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Hitting For The Cycle: Grit, Lineups, Baseball Economy, And Matt Bush

Single: Prospects Will Break Your Heart: Scouting Fortitude by Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus)

To start off, we are headed to a free article from Baseball Prospectus by noted prospect guru and general weirdo Jason Parks. Oftentimes these “poll the industry” pieces can be nothing but fluff and column inches, but this is the exception that ends up proving the rule. Mr. Parks delves deeply into inherent biases that form within professional baseball scouts on a player’s “guts” – or as Parks says about ten times “sack”.

Does it affect a scout’s evaluation if a player doesn’t outwardly show emotion? Does it mean that the player doesn’t care? Who had more “sack”: Tom Glavine or Roger Clemens? Parks answers all these questions and more. But generally, scouts are going to make up their minds based on their own specific criterion, whether that be more focused on sheer skill-set or intangible qualities such as “grit” or “want”.

The next time that someone has concerns about Jordan Zimmermann’s lack of fire or Stephen Strasburg’s propensity to melt down post-error, go and read this article to get in the minds of the front office.

Quote: “I don’t think Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens had more sack than Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine. It takes sack to throw an 85 mph fastball to Barry Bonds.”

Double: The Spot in the Lineup Where Managers are Still Ignoring Sabermetrics by Neil Paine (FiveThirtyEight)

At the beginning of this Nationals season, there was a ton of discussion on this site and elsewhere about lineup efficiency or optimization – all of it featuring their own valid points for their varied opinions. Thoughout baseball, managers put their best hitter third or fourth and that was that. For years during the Acta/Riggleman/Johnson years, that meant that Ryan Zimmerman was rubber stamped into that magical three-hole. Conventional wisdom has been changing, that much has been clear over the past 15 years of baseball, but there is still one spot in the lineup that has been crucially ignored.

Sabermetric godfather Tom Tango has new research out that shows that not only is the three-hole not as important an offensive position as once thought, it is not even in the top three most important offensive positions in the lineup; those belong to the 1st, 2nd, and 4th spots. If you want to see a true measure of success for a given team in 2014, check out the strength of their two-hole hitter.

FYI – The 2014 Nationals have just a .672 OPS out of the two-hole this year, if this number improves, then so should the Nationals.

Quote: “The good news is that it appears the two-hole has emerged from the dark ages of the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, when slot Nos. 3 and 4 vastly outpaced Nos. 1 and 2.”

Triple: 10 Lessons I Learned About the Baseball Economy by Dave Cameron (Hardball Times)

This feature by Dave Cameron runs weekly and follows a similar pattern “10 Lessons I Learned About…” You should definitely make a habit of checking it out. Most of the things you will read in here are commonly accepted premises, such as baseball is healthier than ever (read: richer) and that payrolls aren’t going up at the same rate as revenues. The 10 lessons are quite fascinating and really hard to sum up without simply quoting the piece directly with bullet points, so just go read the article and learn a bit about some of the more pressing monetary issues facing MLB today and in the near future. The MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2016 season, consider this piece your first primer for what I’m sure will be a tense negotiation.

Quote: “There was widespread astonishment when the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a $126 million contract, but $15-$20 million per year for an above-average aging outfielder is basically the norm now.”

Home Run: Matt Bush Story – Matt Bush and Anthony Tufano by Gabe Kapler (Fox Sports)

Usually, I like to use the final spot of my weekly column for something a little bit lighter – this is not one of those pieces (I have one if you want to check it out – just tweet me @CraigMac and I will be more than happy to lighten your day. Hint: it includes dogs). The reason I wanted to include this set of features by former MLB player Gabe Kapler is because it deals with a topic that I think plagues professional sports – the proliferation of casual alcoholism.

For those of you who don’t know the story of Matt Bush, he is a former number one overall draft pick back in 2004 who never got his career off of the ground due to a myriad of issues not the least of which was an alcohol problem, aggressive incidents, including a bar fight just two weeks after becoming the number one selection, and multiple DUIs. Back in 2012, when he was trying to resurrect his career he was down in Florida on a Spring Training invite with the Tampa Bay Rays, he got drunk one night and struck a motorcyclist on the highway, running him over and almost killing him.

So ends the story, usually. Gabe Kapler is an incredible writer, not just for a former MLB player, and he continues the story focused on each party, meeting with Bush in prison and meeting with Anthony Tufano, the motorcyclist, to discuss the incident and his recovery. This is a truly powerful set of stories and it should be included in any meaningful roundup of baseball writing for 2014.

Quote: “I spoke with a current general manager who told me it was unlikely that Bush would be given the benefit of the doubt and an additional chance, despite the undeniable raw talent. That said, what did most GMs say when Hamilton was perceived as a washed-up drug addict?”

(Image: Opposing Views)

About Craig MacHenry

Writer for The Nats Blog and co-host of Nats Talk On The Go podcast

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