Bryce Harper In Center Field is a Bad Idea

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It’s good to know that Davey Johnson hasn’t entered the realm of the elderly manager.

Given how thin he looks and that his voice seemed to be a shell of what it once was after taking over the Nationals last summer, it’s still a question as to how much of a managerial fastball he has left and if he’s going to maintain his energy throughout the season. I might be reminiscing about the manager of the 1980s Mets who dealt with a star-studded, young and out-of-control team that was lucky to stay out of jail while they were playing.

Their scrapes with the law (and more) had to wait until their playing careers were over: see Dwight Gooden, Lenny Dykstra, Darryl Strawberry and Wally Backman.

Now he’s having a spring training look at Bryce Harper in center field and is insistent that there’s a legitimate chance that the 19-year-old will make the big league club to start the season.

Can Harper play center field?

Johnson thinks he can and the youngster played 20 games at the position in A-ball last season.

But is it a good idea?

Probably not.

Johnson doesn’t have the greatest history with adhering to reality when he believes in something strongly and that’s a detriment to being a truly great manager. In Johnson’s category of managers are Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa who at times blindly stuck to failing strategies rather than acknowledge that they were wrong about anything. They clung to decisions they made even if they were hurting the team.

Johnson is the same man who, as manager of the Mets, stuck Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson at shortstop; continually wrote Gregg Jefferies’s name in the lineup when he needed to be sent down; put Keith Miller in center field; and absolutely refused to tell Strawberry to move from his Shea Stadium strawberry patch of faded grass which was his position—within a 15 foot radius—against every hitter on every pitch.

Johnson’s ego was part of the reason he was such a successful manager and able to keep that Mets group in line to a certain degree, but it was also part of the reason that most of his teams faltered at the end. Had the 1980s Mets paid a bit more attention to defense and fundamentals rather than starting pitching and home runs, they could’ve won more than one championship.

Johnson needs a rein on his over-the-top calls. It seems that the Nationals are entertaining the thought of having Harper break camp with the big league team.

If they deem him ready physically and especially emotionally; if they feel he can help the team contend, then by all means they should do it. But in center field?

No.

If they bring him North, Jayson Werth can play center field and Harper can play right. With all the scrutiny that will surround him, Harper doesn’t need to be learning a new position for a team that expects to win and a veteran pitching staff hounding him if he fails to make a play that an experienced center fielder would make.

Johnson needs someone to check him. In his other managerial stops, Johnson would be told to do something by upper management, then ignore it when he wrote the lineup cards.

He’s a great manager, but he’s made the same mistakes before. It shouldn’t happen again.

Click here to listen to my appearance with Les Norman on Breakin’ the Norm.

My new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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4 thoughts on “Bryce Harper In Center Field is a Bad Idea

  1. Still, I think it’d be a pretty fun show to watch if he does play center, and right out of camp. I expect the Nationals to always be a bit off, so this is not surprising to me. Glad to see the book is out!

    1. Thanks RE the book. Spread the word!!! And of course if there’s an RSBS podcast coming up, I’m always ready to engage with Sweet Lou and the crew.
      I’m torn on the Harper thing. I’d hate to see a young talent stagnated by something so predictably wrong, but it would be entertaining.

  2. Indeed. I will spread the news. Podcast has been on hold for a bit as we’ve run into some technical difficulties, but once we get ’em sorted out it’s on!

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