Posted May 22, 2013

Watch: Bunt-happy, wall-shy Bryce Harper says he cost the Nationals a game

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper, NationalsWhile fellow super sophomore Mike Trout was becoming the youngest player in American League history to hit for the cycle in Anaheim, up the California coast last night in San Francisco, Bryce Harper was having a much different evening. The 20-year-old star helped cost his team the game, was partially blamed for it by his own closer and may have betrayed his own pronouncements that he was just fine after his scary collision with the rightfield wall in Los Angeles last week.

CORCORAN: Scary outfield collisions, from Babe Ruth to Bryce Harper

In the top of the first inning of what became a 4-2 Nationals’ loss to the Giants at AT&T Park, Harper came to the plate with no outs and a man on first base. He worked a 2-1 count, then dropped down a sacrifice bunt.  In the eighth inning, he came up with no one out and a man on second base and bunted again. Both bunts were successful, but neither was called from the bench. That means that Harper, who has been slumping this month but was still hitting .288/.383/.598 on the season coming into the game and has been far and away the Nationals’ best hitter since last August, bunted on his own. In doing so, he hurt his team.

LEMIRE: Trout’s cycle felt inevitable

In addition to his current slump, Harper might have seen last night’s pitching matchup between Matt Cain and Stephen Strasburg as one in which runs were likely to come at a premium. However, Cain had a 5.43 ERA coming into that game and Washington had him on the ropes in the first inning. While it’s impossible to say how the inning would have played out had Harper not bunted, three of the first five men who faced Cain in the game hit safely, with two of them picking up doubles. Harper, in effect, gave Cain a free out to help him escape an early jam. If, for instance, Harper had done as little as draw a walk in that at-bat (he was ahead in the count and Cain did walk him in the fifth inning), the Nationals would have scored three runs on those two doubles and the inning would have continued with a runner in scoring position. Instead, it ended with Danny Espinosa’s strikeout.

In the eighth, with Washington up 2-1 and looking for an insurance run following a leadoff double by Denard Span, Harper should have tried to drive in Span himself rather than sacrifice one of his team’s six remaining outs. A big inning there could have iced the game for his team. Instead, the Nationals didn’t score at all and the Giants rallied to tied the game at 2-2 in the ninth inning.

Harper played a key part in that ninth-inning rally as well. With two outs, pinch-runner Andres Torres on first base and closer Rafael Soriano on the mound, the Giants’ Gregor Blanco hit a deep drive to leftfield that sailed over Harper’s head for a game-tying triple. Here’s the play:

You can see Harper, who got 11 stitches in his chin after a collision with the outfield wall in Dodger Stadium last week, flinch when he hits the warning track, which is also the exact moment at which that ball could have been caught. It would have been an impressive play if Harper had made it, but Harper is an impressive outfielder, and both he and Soriano said after the game that they thought the play should have been made. Soriano, as translated from Spanish by USA Today reporter Jorge L. Ortiz, thought Harper should have been playing deeper to begin with:

With two outs and the tying run at first, you have to play the outfield so the ball doesn’t go over your head. It may not have been a catchable ball, but if we’re positioned the right way, there might have been a different outcome. With two outs, I could tell my four-year-old son, ‘You know where you need to play,’ and he would go to the right spot to make the play.

Harper, to his credit, fell on his sword after the game, admitting that the wall was a factor in what he too believed was his misplaying of Blanco’s hit (again from Ortiz):

“Absolutely,” said Harper, insisting he should have made the catch. “Of course it crosses your mind after you jam into a wall, and it doesn’t really feel very good. It sucks not making the play. I totally put that loss on me.”

Indeed, had Harper had a positive outcome in any of the three instances described above — a walk or a hit in place of a bunt in the first or eighth, or a catch in the ninth — the Nationals would have won the game.

Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Trout, Harper’s 2012 Rookie of the Year counterpart, has brought his season line up to .293/.373/.558. Just when it looked like Harper had snuck past Trout in what’s likely to be their career-long battle for bragging rights, the pendulum seems to have swung back the other way.

33 comments
diecapsule34
diecapsule34

Well considering the fact that if Harper wasnt batteling injuries Trouts numbers would not even scratch the surface of Harper's, I d say Trout is still lagging a bit behind this year. Once Harper gets healthy and starts hitting like he was prior to string of injuries (Second in batting avg., second in homers, second in Slg %, first in OPS) he will have the better year. Possibly even better than Trout's 2012. Dont forget that Trout is surrounded by All Stars & future HOF'ers in his lineup and is spoon fed fast balls on a regular basis. If Harper was in Trouts lineup and saw the same amount of fastballs he would be batting .350 with 45 homers a year easily. If Trout was in Harpers lineup and saw the same amount of breaking balls he would be lucky to hit .280 with 20 homers. I love both players but quit comparing apples to oranges.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

This is like squabbling between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini...

