An Impressive Display From Bryce Harper

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There’s a perception that because I try to pull the cover off the exaggerations in the legend of Bryce Harper that I want him to fail and enter the netherworld of “can’t miss” first overall picks who missed.

That list is long and, in some cases, quite sad.

Some were ruined by self-inflicted and team abuse: David Clyde.

Others got injured in off-field mishaps: Brien Taylor.

Many were all tools, no substance: Matt Anderson; Shawn Abner.

A few were taken for ancillary reasons: Steve Chilcott; Matt Bush.

I don’t want Harper to fail. But I don’t want to hear these ridiculous stories about his exploits to put him in the superhuman category at 19-years-old. The desperation to make him something he’s not can lay the foundation for a stalled or ruined career.

In his weeklong tenure in the big leagues, Harper has shown his massive talents with a deadly strong and accurate throwing arm; plate discipline; skillful defense at a position—leftfield—he’s rarely played; plus speed and aggressiveness. He’s also shown teenage arrogance (flipping off his helmet on his first big league hit) and stupidity (playing softball in a Washington DC park).

But last night, when Phillies’ pitcher Cole Hamels drilled him in the back with a fastball, Harper was cool and ruthless.

Hamels inexplicably said he was throwing at Harper—ESPN Story.

Of course he was throwing at him, but only an idiot says so after the fact. Now he’s going get suspended. Deservedly so.

Jordan Zimmerman retaliated by hitting Hamels, but the true retaliation came from Harper in the immediate aftermath of his plunking.

In what was quite possibly the most impressive thing that I’ve seen Harper do—more impressive, in fact, than the hitting, fielding, running and throwing—was a display of maturity that precludes the helmet-flip and softball participation.

After reaching first on the 2-out HBP, Harper went to third on a Jayson Werth single; Hamels tried to pick Werth off and with a quickness of thinking, anticipation and baseball instincts unheard of in veterans let alone a 19-year-old, Harper didn’t hesitate in taking off for home. He stole it relatively easily.

In addition to that, given Harper’s reputation, one would’ve expected him to glare at Hamels or mutter to himself; one would’ve expected him to flaunt his steal of home and victory in the war of machismo.

But he did none of the above.

He did his job and his silence and professionalism was explosive in its impact. The HBP was an attempt to get a rise out of the rookie and he answered by not answering in the way Hamels wanted. He answered on the field. It was a message to the rest of the league that he’s going to shove it to those who push him and do it without the histrionics that made Harper a YouTube sensation for his attitude, tantrums and ejections.

Hamels welcomed him to the big leagues.

Harper followed it up by proving he belongs.

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MLB Draft Dollars And The Strategy Of Spending

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Why do I get the feeling that with all the talk about clubs spending, spending and spending some more in the MLB Draft, that 2011 will wind up going down as the year that teams overspent and got little return?

We can go up and down, back and forth with the arguments for carting wheelbarrows of cash in the draft and bringing in top-quality talent, but the fact remains that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

As opposed to one of the most idiotic assertions in Moneyball that the genius Billy Beane was counting cards in a casino (repeated by Michael Lewis in the afterword/extra chapter of the paperback version as if saying something stupid once wasn’t enough), all you can do with drafted players is hope.

Naturally giving them an opportunity to play in the majors instead of continually bringing in veterans is a key to their development and becoming useful big leaguers, but the truth about the draft is that you don’t know until you know.

Picking a year at random (and I’m actually picking a year at random) with 2004 and the 1st round.

How many “star” players are there? There are two: Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver.

Apart from that, you have useful cogs (Huston Street; Jeff Niemann; Phil Hughes; Neil Walker; J.P. Howell; Gio Gonzalez); the underdeveloped (Bill Bray; Homer Bailey; Blake DeWitt; Philip Humber); and the busts (Matt Bush; Jon Poterson; Greg Golson).

Being a 1st round pick and getting a load of money increases expectations and the amount of time a player is going to get with the organization. The bigger amounts of attention and money they receive, the more a club is going to want to get some kind of return on that investment; that goes a long way in keeping a player employed and moving up the ladder even if he doesn’t deserve it.

The obvious and easy response to any failure or perceived success is to go all in. So if teams are seen to be “winning” with the Moneyball system, that’s what will come en vogue; if teams win by signing veteran players, that will be the new strategy.

It’s the same with the draft and development—others will copy it while it appears to be working; then they’ll move on to something else.

The drafted players have taken advantage of MLB’s complete lack of competence in implementing the bonus slots. The reliance on the draft to find players not to collect and trade, but to use is making them more valuable and the bonuses reflect that. But simply spending isn’t the answer on the big league level nor in the draft; it’s a matter of picking correctly.

This strategy of spending might be a one-and-out, because judging from history, it’s unlikely to succeed as well as the money or public accolades indicate it should.

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