The bizarre play was a rare double TOOTBLAN — a silly acronym for a baserunning blunder introduced by a Chicago Cubs blogger that stands for Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop. My colleague James Wagner used the term after Bryce Harper’s head’s-up throw in Monday’s game led to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, well, being thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop.
Harper knows Saltalamacchia’s embarrassment. Last week, Harper was guilty of five TOOTBLANs in a span of six games, which the TOOTBLAN blog dubbed “the most TOOTBLANy stretch of the season.” Of the Nationals’ 44 TOOTBLANs this season, Harper has committed eight of them. While the Nationals have made a living being aggressive on the basepaths, sometimes Harper’s aggressiveness gets the best of him.
Here’s a closer look at Harper’s TOOTBLANs in 2014, starting with the most recent. For each TOOTBLAN, I’ve assigned a Harper Bobblehead rating based on level of nincompoopery, with five heads representing the most foolish of blunders. (The Pirates’ double TOOTBLAN on Wednesday would be in a class all its own. The TOOTBLAN blog deemed it “the most TOOTBLAN-y TOOTBLAN of all the TOOTBLANs.”)
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 8
Game: July 26 at Reds
Situation: After walking with one out in the seventh inning and the Nationals trailing the Reds, 1-0, Harper took off for second base on Wilson Ramos’ slow tapper down the third-base line. Ignoring Bobby Henley’s stop sign, Harper raced toward third as the Reds’ Ramon Santiago released an off-balance throw to first. Ramos was safe, but Reds first baseman Todd Frazier’s return throw to Zack Cozart, who was covering third base for Santiago, was in time to nail Harper.
Bobbleheads: Instead of having runners on first and second with one out, the Nationals had a runner on first and two outs. Kevin Frandsen flew out to end the inning and the Nationals would go on to lose, 1-0.
“Well that’s just unfortunate for the Nationals because you had the tying run in scoring position already,” F.P. Santangelo said. “And that’s something in a 1-0 ballgame in the seventh inning really shouldn’t happen at the major league level. Being aggressive is one thing, but there’s no percentage right here.”
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 7
Game: July 26 at Reds
Situation: Harper led off the second inning of the same game with a walk. He took off for second on Ramos’ line drive to the gap and had rounded the bag when Reds right fielder Jay Bruce made a running catch on the warning track. Bruce’s return throw to first base was just in time to double-off Harper, thanks to a nice dive by Frazier.
Bobbleheads: It was a terrific play by Bruce, but it’s debatable whether Harper was running full speed back to first base.
“I thought that was burned for sure,” Harper said. “Guys hit balls like that in this yard all the time and [the ball] usually hits off the wall or leaves the yard. There’s nothing I can do about it. Definitely would have scored if it was over his head. Bruce made a great play, came up firing.”
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 6
Game: July 22 at Rockies
Situation: Harper walked with two outs and nobody on in the second inning of a scoreless game at Coors Field. He tried to go first-to-third on a hard single up the middle by Ian Desmond and was thrown out by Charlie Blackmon. Matt Williams challenged the call, and while it appeared that Harper may have been safe from one angle, the call was upheld.
Bobbleheads: As Santangelo remarked, if you’re going to go first to third with two outs, you better do it standing up. Harper was already in scoring position. Why run into an out to end the inning?
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 5
Game: July 2o vs. Brewers
Situation: With the Nationals leading 4-3, Harper drew a walk to open the bottom of the sixth against Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo. With Desmond at the plate, Gallardo picked off Harper, who didn’t even make it back to the bag.
Bobbleheads: With no outs in a one-run game and one of the league’s best run producers at the plate, you can’t get picked off first base.
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 4
Game: July 2o vs. Brewers
Situation: Harper was on third and Desmond was on second with one out in the second inning when Jose Lobaton hit a liner back to the mound. Gallardo snagged it and doubled off Harper, who was too far down the line to get back in time.
Bobbleheads: Harper eventually froze on the line drive, but not until he was a third of the way to home plate. He had no chance at that point.
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 3
Game: April 24 vs. Padres
Situation: With the Nationals trailing the Padres 4-3, Harper doubled to lead off the 12th inning. It was a bit of a gift, as San Diego left fielder Tommy Medica fell down on what should’ve been a routine fly out, but Harper was standing on second base nonetheless. He would return the favor two batters later. After a Tyler Moore strikeout, Harper strayed too far from second base on a Lobaton liner. Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera made a lunging grab and easily doubled-off Harper to end the game.
Bobbleheads: It was a great play by Cabrera, but Harper has to make sure that ball gets through.
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 2
Game: April 24 vs. Angels
Situation: With one out in the fourth inning and the Nationals leading 1-0, Harper was on third and Adam LaRoche was on first when Anthony Rendon hit a chopper down the first-base line. Harper took off for home and was thrown out by Albert Pujols, who was playing in and made a nice bare-handed play on the ball.
Bobbleheads: Pujols made a perfect play and Harper still almost beat the tag.
Bryce Harper TOOTBLAN No. 1
Game: April 4 vs. Braves
Situation: With Desmond at the plate and two outs in the inning, Harper took off for second base. The Braves pitched out and Harper, realizing he had no chance of being safe at second, got caught in a short rundown before he was tagged out.
Bobbleheads: Caught stealing is not considered a TOOTBLAN, but this was technically a pick-off. Santangelo predicted that Harper was going before the pitch.