Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Boz and Bryce

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Quickie - Boz and Bryce

Back to the Boz.

What he gets right.

In the "Matt Williams Managin' Moment of the Weekend" (sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Convention and Vistors Bureau - Visit Phoenix. It's Rising!) Bryce Harper was benched for failing to run out a ground ball back to the mound. And by "failing to run out" I mean he literally stopped 30 feet down the line and went back to the dugout. I think most everyone agrees Matt Williams was right in doing what he did. Baseball forgives a lot for the injured and the special, but there is a minimum level of effort expected and a moderate jog to first base on balls where you are going to be out 99.9% of the time is one of these benchmarks. This is pretty much "show up, punch clock" territory. It's the least you are expected to do, and if you can't even do that, you need to be told you do.

Did Matt Williams have to show him up? Maybe not, but it was public lollygagging so I have nothing against public shaming. As Boz says, it should have been done and Bryce should have been started the next game and he was so all is well here.

What he may or may not get.

Lines like "But authority must be asserted toward Harper to get his attention, not just assumed" and "And that notoriety, that constant spotlight, leads him into believing — or perhaps unconsciously acting out the part of — someone who should never fail, whose outs didn’t quite really happen." are nonsense lines. Boswell doesn't know Bryce. We certainly don't know him.  It's armchair psychology at it's worst.

The team could be feeding Boz these lines and this impression, but if that's the case (and let's face it, it likely is) it doesn't make it better. It makes it worse. Boz should be a reporter, not a mouthpiece. What is the purpose of this then? To shame Bryce again? To turn the fans against him? The situation was done on the field and was dealt with on the field. Leave it at that. 

What he gets wrong.

Boz wants to make Bryce look bad, or at least silly for getting all this attention without really doing anything yet. There's a problem though. He HAS been doing stuff. He's been having seasons at 19 and 20 that are among the best seasons anyone that age has had in baseball history.  How, in that scenario, do you make Bryce seem lesser than he is? You quote stats based heavily on playing time.
Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207.
If the point was "hmm Byrce isn't staying healthy" these would be fine stats to use but that's not the point he's trying to make. He's trying to make it seem like Bryce is not as good, on some level, as these players. Of course runs and RBI are, like I said, based heavily on playing time and a month+ in the minors in 2012 and an injury in 2013 have cut into those numbers.  How does it look instead if we look at R+RBI per PA? We'll scale them all back to the most PAs of these numbers.

Bryce: 190, 187
Zimmerman's best years : 205, 190, 224, 203, 211, 185
LaRoche's best years: 232, 205, 196
McLouth's best year: 218

So there is something to the idea that Bryce's years so far aren't as good as these years above. But it's not as big a difference as the raw numbers would suggest (McLouth was never 33% better than Bryce) and think about what you are saying. Bryce's rookie year and second year in the majors at 19 and 20 aren't as good as the handpicked best years from veteran players. Gomer Pyle is not surprised by this. Plus there are a number of things we didn't factor into this, like how the players in front and behind you drastically effect these numbers (part of the reason LaRoche and Zimm have their last big number year is because THEY WERE DRIVING IN BRYCE). I remember 2006 like it was yesterday and you know what? Ryan Zimmerman had 110 RBI that year in large part because he had at least 10% more at bats with RISP than all but two other guys in the majors.  Yes Bryce only has 5 RBI. He also has only 15 ABs with RISP. He's 4-15 with a triple and HR. That's fine.

This is a faulty stat designed not to illuminate but to mislead and Boz should be ashamed of himself for using it.
Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. 
He might be. But that's pretty unlikely.  Desmond is the only one who's clearly been better in the past  years. You can argue a starter (any of the three will do) but most baseball people will agree an everyday player is just going to be more valuable. Werth maybe if you give him health and a full season. Then again if you give Bryce health and a full season he's likely to be easily better than everyone but Desmond. I'm at a loss for who the other one would be. I guess Rendon. 
If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice
I suppose. I wouldn't think twice but it's certainly isn't a crazy thought. Then again it's not like Rendon is chopped liver. He was pretty much considered a very special hitter coming out of college who's major concern was injuries.  If he could stay healthy people liked him as an All-Star level player. It's like comparing Bryce to Zimmerman in the R+RBI thing above. Zimmerman was a Top 5 player for a few years there. An injury free back-half of his career might put him in the conversation for the Hall. (probably not but you can't say I'm completely out of line here). Not quite hitting Zimmerman's best seasons before you are old enough to drink isn't some how a mark of failure.

Anyway this is a long-winded way to say this: Bryce should have run out the ball to first. Matt Williams was right in pulling him. All this other nonsense? Embarrassing-level blame shifting.


Anonymous said...