I'll take whichever one of these two players on my team that is left after someone else chooses first...  

BillToscano
BillToscano

"Both bunts were successful."

So why is this even mentioned.

He did his job.

Michael18
Michael18

How about a little respect for Manny Muchado. Last year was his rookie season, too. He came up towards the tail end of last year and was a huge reason the Orioles made the playoffs. His defense is better than both Trout and Harper at a tougher position, and he's batting .322 compared to Trout's .297 and Harper's .288. Plus, he's on a better team, record wise.

SayHeyForever
SayHeyForever

Giants' announcers Kruk & Kuip just showed super-slo replay of Blanco's triple yesterday from perfect angle. The ball was way over Harper's head. No way he catches that ball.

SayHeyForever
SayHeyForever

Harper just caught a long drive at the wall, same spot as last night. :>\  So much for wall shy!

SayHeyForever
SayHeyForever

Harper just hit an opposite field dinger off Bumgardner. :>\ So much for the slump.

bring_back_the_sanity
bring_back_the_sanity

Soriano should've manned up about the play, too.  You don't go to the media and slam the best player on your team because he failed to haul in the laser beam you (as the pitcher) just allowed.  It wasn't a lazy fly ball to right that Harper somehow misplayed; it was a frozen rope screamer.  At least Harper stood up and took the blame, even if it wasn't his fault; that's what leaders and great players do.

bring_back_the_sanity
bring_back_the_sanity

Ignorance about baseball abounds in this article. While it's true that there are a limited number of outs in a baseball game and each should be considered precious and used carefully, bunting a man over early in the game is not necessarily squandering one of them. It's not only forcing the opposition into executing the play against a speedy batter (even if it was an intentional sacrifice bunt), but it's showing confidence in the teammates coming up to hit behind you.  The Nats still had two outs to work with in the inning. Stats show that the team that scores first forces the other team to play catch up, limiting their own options and increasing the pressure on the use of their outs. A similar situation existed in the 8th inning, perhaps even more so... getting Span to 3rd base with one out would create an opportunity with several more ways (E, SF, WP, PB) and a far higher percentage of scoring from there than from 2nd, giving the Nats the insurance run they were looking for.  With the lead, the Nats could afford to give up one of their remaining six outs in exchange for the increased scoring chance.  And why on earth would someone refer to a walk issued to Harper by Cain in the 5th inning as being indicative of a likelihood for a walk in the 8th inning?  A 2-1 count is not really "ahead" against a pitcher like Cain; 2-0 and 3-1 are "ahead".  And why would you presume that Harper getting a walk would be good for the Nats in that situation, anyway?  That would've simply set up a force play at all three sacks.  And speculating that the batters which followed Harper would've done the same things as they did in the first inning had he not bunted is ridiculous; the inning's complexion would've been completely different.  I could just as easily argue that having the runner in scoring position helped increase their chances of getting a hit.  "Bunt Happy" and "Wall Shy" labeling of Harper are shallow, infantile insults against someone with far more baseball talent (and knowledge) than is demonstrated by the author of this article.

Josh20
Josh20

I usually don't write on comments, but as you can clearly see in the video and gif up above, Harper doesn't flinch at the warning track. He is at least 5 ft. from the track when he leaps in the air. When he lands, his feet are on the warning track at that time. Also, from the look of it, he already knew the ball was way over his head, and that is why he brought his glove back down; so he could make a play after the bounce. Yes, maybe he should have been playing deeper, but his miss had nothing to do with him flinching at the warning track.

SayHeyForever
SayHeyForever

As a Giants' fan, I'm glad it fell in, but right field at AT&T is no day at the beach and Harper's flinch is understandable given that horrible collision last week that damn near beheaded him. Blanco ripped that pitch, so Soriano should man up about grooving what should have been the last pitch of the game. Would Harper have caught it without the flinch? I'm not so sure, it was a rocket.

bees31ballard
bees31ballard

Ok. Run into the wall. Hero. Back off a little, we all would so don't say you would not think about it if you never played, and he is a  goat. get real. Dude a Ball Player. He will make more wall plays then we could ever imagine.  So what he tightened up a few days after a big bump. he will get over it. Geeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzz.  At the end of the day, he did go for it and got hurt. I will take him any day for my team. Losers always want to criticize something they cannot do.

