A manager has one job: put his team in the best position to win the game. On Saturday, Matt Williams failed.
Bryce Harper was pulled from the game today for “lack of hustle” after not sprinting to first base on a comebacker to the pitcher in the sixth inning. This was a very ill-advised decision by manager Matt Williams, and to be honest, it’s shocking to see the number of people actually defending the move. In the ninth inning with the game on the line, the Nationals’ most dangerous hitter was sitting on the bench.
Bryce Harper didn’t “sprint out” his sixth inning comebacker to the pitcher because it was the smart thing to do. Bryce Harper is hurt. He injured his quad last week. He missed a game last Wednesday because of it. He is back in the lineup now because he’s healthy enough to swing a bat and frankly, Harper with a tweaked quad is still better than every other Nationals player. But playing while recovering from an injury comes at a cost. You can’t run out every play, especially plays where you have no chance of being safe. Here is the play that got Harper benched. You be the judge. Harper would have been out at first base even if he had a rocket pack tied to his jersey. Is this the type of play you want your star player sprinting out with a leg injury?
Don’t believe me? Here is a video of Bryce Harper sprinting out a groundball in Friday night’s game. He is clearly uncomfortable. If Harper knows he’s going to be out, there is no reason for him to risk pushing his body.
Bryce Harper did what 99% of players would have done in that situation. It’s smart baseball. Smart players don’t sprint when they don’t have to. Smart players don’t slide head first when they don’t have to. It’s a long baseball season. Great players need to preserve their health. Even the smallest injury can put a player on the disabled list. Josh Hamilton slid into first base last week and tore his UCL. A smarter player would have avoided that injury.
Late in his career, Barry Bonds stopped diving for balls in the outfield. His reasoning was simple. His bat is so valuable in the lineup, what’s the point of risking an injury to prevent one base hit? Barry Bonds was being smart and he largely avoided injury for most of his career. The Giants won more baseball games because of it.
I am not suggesting Bryce Harper stop diving for baseballs. But I am suggesting he stop risking his health when it’s unnecessary to do so. Bryce Harper was being a smart baseball player–for once–when he didn’t sprint out a groundball where he had zero chance of being safe.
But Matt Williams punished him for it under a misguided “old-school” philosophy. Matt Williams needs to wise up and realize Harper was playing smart baseball by not risking his health when he didn’t have to.
Matt Williams should be putting his players in the best position to win the game. Until he starts using a little more common sense, he’s not doing his job.