Get To Know Some Nats: Outfielders

Every year, we put together player profiles for the Nationals players likely to make the 25 man roster. This way you’ll have a better idea of just who is taking the field. Except for a few notable exceptions, the Washington Nationals of 2015 will be the same team you’ve been watching for a few years. So we’re going to forego lengthy profiles of stuff you already know, and focus on capsules for a few players at a time. A quicker, more forward focused view for the savvy fan.

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Left Fielder Jayson Werth.

2014 Nats 101 Profile | Fangraphs |

Preview: Nationals fans have watched Jayson Werth morph into the third act of his career with a certain amount of grace and panache. He might not be  a 25 HR threat anymore, but he might still be a 20 HR threat: and he’s managed to keep getting on base at nearly a .400 OBP clip. Fewer strikeouts, more walks: Anyone who watches Werth knows his signature at the plate is patience now. Maybe a bit too much patience for those wishing the game would speed up a bit- but alas, the bearded one does what he will.

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DeBozzed: Listen to the Whispers of the Wind!

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Thanks to @GorChase for this.

Yesterday I read Thomas Boswell‘s rage inducing column on Bryce Harper, benching, hustle,  whispering, and….who the $(#*$# knows what else was in there. I’ve avoided most sports columns for the last few years as I’ve been writing this blog because, well, I have come to know what to expect. Page clicks are more important than facts, being argumentative outweighs arguments, and being consistent in thought will always be overshadowed by what you think your readers will respond to. There is a left and right, a for and against, and forget everything  in the middle. There is no place for the reasoned opinion because you do not get read by being correct or thoughtful. You get read by being LOUD IN YOUR WRITING.

So with apologies to Kissing Suzy Kolber’s treatment of Peter King, I’m going to DeBoz this latest column in hopes of actually getting to the heart of an actually productive discussion about baseball, or at least baseball players and personalities. Along the way, I intend to really hammer away at nonsense when I see it. I’m about a third of the way through and all I see is red. Reason is lost. Abandon all hope of it, ye who read on.

As not to copy the whole column verbatim, allow me to summarize. Boz invokes the image of Pete Rose to compare young Bryce Harper too, Boz goes right for the contrast. From the age of 22 to 42, Rose never went on the 15-day disabled list not even once, and in only one season did Rose ever miss 15 games. Just to quibble with his math,Rose’s 1962 campaign (age 22) was four years before the league adopted the 15 day disabled rule. Quibbling, I know…but if you’re going to hold up the standard as “not being on the disabled list” it’s a fair one. My guess is Boz didn’t want to say he wasn’t “hurt” because Rose did play hurt, and so would Harper. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

[Rose]… was built like a Humvee. I pause to point out that Humvees were not in use until 1979 not to be a jerk, but to give pause before the next sentence happens. The game whispered in his ear, “There’s a lot that you can’t do. But you’re never going to get hurt playing this game with your hair on fire. So, give ’em hell.”

Well Christmas on a cookie! Do you think Boz got that quote from Baseball itself, or was it relayed to him via Rose?

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Opinion: The Performance Is Just Getting Started (On Benchings)

On Saturday, Matt Williams pulled Bryce Harper from the game due to (as he called it) a “lack of hustle.” Harper hit a “come backer” right to the Cardinals pitcher and made zero attempt to run for first base. He wasn’t even half way down the base path before the ball was thrown to the first baseman and he was out. Harper didn’t even try to run it through to first base, simply veering over towards the dugout.

Here is the play in question, via Federal Baseball.

To many, and perhaps to Harper, this was a lost play from the start. Why run? Why bother. To Matt Williams, it was a betrayal of the code by which the team had agreed to play. Harper went back into the dugout and didn’t come back, replaced by Kevin Frandsen.

After the game, when it was revealed it was a benching for disciplinary reasons, Natstown predictably lost its god-damned mind. I was about an hour late to this party (Hey, I had chores to do), I didn’t exactly step lightly into the fray:

D.C. is a town that has a complicated relationship with star players and head coaches. Whether football, hockey, basketball, hockey, football or hockey, the D.C. sports fan is preconditioned to expect trouble between a team’s star athlete and the head coach. Despite the fact that there is zero evidence that Matt Williams has some sort of long term problem with Bryce Harper, expect the fact that he benched him for this singular event to play out for weeks, or months, or at least be trotted out each time Harper has a bad game or a sloppy play. This is what columnists and radio hosts thrive on – something they can retrofit into a story they already know. While some in Natstown were concerned with the long term repercussions for their star young athlete and now hating Matt Williams and the Nationals (“Pinstripes” said one Phil Wood caller), most folks tweeting in and around me were questioning whether this was a good baseball move or not. (But, for those who are worrying about whether this would cause Bryce Harper to jump ship – I’ve seen nothing in Harper’s make up that would suggest he would pout, and certainly not for the three years or so before he’s no longer under Nationals control).