People talking about other people talking about what certain people in the Nationals organization are talking about. I'm lost.

Section 220 said...

Thank you for this. I really dislike the "shame the player through leaks to a columnist" approach to player management, which is what this, at a minimum, smells like.

ClownQandA said...

Hey guys, Nats earned a split against a really good team! We weren't at full strength and with continued struggles from our starting pitching and against starting pitching, this is a plus. .500 ball until Fister gets here and saves us all. Just watch Bryce tear down the baselines then.......

cass said...

Boras is asking for more money than the Nats want to pay so the Nats leak defamatory information about Bryce to the media to prepare for the public relations fallout of losing Bryce.

Except it's too soon for that since he'll be here a few more years.

Anonymous said...

First things first. Boz is right. This guy truly is the 6th best player on the second best team in the NL East. "But he's only 21!" people scream. Well I also heard, "He's only 19....He's only 20!" When will we say "He's only 28...hmmm." What he has done up to this point is hit .270, never drove in 60 RBI or even stole 20 bases. That counts for a slightly above average player in this leage.

However one thing that Boz totally nailed, was his lack of humbleness and demeanor on the field. I have played this game my whole life all the way up the the pro level. One thing I have learned is that you cannot win at this game with an iron-fist, throwing bolts of lightning, and screaming at the top of your lungs with the "fires of hell and victory" type of passion. Its simply too much. Griffey didn't play this way, Mantle, DiMaggio, not even Mike Trout play this way. They let the game come to them and play with a grace that if very hard to come by. Kind of reminds me of how Rendon plays the game. Interesting, cheers Boz...

Eric said...

Interesting take, Harper.

A couple things: why do you think it's likely the team fed lines to Boz? How do you know Boz doesn't know Harper?

Finally, *if* the team fed lines to Boz, maybe it wasn't so much to shame him as to send a message: the PR machine giveth, and the PR machine taketh away. In other words, maybe it was meant to illustrate to Harper that the PR machine regularly casts him in a good light; if he doesn't embody the image they present of him via things within his power (e.g., hustling to first), they can cast him in a bad light, too.

Of course, all of this assumes that Harper trawls Internet media each day looking for his name in the headlines...

Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily think he's being fed the official Nats line. Sure it's possible, but this kind of article is all about the "feeling" Boz has at the moment. Boz is a hack. A story reprimanding a lollygagging super star is right in his wheel house. No real analysis required.

Chas R said...

Very interesting analysis Harper. I continue to see hateful Harper postings on the various Nat blogs, and I just don't get it. He seems to be a very good kid to me who is mostly playing his heart out and trying to grow as a pro athlete. I suspect there are a lot of envious critical people out there. Of course he's going to make mistakes from time to time. I thought Bryce handled the MW benching and reprimand very well. I hope the Nats keep him as a franchise type player.

Harper said...

Anon - That's ok Just read the comments below which are one step even further removed.

S220- This management is famous for this - Riggleman, Davey. It seems like Rizzo doesn't TALK to people, he gives them orders - expects them to follow and when he gets grief he leaks. I think this is a team where IF it blows up (and there's no guarantee that will ever happen) it'll be a boom.

CQ&A - Yes. 2-2 vs Cardinals is great start, but didn't fit "wilt vs good team" narrative so no play.

cass - yeah I'd buy that more if we were hearing more things about ZNN or Desmond... mainly ZNN who seems likely to leave.

Anon - Boz said 7th!

I'm sure you heard those things. Like "He's hit 20 home runs... and he's only 19!" Being an above average (no need for the slightly) player in this league at 19 & 20 is a big deal. No guarantee of stardom but a good place to start.

Pete Rose played like that. Cobb. There are many ways to play and succeed. Not saying Bryce himself doesn't need to take it down a notch, but maybe not.

Eric - Well I don't know but nothing here sounds like a guy who's spent a whole lot of time with Bryce, instead it sounds like an observer. Also I mean this in a real deep sense. I'm not sure any reporter can "know" players like that. Maybe one or two but even then they are presenting to the media.

Anon - possible. but it does seem like Boz is usually on the side of the management in these things vs players/managers. Coincidence?

John C. said...

Really good take, Harper. Of course, since I agree with you, you probably should immediately reconsider!

I don't think it's team management that is feeding Boswell on this, I think it's broader. Kilgore at WaPo has reported talking to players and people in the organization, and noted that even off the record no one had any problem with the benching. But that's all speculation, and I tend to view the whole saga as a tempest in a teapot.

Taking two of three from the Cardinals after Thursday's stinker (and I was there - it was putrid beyond words) and winning three of five games against Jose Fernandez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller is a good sign. They'll get lesser pitching the next few days, but they're going to have to score more runs with Roark and Jordan rolling out against Trout, Pujols and the rest of the Angels' lineup.