Michael10
Michael10

Hey Cliff, you do know there are at least 748 other players in the major leagues, right? Or did you just get assigned Trout/Harper babysitting duties by the big boy journalists to keep you from mucking up any real stories?

duckfan59
duckfan59

So, let me see if I have this straight. When he runs into a wall, he's being reckless and needs to reel it in for the sake of his future.

When he's cautious, he's scared.

Uh, okay.

BRDflicks
BRDflicks

 Cliff:

You're underestimating how windy it was last night at ATT  Park.  Even the Giants' outfielders, who deal with the constantly shifting winds in that park all the time, were constantly having to adjust their approaches to the ball.

Also, where is the accountability for coaching?  What does it take for a manager or a bench coach to jump out of the dugout and wave Harper back?  Why doesn't the manager or whichever coach is closest to Harper give him a "noodge" and remind him that they want him to hit away? 

cnordean
cnordean

This is one of the dumber articles I have read in a while.  Did trout have a better night than Harper? Absolutely.  But last I checked there were 161 other games in the season.  The stats provided arguably show Harper having a better year.  If anything Harper should be commended for standing up to the fact that he botched the play.  I am not sure I would have when I was 20.

Magic Man
Magic Man

Jeesh man, could you be anymore pathetically obvious with your hit piece on Bryce Harper??  You mean to tell me... A 20 year old KID made a few a few mistakes in a baseball game, and cost his team an insignificant loss early in the season.  STOP THE PRESSES!!  Guess what genius... kids make mistakes!!  Like the one you made writing this garbage of an article.  Although, he's the kid... what's your excuse??

No, I'm not a Bryce Harper fan... I'm a Pirates fan (wanna talk about mistakes,lol)

JasonMacBride
JasonMacBride

How does this writer know that neither bunt was called from the bench? Was he giving the signals?

eddiej
eddiej

I'm a Nays fan,but I hope he got fined a lot in kangaroo court.Also he needs to be sat down in next game

TOperspective
TOperspective

What a sophomoric article.  This writer really has a grudge against Harper....perhaps he didn't give him an autograph.

j7apple
j7apple

Oh the pain of being Bryce Harper under the microscope.  He has no room for errors.

RanBirkins
RanBirkins

All excellent points and very well stated.  However, this is the situational analysis that the bench should be making, not Harper.  He needs to hear from his manager, "I know that you were doing what you thought was best for the team, but deciding who and when to sacrifice is MY decision, not yours.  I knew the situation and I had my best hitter at bat, and I was thrilled to have you in a position to do some damage.  You moved the runner over, BUT your job was not to move him over - your job was to drive him in.  In the future, NEVER sacrifice bunt unless I ask you to."

SayHeyForever
SayHeyForever

@Josh20  If it was a flinch, it wasn't caused by the track. What surprised me was that he didn't reach up to try and catch it. If the ball sails over his outstretched glove, fine. I assumed it must have been out of his reach, until he copped to having blown it.

JasonMacBride
JasonMacBride

@cnordean Add to that Harper's natural position is catcher and he's still learning how to play the outfield.

Whatever
Whatever

@Magic Man Completely agree. He just got 11 stitches from playing hard and running into a wall a Dodger Stadium. He's running back into a strange angled wall in a stadium he's not very familiar with, at a strangely large warning track due to the angled wall, and he's already a bit gun shy about slamming into the wall the other day. I'm sure he feels awful about it, but it was just a reaction that he likely couldn't control. Give the kid a break (as his teammates should too). He owned up to the mistake, and I doubt it will happen again.

riley8
riley8

@Magic Man I couldn't agree more.  This kid is 20 friggin yrs old AND a superstar.  The entire sports world is watching him at 20.  He must be pretty good.

Magic Man
Magic Man

@JasonMacBride I was wondering the same thing.  I think someone pulled something out of their @%!

eddiej
eddiej

Finger slip I misspelled Nats.

Michael10
Michael10

@TOperspective

If you read anything he wrote last season (and I mean ANYTHING), you'd know Corcoran is probably the biggest Mike Trout fanboy out there. A knock at Harper is a bump for Trout, I guess...

bring_back_the_sanity
bring_back_the_sanity

@RanBirkins ... I won't dispute that aspect of it at all, Ran. If Harper truly was making those decisions on his own, he's not the one who should be expending his team's outs unilaterally, no matter how talented or baseball-savvy he is at age 20. I was just challenging the author's assertion that they were poor tactical decisions given the game situation, which I don't feel they were.

Michael10
Michael10

@TOperspective@Michael10

It's the context of trashing one while praising the other--like waving one child's test score in the face of another equally intelligent child who happened to have an off day. The headline on the main page even reads "Advantage: Trout".