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.

Buyers and Sellers at the Trade Deadline: American League West

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With Manny Machado’s trade completed, the rest of baseball can now turn its attention to the non-blue chip players on the market.

Yesterday, in our look-ahead to the second half, we mentioned some of the top players likely to be made available. Today we look at each team to see who is buying, who is selling, what they’re seeking and what they have to offer. Note: almost every contender, always, needs relief help.

As a reminder, the non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31. Players traded after that date but before August 31 need to pass through waivers unclaimed before they can be traded. All players traded before August 31 are eligible to be on their new team’s playoff roster should they make the postseason.

Next up, the American League West:

Astros
Status: Buyers, but nothin’ too fancy.
Wanted: They, like all contenders, could use a bullpen arm, but they’re not in dire straits in that regard or anything. They certainly won’t deal top prospects to get one. They have to like where they are right now, especially given that both the Mariners and the Athletics have outperformed their Pythagorean record, suggesting they’ve already thrown their hardest punch. Note: people said the Astros would stand pat last year too and all they did was go out and get Justin Freakin’ Verlander, so take this analysis with a Dead Sea’s worth of salt.

Mariners
Status: Buyers. Jerry Dipoto is always wheelin’ and dealin’.
Wanted: A starter would be key, as the M’s front four have pitched a lot of innings. They could also use some relief help even though Dipoto has overhauled the bullpen in the past year or so. Seems that, sometimes, overhauls don’t make things as good as new. Robinson Cano comes back in mid-August and that’s like getting a free bat at the deadline, but he’ll be ineligible for the playoffs and his return may create some positional musical chairs for the M’s, meaning that they probably shouldn’t say no to at least hearing teams out on offers of bats, should they come.

Athletics
Status: Buyers, surprisingly. I don’t even think they thought they’d be in the Wild Card hunt. Heck, the vast majority of preseason coverage of this team assumed that they’d be shopping Jed Lowrie and Jonathan Lucroy at this point right now. Heck, I figured they signed Lucroy for that express purpose.
Wanted: Probably pitching. Who doesn’t need pitching? The question is what the A’s will give up. See above point about not expecting to be in this position.

Angels
Status: Sellers, but reluctant ones. The Angels loaded for bear this year but injuries have just curb-stomped them. Even their biggest trade chit — Garrett Richards — is hurt.
For Sale: Some relievers mostly.  Blake ParkerCam Bedrosian and Justin Anderson come to mind. They’d buy if they could but their farm system is a mess. It’s just the worst of both worlds for a team that could’ve done so much better this year.

Rangers
Status: Sellers
For Sale: Cole Hamels is the most obvious candidate to be traded, but they’ll listen to offers on most of their players. Even Adrian Beltre has said he’d be willing to waive his no-trade rights for a contender.