Eric said...

"Pete Rose played like that. Cobb. There are many ways to play and succeed. Not saying Bryce himself doesn't need to take it down a notch, but maybe not."

I think not, he just needs to learn how to harness it better. I have this weird desire to see Harper end up more like a Cobb with pop than a Mantle with good knees. Would love to see his BA, XBH, and SB totals climb steadily and his HRs hover in the high 20s.

I truly can't tell yet where he wants to go. He really seems to be leaning towards being a contact hitter at the moment, but maybe that's just the early schneid talking.

ocw5000 said...

I'm glad we're talking about Bryce this week since Strasburg had himself a boring 9K game against the best hitting team in the NL.

Jay said...

I have to agree. I really enjoy reading Boz most of the time, but his article smells of - we beat on RG3 and now it's time to beat on Harper. He didn't run out 1 ground ball, something Cano has done his whole career.

Also, I'm so tired of hearing he's not Mike Trout. Everyone in baseball except Miggy Cabrera is not Mike Trout. Harper is a very good player who had unheard of seasons when he was 19 and 20.

Rendon was a consensus number 1 pick as the best hitter in college, but fell to the Nats at number 5 because of injury concerns. Also, he's 23 or 24. He's a very good player as well, but where will Harper be in 3 or 4 years?

I'm so tired of negative Washington fans. Enjoy watching the guy play. He may not be here forever. It already sounds like the Lerners are positioning themselves for sorry but we can't afford to sign anyone. We're only the richest owners in the sport. We're only worth $3 billion dollars. We only play in a stadium that was paid for by the city. If the city had just paid for a retractable roof so we could use it year round.

Sorry, rant over now. Enjoy watching him play. He does some amazing things.

nicoxen said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm really growing tired Bryce Harper's act.

Since he's come up we've seen nothing more than a few flashes of brilliance bookend by injuries and temper tantrums. I don't blame him for injuries, but I think all the early praise he received for maniacal playing style definitely contributed to his injuries.

Everyone praises him for his "all out" effort and balls to wall style of play but that style hasn't really done much for the team or his stats in the grand scheme of things.

I still expect him to be a great player, but I really wish the media and the fans would stop treating him like a superstar. He simply does not have the stats or the experience to back that up.

Another commenter mentioned how easily the game comes to Rendon. I would say the same thing about a healthy Ramos. Both have such sweet simple swings. They seem to hit the ball with ease. In comparison Harper is damn near jumping out of of his shoes on every swing. In 35 years of watching baseball, I have never seen any of the greats (Bonds, Griffey, Pujols, Henderson, Guerrero, etc) have the same "violent swing" that Harper does. The greats have strong plate discipline and smooth swings.

And one more thing while I rant. Let's stop using silly buzz words like "dynamic" and "aggressive" and "violent swing" to describe Harper's unpredictable plate approach. I'd be happy if actually tamed it down a little and focused more on having good at bats. Less violence, more concentration.

blovy8 said...

Boswell sure waited a long time for the "he's done nothing yet" column if that was his intent. I think the shallow stats aspect is for consistency's sake in this column because it seem to be directed at a wider swath of fandom. For me, Boswell is bringing in some other stat support that actually clouds the issue at hand, because I don't see how performance enters into it really. Gio got hollered at by Werth last year for not covering 1st, but if the guy is flaky enough to keep doing it, and still be effective, does exercising authority make any difference? It's like forgetting how many outs there are. You don't hate Larry Walker for doing that or always being hurt once you realize who he is as a player.

The hacky article would be trying to prove statistically that Harper is a irredeemable hothead who shouldn't be able to ignore the normal rules of conduct when things don't go his way. There are plenty of examples Boswell could have cited. Do I know if he's had more or less incidents that than some good minor league prospects his age? No. But at the same time, he's also had a lot more time in the spotlight to learn not to do that crap. The camera is always on him - doesn't matter if it's fair or not, that's entertainment, and furthermore, he LIKES that. It's fair to ask how many times the guy's apology will need to be accepted before the adjectives used pro and con are going to be set. Hard-nosed guy or baby? Is Harper just a player who hates to lose, or a shill for water cooler manufacturers?

