Matt Williams made an error in judgment when he pulled Bryce Harper from a 2-run baseball game on Saturday. Taking your best hitter out of the lineup, obviously, rarely helps a team score more runs, and scoring runs is how you win baseball games.
Earlier I explained my objection to Matt Williams’ reckless and emotional decision. You can read that here. But to summarize: it’s insane to expect a player recovering from a leg injury to sprint out a play where he has zero chance of being safe. (You can see a video of the play here).
But in the interest of fairness, let’s look at Matt Williams’ explanation for his actions. From the Washington Post:
“regardless of how the ball comes off the bat or regardless of how he’s feeling about an at-bat, he must maintain that intensity and that aggressiveness. And that means running all the way to first base and touching the base.
“There’s a million reasons why. The transfer rules that we’ve seen lately. What if that guy bobbles the ball as he’s throwing it around? If he doesn’t touch the base, he’s out. If he’s in the dugout, he’s automatically out. Beyond all the just-run-90-feet stuff, there’s a real, tangible rule behind it now. So we must do that. And he understands that.”
Well. Let’s look at a video of the play that got Harper pulled from the game. (Something Matt Williams clearly didn’t have time to do, by the way, before he made his emotional decision to rip his best hitter from the lineup of a winnable game).
This is right after Lynn caught Harper’s comebacker. Harper didn’t even have time to take two full steps before the ball was in the glove of a Cardinals defender. Harper is a full 85 feet away from first base right now. Lance Lynn could have walked the ball to first base and Harper would have been out. Seriously, MLB players are out 999,999 out of a million in situations like this.
This is the ball mid-air. The moment the ball is caught by the first baseman, Harper is out. He’s still a full 50 feet away from the base, and he’s a split-second away from being out.
This the moment Harper is out. The ball is securely in the glove of the first baseman, whose foot is on the base. Out. Completely, 100% out. The play is over, and Harper is 45 feet away from the base.
Notice, please, that at this moment, Harper is still in the baseline. He’s still headed towards first base. He is NOT–repeat NOT–headed back to the dugout as has been incorrectly reported since the game ended.
Harper is out. The play is over and it’s time to return to the dugout, because those are the rules of baseball.
This is the point Harper starts heading back to the dugout. This is also the point Matt Williams apparently expects his injured outfield to sprint past the base. Please bear in mind had Harper done this, it would have looked ridiculous, since the ball would have been halfway around the horn by then.
Folks, this one is simple. Matt Williams made an impulsive emotional decision that hurt his team’s chance of winning. People want to fit the today’s events into a neat “tough-talking old-school manager teaching a young punk kid a lesson” narrative, but I’m afraid those facts just don’t fit.
Matt Williams made mistake. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves.