"Effort" Does Not Equal "Skill"

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | , , | 2 comments »

Seeing a lot of comments around the Natosphere about the Nationals' lack of effort, pride or emotion. Folks are tired of seeing millionaire ballplayers glide around the field, lazily throwing fat pitches to be hammered, or sitting in the dugout on their hands while idly watching loss after excruciating loss.

It's part of the reason that so many called for the head of Manny Acta. They saw Acta as stoic, emotionless; things that couldn't be further from the truth.

But it seems that from the players, these fans want to see them caring. They equate the poor play on the field as a result of lack of emotion, not talent. Of course, most of these fans really have little idea what the emotional investment is in playing a professional sport. So few of us really do.

You think these players don't want to play better? It's all they want. The problem is that they just aren't very good, individually or collectively.

Take yesterday's lineup, for example. You call up a 26-year old Tommy John survivor for his major league debut who has had some pretty good success at the Triple-A level. And what kind of lineup is out there to back him up? Perhaps the worst fielding team assembled in the majors this season, especially in the infield.

Willie Harris at third. Cristian Guzman at short. Ronnie Belliard at second. Nick (seven errors) Johnson at first. Josh (groin strain) Bard catching.

And it cost J.D. Martin, and the entire ball club, a couple of outs and three runs. Which, as it turns out, made a big difference in the game.

The very first batter, Angel Pagan, hit a slow roller up the third baseline that Willie Harris, subbing for Ryan Zimmerman (who may or may not have been being punished for saying the Cubs were a better team than the Nats), let the ball roll until it was too late to make a play. Pretty sure Zimmerman would have been a) playing shallow and b) charging the ball.

No knock on Willie, but third base is probably the worst of six positions you could field him at.

At least Mets manager Jerry Manuel had his No. 2 hitter, Luis Castillo, bunting in the first inning and giving the Nationals an out. Regardless, the run should have been prevented.

In the second inning, Pagan singled slooooooowly up the middle (range at shortstop, anyone?) and Alex Cora came around to score on a play at the plate. The throw from Nyjer Morgan had Cora beat.

But Bard, whose mobility is severely limited right now due to the groin strain that is probably killing whatever is left of the rest of his career, let the ball play him on the bounce instead of the other way around, since he can't move around, and Cora snuck past him for the third run of the game. A run that should have been prevented.

The next batter, Castillo, hit another soft liner to center, and with two outs Pagan was off on contact. Morgan again threw to the plate; this time the throw was off-line and Bard was unable to get to it and it went to the wall where Martin was backing up. Either way, Castillo would have taken second base on the throw.

Morgan's got to know who was running and Pagan has good speed. The ball was hit so softly that there was no way he would have had a chance to get him, and should have just played the ball into second base, keeping Castillo at first.

OF COURSE, the next batter, Daniel Murphy, lofted a soft liner just past Guzman's outstretched glove (a ball 97% of major league shortstops get to) to score Castillo from second. Yet another run that should have been prevented.

Martin "settled down" after that and retired the Mets next seven hitters before being inexplicably lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth after just 74 pitches. But that's a whole 'nuther story.

So, three of the Mets first five runs were completely preventable with a normal amount of defensive aptitude. No one can question the effort, attitude, care, pride, or emotional level of the players involved in those plays. It was just a matter of performance, and the Nats performed poorly, allowing three runs due to poor defensive play.

No errors were scored on any of those plays. But it's the type of defensive indifference that has permeated the Nationals all season long.

When a pitcher throws less than 90 MPH, he depends on his fielders to be able to pick the ball up and make outs. Sometimes the ball gets through the hole. But when it doesn't, it's paramount to make the plays. The Nats just don't. It's not because they don't care.

Nats fans want to believe that's the reason, because emotion, intensity, caring; those are all things that are controllable. What isn't controllable is skill. You have it or you don't.

2 comments

  1. DMan // July 21, 2009 at 5:46 PM  

    Do you think that maybe, just maybe, the reason the Nats' pitchers so so oft criticized for not throwing strikes and pitching to contact might be the Roberto Duran (Hands of Stone) defense being played behind them?? Perhaps? Maybe just a little bit?

  2. Anonymous // July 22, 2009 at 11:42 PM  

    Actually, I think the Nats' pitchers *are* starting to throw more strikes. At Saturday's game against the Cubs, it seemed like the ratio of strikes-balls was 3-1. The Nats lost the game but it was competitive. Keep the opposing hitters off-balance by throwing different kinds of strikes, and make them hit their way on base. But...throw strikes!