But that's also not really the column Boswell wrote. Even if you don't believe he knows Harper much, I bet he has talked to more baseball people about him than any of us, so maybe it's not a stretch to think he does know something beyond the Nats' front office line. You can call it hacky, but it's probably better for all involved that he writes his "my big head does not match my stats" column now, rather than when Harper wasn't hitting. I see it as more of a thumbs up to Williams for throwing the press a reason for the benching than Rizzo boot licking. But who knows? It's certainly nothing new. In the end, it's Boswell's filter too. I don't argue that you shouldn't also filter the information in your own way, just as you would a player's, GM's, owner's comments, etc., but I can't blame him too much for exaggerating his disdain, just as you are probably not really this angry about his dumb old school stats argument taking up column space instead of some real hack like Jason Reid pretending to know anything about the sport in the same newspaper. Compared to most working baseball writers, he's still worth reading and these articles need a point of view. I mean, he uses complete sentences for crissakes...

Maybe this is the beginning of a transition away from having a young player label for Harper. If you ask people to judge your game based on Pete Rose, you can't be Charley Hustle-Most-Of-The-Time. Effort was an actual point of emphasis at Williams' meeting if Boswell's info is correct, so he has to eat the punishment, which he's doing. Unless Williams wants to just give up his authority at this early stage, he pretty much has to bench the guy. If my boss says people are coming in 10, 15 minutes late constantly - it has to stop, and then the next day I come in 20 minutes late, what would should I expect? Sure, it has nothing to do with my actual job performance, but there should be consequences based on respect. It's kind of a baseball code anyway, and he'd be fined in an old school kangaroo court.

Zimmerman11 said...

Guerrero didn't have a violent swing? I don't know that Vlad had great plate discipline, but his contact rates were sky high... fewer swings and misses would be the difference between Vlad the Impaler and Harper (so far). I don't know that we can characterize his swing as smooth though :)

Eric said...

"fewer swings and misses would be the difference between Vlad the Impaler and Harper (so far). I don't know that we can characterize his swing as smooth though :)"

You can get away with more when your target's teed up like that.

JWLumley said...

Nobody told me it was troll day today. Holy crap, who knew that Boswell and Rizzo posted at this here little blog. I'm tired of Bryce Harper, why can't he be "classy" like Rendon. What you really mean is why can't he be have similar facial reactions to things the way Rendon does because you've never spoken with either of them. You don't know either of them. When you say his "act" is wearing thin, what you mean is that you don't like the facial expressions he makes or that he throws his equipment. Well good for you.

Bryce is so over-rated, he hasn't put up a single MVP caliber season yet and he's almost 22. Forget the fact that Rendon is almost 24 and has also never put up an MVP caliber season either. If you want to gripe about Harper missing the cut-off man or his RTTTY school of baserunning, fine, whatever, but if you don't like Harper I would suggest becoming an Orioles fan.

Dave at District Sports Page said...

@ nicoxen: check out Harper's swing against Babe Ruth's and get back to us.

Ollie said...

Yes, Bryce Harper has a bad swing. That's why the Washington Post designed a special multimedia story specifically to talk about how bad it is:

Anonymous said...

To anyone who thinks Harper is overrated or is "tired of his act" can't actually be serious. Go look at his comps, or look at the rare success he has had at such a young age. Yeah, he's not putting up Trout numbers, but nobody else is. It's sad that this is such a story (and that MW felt the need to throw him under the bus). Nats split 2-2 against a good team, and I am happy for that.

nicoxen said...


The ridiculousness of the Washington Post comparing Harper's swing to one of the greatest hitters ever speaks to the overhyped nature of Bryce Harper coverage.

Also, if his swing is such a masterpiece then why does struggle so mightily against lefties and off speed pitching. If you need confirmation of that look up his splits on Brooks Baseball and his Pitch/Fx data.

I have no animosity towards Harper, and I sincerely hope he becomes the star that everyone thinks he is, but I don't think all this adulation and accolades (like many experts predicting him to be the 2014 NL MVP) is helping him develop. If anything it's a burden.

The reason why this matters is because fans, teams, and management will go out of their way to excuse poor behavior or subpar play for their favorite players. This mentality leads to bad personnel decisions. I want to see Harper earn his stripes and his status as one of the best players in the league before we bestow him a huge contract that could shackle this team for a long time. If Harper starts earning it with play instead of his fame I will be first to cheer him on.

Mitch said...

It's 2014. The casual baseball fan has known a few truths for many years; the intelligent baseball fan has known them since the first game they wateched: RBI is an almost meaningless metric due to its overwhelming reliance on circumstances not controlled by the player being evaluated. So are Runs, for the same reason. RBI+Runs??? Even Joe freaking Morgan wouldn't cite that nonsense. Maddening.

Kenny B. said...

Boz is a fan, and writes like one. He's just me and the other overly excitable fans with a bigger sounding board. If at any point you begin to believe that he is an analyst, you are bound to become enraged. I go to Boz to have my excitement or frustration validated and expressed in a major publication. I come here (much more often) for exactly the opposite reason.