed by homers from Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera. It’s now on to Atlanta, who Philly trails by five and a half. Seven of Philadelphia’s final 11 games are against the Braves, in fact, so this thing isn’t over.

Yankees 10, Red Sox 1: The AL East race isn’t over yet either. It will be — the Sox only need one more win and one more Yankees loss — but New York postponed that for yet another day, thanks to a big offensive day led by Luke Voit‘s two-homer performance. Miguel Andujar also homered and Aaron Hicks drove in three. David Price was knocked around for six runs — four earned — in five and a third. Luis Severino started shaky — his fist six pitches of the game were balls — but ended up allowing only one run in seven innings of work. New York remains two and a half games ahead of Oakland for the top AL Wild Card spot.

Orioles 2, Blue Jays 1: DJ Stewart hit his first major league home run, Jimmy Yacabonis and four relievers allowed only one run on four hits and the O’s avoid the sweep. I’m pretty sure Jimmy Yacabonis was in Season two of “The Wire,” by the way. He was either one of the dock workers or a henchman at the Greek diner, right? I think I’m right about that.

Pirates 2, Royals 1: Chris Archer allowed one run over seven innings, striking out eight, and Adam Frazier hit a tie-breaking solo homer in the fifth to give the Buccos a three-game sweep over Kansas City. The Royals have lost four straight.

Brewers 7, Reds 0: Jesus Aquilar and Manny Pina each hit three-run homers and Aquilar knocked in four in all as the Brewers knocked Matt Harvey around for seven runs in five and a third. Gio Gonzalez tossed six shutout innings tossed six shutout innings on his 33rd birthday. I think I had to file a summary judgment brief on my 33rd birthday, after which I probably changed diapers and fell asleep at 9:16PM. It was a hell of a Friday.

Mariners 9, Astros 0: Seven M’s pitchers combined on a five-hit shutout. Kyle Seager, Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia each homered but Seattle had already built a 5-0 lead by the time those guys started going deep.

Padres 8, Giants 4: San Diego had a five-run second inning led by Wil Myers‘ two-run homer. Freddy Galvis also homered as the Padres avoided a three-game sweep.

Diamondbacks 9, Cubs 0: Robbie Ray tossed six shutout innings allowing only one hit and three Dbacks reliever combined for three no-hit innings to finish it off. The need not have been so dominant given that Cole Hamels was rocked for seven runs on nine hits in his six innings of work. Christian Walker, Chris Owings and Jeff Mathis each homered for Arizona. The Diamondbacks did this despite putting basically an all-backup lineup on the field with only two regular starters, Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte, getting the start.