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Entries in Bryce Harper (10)

Tuesday
Feb252014

Criticism Aside, Harper Keeps Improving

Bryce Harper is 21 years old, launched more home runs during his age 19 and 20 seasons (42) than any hitter since Tony Conigliaro a half-century ago, and racked up as many Wins Above Replacement over that period (nine) as Ty Cobb. Yet, for all of Harper's early-career accomplishments -- or perhaps because of them -- we like to nit-pick his performance. Can Harper, limited to 118 games last year due to a left knee injury, learn to avoid brain-rattling outfield collisions while retaining his competitive fire? Why hasn't he joined fellow phenom prospect Mike Trout among the game's truly elite? Was it really such a good idea for Harper to challenge Jesus Montero to an eating contest during the offseason? (He lost, apparently.)

With the focus on Harper's playing style and off-field plate discipline, some might have overlooked his across-the-board offensive improvement in 2013. Harper boosted his batting average (from .270 as a rookie in 2012 to .274), on-base percentage (.340 to .368) and slugging percentage (.477 to .486) while also sharpening his strike-zone control (his walk-to-strikeout ratio climbed from 0.47 to 0.65). His park-and-league-adjusted OPS spiked from 18 percent above average to 33 percent above average. By any measure, Harper's bat became even more lethal in 2013.

How, exactly, did Harper post arguably the best offensive showing by an age-20 corner outfielder since Tony C? Here's a closer look at his gains in controlling the zone and clubbing pitches deeper into the gaps.

No More Trouble with the Curve

Harper increased his OBP by nearly 30 points thanks to a more refined plate approach in 2013. After walking in 9.4% of his plate appearances as a rookie, Harper drew ball four 12.3% of the time last year. Granted, pitchers tiptoed around the Nationals slugger, throwing him fewer pitches in the strike zone last season (41.2%) than in 2012 (42.3%). Only Pablo Sandoval (37.2%) got a lower rate of in-zone offerings among players batting at least 400 times in 2013. Still, to Harper's credit, he did a better job of laying off those pitches tossed off the corners and in the dirt.

Harper chased less often no matter the pitch type, but he made the biggest strides in containing himself versus curveballs. While he chased hooks at the fifth-highest clips among all National League hitters in 2012, Harper displayed above-average discipline in 2013.

Harper's chase rate by pitch type, 2012-13

 

Harper lunged at plenty of low-and-away curveballs as a rookie. Last year, he let pitches thrown below the knees go by. His chase rate on low curves plummeted, from 45.6% in 2012 to 28.3% in 2013.

Harper's swing rate vs. curveballs, 2012

Harper's swing rate vs. curveballs, 2013

Fewer punchouts 

Harper also connected on pitches more often last year, paring his strikeout rate from 20.1% to 18.9%. While he whiffed more often against changeups, he more than offset that uptick by making more contact versus fastballs and breaking stuff. Once again, Harper improved most against curveballs.

Harper's miss rate by pitch type, 2012-13

 

Deeper drives, More Pull Shots

At first blush, Harper's already-impressive pop didn't improve much from 2012 to 2013. His Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) barely budged, from .206 to .212. Dig a little deeper, though, and Harper looks primed to hit bombs and blow kisses more often in 2014.

Harper swatted fly balls an average of 273 feet as a rookie, which was slightly above the MLB average (269 feet) and in the same range as second basemen Jose Altuve and Neil Walker. Last year, Harper hit fly balls an average of 285 feet -- the same as David Ortiz and Joey Votto, and farther than Trout (281 feet). That helps explain why Harper's home run per fly ball rate climbed from 15.7% to 19.2%, cracking the top 20 among MLB hitters.

He also put the ball in play to the opposite field less often in 2013 (28.5%) than in 2012 (36.8%), instead cranking more pitches to center field and the pull side. Like many hitters, Harper does more damage when he pulls the ball (career .853 slugging percentage) or lines a pitch to center field (.564) than when he goes oppo (.484). With Harper hitting deeper -- and more frequent -- shots to center field and the pull side, he could top 30 homers next year.

Bryce Harper isn't at Mike Trout's level, at least not yet. And yeah, he does need to stop face-planting into fences. But let's not forget that he's already a star-caliber major leaguer despite being the same age as this year's top college prospects, and he's constantly improving. Let's stop nit-picking, and enjoy the beginnings of an inner-circle Cooperstown career.