So was it the right move?

Half Street Heart Attack ruminates on several different reasons why the benching was indefensible, largely revolving around whether Harper was in pain or not. The argument for me doesn’t hold much water. Harper had an opportunity (and by some discussion in the presser confirmed) to say he was hurt. He didn’t. By the time you’re comparing Bryce Harper to what Barry Bonds did late in his career, I don’t know exactly what the point is supposed to be. (It would not, however, be the first time I was wrong).

A far more productive conversation (most of it is there) with a friend of the blog @ouij gets to the heart of the matter: Can you lose a battle to win a war? I’d have to agree with Ouij that, irrefutably, taking Harper off the field for the last 3 innings made the Washington Nationals a worse baseball team. Particularly given Frandsen’s throw home was offline, and he was up to bat in the ninth with runners on and one out. Those are places where you want Bryce Harper on the field.

I’m all for increasing leverage, putting the best team on the field and giving yourself the best chance to win. But Matt Williams is the manager of all the games the team plays, not just this one. You can rest a guy who’s not 100% physically because it might help the club overall. Why not a guy you think is failing to give 100%?

If baseball is about the process as much as the result, as any one who has ever uttered the phrase “small sample size” will tell you, then the lack of running down the base paths should be alarming. Is this a different conversation if Lynn does bobble the ball? If he inexplicably throws it poorly? Making good contact at the plate is important even if it doesn’t result in a hit because it prepares for the times you will make a hit. So too, running hard to first each time isn’t about getting base each time. It’s about committing to the process so you don’t have to think “holy smokes! He bobbled it! I better hustle!”

It’s about not having to wish you’d run harder if something happened. It’s about the next time if it isn’t about this time.

Matt Williams seems to believe this is necessary to the long term success of the ball club. There is a certain way he wants his players to play, and apparently that includes running every ball out. In a sport where the Yadier Molina can let a ball pass him and then throw it away, it is hard to argue that constant hustle is a bad thing. Bryce Harper, with the way he runs, might be just enough to spook Lance Lynn into bobbling, or throwing, the ball away. Probably not, but maybe.

The bigger question is something along the lines of discipline and being a team member. Whether a good thing or a bad thing, Matt Williams has chosen to create a particular culture in the clubhouse, and it is important to him to see that culture take hold. You may think it is a stupid culture, or the wrong culture, or that he could have found a different way to enforce the culture – but these are the easy things to say from outside the decision circle. In my limited turns at the helm in life, I’ve found it is a lot easier for people to question authority then to actually take up the responsibility for it.

Without being privy to the locker room, its dynamic, or how the club views the young skipper, I think it is hard to insist that this was the wrong move going forward. It may be impossible to catalog interpersonal relationships into a statistic, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t real, do not have an effect on the play of the club, or are not the responsibility of the manager to tend to. Williams may have run the risk of pissing off his star player, but he might have run the risk of pissing off the other 24 guys if he let Harper not run a ball out. Maybe that the other 24 guys might have been okay with it if nothing happened. Maybe, just maybe, Harper can take his benching the right way.

There are no easy answers to that question for Williams, let alone in my peanut gallery section 305. Heavy is the head that dons the managers cap, indeed.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” seems to be what he has settled on. You may think you’d manage the team another way. That if Harper was doing what 99% of players do on a groundout it is not big deal. If so, you may be Davey “vacation time” Johnson. Unfortunately, whether you are Davey or not, you’re not in charge. Matt Williams is.

Less than 20 games into his first season of managing it is impossible to tell just what this move will do in the long term. You can guess the worst, or hope for the best, but those are just hopes and guesses. Only one man had to size up the situation and determine whether the immediate battle was as important as the on going war.

Despite the wishes of many, people still play this game and people are required to run it. You may be able to get a computer to make game decisions such as lefty vs. righty, when to bring in which reliever, and how to platoon a position, but so long as blood pumps through the bodies of those who play the game, it will be up to someone to get the most out of them.

If there is any art left to managing, this is it. Sheet music, instruments, the size of the concert hall: you can plug all of that into Garageband and get a sound. It takes a conductor to get a performance. Sometimes, the best instruments need to be tuned. The best musicians sometimes need to be coaxed into giving a little bit more or trying a little bit harder. How that is accomplished is where the artistry of managing happens. It is something the audience rarely sees and, I believe, understands even less.

What we remember is the performance, and this show is only getting started.

 

Review-Preview: Nats Obliterate Marlins, Move on To Cincy to play Reds

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This is from @Section138. Please visit Gavin’s blog often and follow him on Twitter. He also has been making cool Nats shirts since before making cool Nats shirts was cool.

