Bryce Harper has been called many things by many people – cocky, arrogant, brash to name a few words tossed about by the haters of this 22-year-old phenom. One word that hasn’t been used by many to date is sneaky, but that is exactly what Harper was on Monday afternoon against the Astros.
In the fifth inning, Astros’ outfielder Alex Presley sent a soft line drive into right field. Harper took a lengthy route to the ball, all but asking Presley to try for two. As soon as that happened, Harper was all business, pouncing on the ball and pegging a strike to second to nail Presley.
It was the kind of play those of us who have been a part of an attempted hidden ball trick dream of pulling off. Baseball is often called a thinking man’s game, and Harper proved his baseball noggin was firing on all cylinders with this play. After the game, Harper had this to say to the Washington Post: “I came up slow on that on purpose, just to see if he’d round the bag or something like that,” said Harper. “That’s something I want to play this year, something I really want to do this year. Coming up on the ball to try to take the extra bag, hopefully have a good throw to second base to get ’em out.”
Harper got the out, but his manager Matt Williams was clearly displeased with the play, “I thought he shouldn’t have even attempted to go to second,” said Williams. “[Harper] needs to get to that ball quicker, then the guy doesn’t even go. It’s a good throw, but if he pounces on that baseball, he doesn’t attempt to go.”
There are two sides to the coin in this debate. There is the hyper-aggressive Harper, who clearly calculated his approach to this play. Besides stealing an out on a sure base hit, Harper showcased his arm yet again for the rest of the league.
The message? Don’t you dare try and run on me.
Then, there is the side of the manager who does not want to see unnecessary risks taken in the field. Keep in mind, that this play took place in the middle of a tie game. Presley very easily could have snuck under the tag, or the ball very easily could have been mishandled by infielder Wilmer Difo. There was no guarantee that the throw would result in an out.
Harper is always going to be a player who is willing to take an extra risk in the name of being aggressive. He would not have attempted this play if he did not have supreme confidence in his throwing arm. Of course, it does not hurt that the slow-footed Presley was running. Harper would not have attempted this move if a burner like Jose Altuve was running.
As a manager, Matt Williams is well within his right to be against a risky move like this one. It did take a perfect throw to nail Presley; anything else would have resulted in a man in scoring position. That being said, it is hard to believe Harper would have taken a risk like this in a meaningful game. This is the kind of play worth taking in the middle of a game in which your team has a comfortable lead. If you can save your pitcher a few pitches by stealing an out, why not go for it?
For some strange reason, I have a hunch this will not be the last time Harper and Williams clash over an on-field decision. Williams is patently old-school and prefers the game to be played exactly as he wishes. Harper is an aggressive player who allows the game to come to him intuitively. There will be decisions that leave you scratching your head, both as a casual observer of the game, and especially as a manager.
Whatever your stance on Harper, there is one undeniable fact: he plays as hard as he can on every single pitch. His youthful enthusiasm for the game has not yet been dulled by the long grind of life in the major leagues, and that is a good thing for the game. Plays like this one generate excitement and buzz that the game is sorely lacking. I for one hope that Bryce Harper continues playing his own style of fiery baseball and does not let the manager get in the way.