Monday
Jul152013

HR Derby Preview: Team Wright

Citi Field's Home Run Apple will get a workout tonight, as some of the game's preeminent power hitters aim for the fences during the 2013 All-Star Home Run Derby (8 p.m. ET on ESPN). Team Robinson Cano (including Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis, Prince Fielder) will take on Team David Wright (Pedro Alvarez, Michael Cuddyer and Bryce Harper). Here's a breakdown of dingers hit by Team Wright as you ponder which tally will be higher -- attendance at Citi Field or the number of "backbackback"s belted out by Chris Berman.

Pedro Alvarez

Where he hits 'em: Pedro is a pull hitter, ripping 15 of his 24 home runs to right field. He has gone yard six times to center field and three times to the opposite side.

Alvarez's HR spray chart

 

Hard or soft stuff? He likes pitches that reach home plate nearly as fast as he sends them screaming towards the stands. Alvarez has 16 homers against "hard" pitches (fastballs, cutters and splitters), including 15 off fastballs. That ties him with Adam Dunn for the most HR in the majors against the heat.

HR sweet spot: Alvarez is feasting on belt-high pitches, launching an NL-best 18 home runs on offerings that cross the vertical middle of the plate. Miguel Cabrera (22 HR) and Chris Davis (20) are the only hitters with more belt-high homers.

Pitch location of Alvarez's HR

Michael Cuddyer

Where he hits 'em: Cuddyer has belted eight homers to the pull side, four to center field and three to left field.

Cuddyer's HR spray chart

  

Hard or soft stuff? He's an equal-opportunity slugger, hitting eight home runs against hard pitches and seven off soft stuff. Cuddyer is particularly fond of curveballs (4 HR).

HR sweet spot: Above the belt -- Cuddyer has hit 11 HR off pitches thrown to the upper half of the zone.

Pitch location of Cuddyer's HR

Bryce Harper

Where he hits 'em: Harper has spread the ball around during his injury-shortened 2013 season, hitting seven HR to right field and three apiece to center and left field.

Harper's HR spray chart

  

Hard or soft stuff? Harper runs full-speed into outfield walls -- of course he likes the hard stuff. He has eight combined home runs against fastballs, cutters and splitters, and five off soft pitches.

HR sweet spot: Unlike most of his HR Derby competition, Harper prefers when hitters challenge him with inside pitches. He has eight HR against stuff thrown on the inner half.

Pitch location of Harper's HR

 

David Wright

Where he hits 'em: The home town favorite has seven pull-side HR, five shots to center and one homer to the opposite field.

Wright's HR spray chart

 

Hard or soft stuff? Wright might want to ask his BP pitcher to speed things up, as he thrives against hard stuff. He has belted nine home runs combined versus fastballs, cutters and splitters.

HR sweet spot: He's doing most of his damage when pitchers accidentally put one right down Broadway -- eight of his HR have come on pitches thrown to the horizontal middle of the strike zone.

Pitch location of Wright's HR

Monday
May132013

NL Homer & Strikeout Percentage Leaders

I wanted to spend a few moments looking at ultimate results, all or nothing, homers vs. strikeouts.

There are 20 players in AL with at least seven homers this season led by Justin Upton, Bryce Harper, and John Buck.

There are 17 players with at least 36 whiffs in the NL led by Jay Bruce, Dan Uggla, and B.J. Upton.

But who are the batters with a good home run percentage and a decent strikeout percentage?

On this chart you want to be in the lower right corner where you see the effectiveness of Bryce Harper, Carlos Beltran, and Yuniesky Betancourt.

The further left you move on the chart into the lower left corner you see batters who are lower in terms of strikeouts and lower in terms of homers.

This group includes guys without any homers including Ben Revere, Denard Span, Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, and Ruben Tejada. But it also includes some low homer hitters like Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Starlin Castro, Andre Ethier, and Pablo Sandoval.

The upper right corner is comprised of guys who are hitting some homers, but striking out too much: this is where Justin Upton, Buck and Harper are hanging out along with Lucas Duda, Ryan Braun, Dan Uggla, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer, and a number of other dangerous batters.

The upper left corner are guys who are whiffing without showing power. This unenviable group includes B.J. Upton, Jay Bruce, Adam LaRoche, Rickie Weeks, Matt Kemp, Everth Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano, and numerous others who are frustrating you.