 

There are a million places to go get a recap and preview of every game, but here at Nationals 101 we prefer to take a slightly bigger slice of the pie.  The Review-Preview will take place between series and give a quick recap of the previous series (including anything we think you can learn from the series) and what you can look forward to in the next series coming up.

NOTE:  Due to some awful car trouble that ate up all of Friday, I didn’t finish the Preview part.  Given last night’s debacle it’s probably best to skip this editions “preview” section and just do a review.  Next week we will review the Reds series and Preview the White Sox series.  

REVIEW Miami Marlins Series

Quick Take:  The Nationals came into Opening Day with the reputation as one of the best teams in the league, and the Marlins came into the series as possibly a AAA team playing in the big leagues.  Nothing either team did changed anyone’s mind as to either of those mindsets.

The Nationals swept the Marlins and remain the only unbeaten team in baseball (a dubious distinction, but a distinction none the less) by beating the Marlins 2-0, 3-0, and 6-1.

So What Happened?  Simply put, the Nationals pitching over powered the Marlins in every contest, holding the lowly Fish to just one run over three games.  That’s the first time that’s happened since the late 70’s over an opening series by the way.  How good was the Nationals pitching?  Let’s look at the starters combined and bullpen combined stat lines:

Starters:  3-0, .47 ERA 19IP, 13H, 1R, 1ER, 4BB, 9K

Bullpen: 0.00 ERA, 8IP, 0R, 0ER, 2BB, 9K, 2 Saves

The numbers are slightly more impressive for the Gio and Strasburg given that Jordan Zimmermann gave up the sole run and 8 hits.  Only 3 of the hits went for extra bases (2 doubles and a Home Run) and the defense was stellar (committing just one error)  in keeping these guys out of the run column.

The bats started a little quiet over all, but got louder as the series went on.  Scoring the first two games was more about timely hitting-Bryce Harper stole the show in game one with two Home Runs in his first two at bats.  Gio hit a solo homer, followed by two more insurance runs later in the game.  The Nats finally took the top off in game three, gettings 6 runs-scoring two in the first and adding four more between a Werthquake and Harper’s third bomb in three games.

Lost In the Shuffle:

Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa are struggling at the plate right now, but it’s only three games in (and Danny isn’t striking out as much).

The only really feared player for the Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton, was held to 1 for 9 with 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.  He also did not put in a very good effort into getting to first base on a play, and just turned around and stomped off to the dugout after his strikeouts.  He’s the lone star on an awful team and rumor is that he’s not happy about the fire sale the Marlins put on this year.  He could be quitting on this team as early as game 3 of the season, which bodes even better for the Nationals

Rafael Soriano is very impressive in person.  His delivery is insanely smooth, he never looked troubled on the mound, and he just threw strike after strike.  Also, for the #haters, Henry Rodriguez found the strike zone no problem in his one outting, and Drew Storen also looked just fine in his first appearance this year.  Indeed, the bullpen could be lights out this year-as predicted by many.

Conclusion:  Exactly what was supposed to happen between these two teams happened. You don’t want to overrate beating up the Marlins, but the point is they did beat up the Marlins.  Houston won this weekend against a much better team, so don’t downplay getting the job done.  Often the Marlins have been awful and played the Nationals tough. This time, the Nats put the foot to the pedal and really didn’t let up.

Get To Know a Nat: Bryce Harper

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Welcome to “Get To Know a Nat.” There are currently 39 men on the 40 man roster, and we’re going to give you the straight scoop on all of them!  Not sure where to start with player and season previews?  Not ready to jump into heavy metrics?  Just want to get to know the players, what they do, and what to expect from them in 2013?  Then you’ve come to the right place!

Click here to read yesterday’s column about Denard Span.

Name: Bryce Aron Max Harper
Nickname(s): The Kid, Bam-Bam, Harp
DOB: October 16, 1992 (20 years Old)
Twitter?: @BHarper3407
From: Las Vegas, Nevada
Position: Left Field  Batting Order: Currently 2nd, but that may change
Hand:  Lefty
With the Nats Since: Drafted in 2010, Debuted in MLB in 2012

So, have you heard of this guy?  Bryce Harper?  He might be a big deal one of these days…  But, you never know.

Seriously, though-unless you are absolutely brand new to baseball and/or Washington D.C. you must have heard of Bryce Harper on some level by now.  Drafted at 17, making his MLB debut at 19, Harper hit rarefied air for a player his age.  Showing skill and, frankly, maturity well beyond his age, Harper was voted an All-Star and won National League Rookie of the Year for his outstanding play in 2012.

Harper will be playing his first full year of Major League service in 2013.  He will not be afforded the luxury of having his performance measured on a sliding scale based on his age or experience.  Big things are expected of Harper, and he’ll have to meet (and likely exceed) those expectations qualify for having a “good year” this year.

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