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Entries in Bryce Harper (10)


Harper Hampered By Low Stuff

With Mike Trout going all Willie Mays on the American League and his precocious NL counterpart struggling, the Bryce Harper hype machine has died down considerably. Harper's OPS+ has dipped to exactly league average (100). That's still amazing for a 19-year-old -- just five teenagers in MLB history (Mel Ott, Tony Conigliaro, Johnny Lush, Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Renteria) have posted better batting marks while getting 400-plus plate appearances in a season. But Harper has undoubtedly been hampered by low stuff during his rookie year.

Here's Harper's contact rate by pitch location, and then the league average. He's connecting often on high and middle pitches. Stuff at the knees is another matter entirely:

Harper's contact rate by pitch location, 2012


Average contact rate by pitch location, 2012


Harper's miss rate on high pitches (17.3%) is much lower than the MLB average (21%). He whiffs more than most on middle pitches (15.6% versus the 12.9% average), but you'll see in a moment that he more than makes up for it with epic power.

On low pitches, however, Harper's 41.2% miss rate is far north of the 31.6% MLB average. And when he does make contact, it's rarely the kind of hellacious, seam-ripping hit we've come to expect:

Harper's slugging percentage by pitch location, 2012


Average slugging percentage by pitch location, 2012


He's slugging .444 against high pitches (.392 average) and a robust .604 against middle stuff (.481 average). Yet when pitchers pound him at the knees, Harper has been one of the worst in the game:

Lowest slugging percentage vs. low pitches, 2012

BatterSlugging Pct.
Elvis Andrus .134
Brandon Crawford .147
Jamey Carroll .156
Rickie Weeks .159
Carlos Pena .178
Cameron Maybin .208
Corey Hart .220
Bryce Harper .236
Michael Bourn .239
Jason Kipnis .242
MLB Avg. .335


Opponents may be picking up on Harper's low-ball struggles: He has seen a season-high 47% of pitches thrown down in the zone this month (the MLB average is a little under 42%; Harper saw low pitches 41.4% of the time from April-July). There's little reason to think Washington's slugging wunderkind won't eventually figure out how to crush pitches thrown down. But in the meantime, going low is a winning strategy against Harper.


Pitchers Approaching Harper, Trout Far Differently

The careers of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout will forever be linked. The game's top two prospects entering the season spur endless debate -- will Harper's pure power or Trout's five-tool game ultimately prove more valuable? So far in 2012, both are raking. Harper has a 141 OPS+ 125 plate appearances, and Trout has a 148 OPS+ in 129 plate appearances. While the 19-year-old Harper and 20-year-old Trout are each having historically great seasons for players not yet legally able to buy a brew, the way pitchers are approaching them couldn't be any more different.

With Harper having already popped four home runs and batting in the meat of the Nationals' order, pitchers are reluctant to throw him strikes. Trout, sitting atop the Angels' lineup, has seen many more strikes:

PlayerZone Pct.
Harper 43.3
Trout 51
MLB Avg. 48


As you might expect from those above numbers, Harper is getting plenty of off-speed stuff. In fact, he has seen to lowest percentage of fastballs (two-seam and four-seam) among all major league hitters with at least 100 plate appearances:

PlayerPct. Fastballs Seen
Bryce Harper 31.8%
Bryan LaHair 33.0%
Brandon Belt 33.9%
Ike Davis 35.4%
Ian Stewart 35.7%
Geovany Soto 36.1%
Cameron Maybin 37.3%
Carlos Ruiz 37.7%
Alfonso Soriano 38.2%
Pedro Alvarez 38.3%


Trout, meanwhile, has seen more fastballs than any hitter in the game with at least 100 plate appearances:

PlayerPct. Fastballs Seen
Mike Trout 62.8%
Alberto Callaspo 62.3%
Maicer Izturis 61.2%
Jemile Weeks 58.9%
Chone Figgins 58.9%
Humberto Quintero 56.9%
Juan Pierre 56.1%
Andy Dirks 55.9%
Vernon Wells 55.8%
Emilio Bonifacio 55.6%


So far, giving Harper off-speed stuff off the plate and Trout an abundance of in-zone fastballs hasn't worked for pitchers. Luckily (or should I say unfortunately?), opponents have a good 15-20 years to figure out how to return these prodigies to the dugout.


Bryce Harper: A Quick Look

He only has 68 Major League plate appearances under his belt, but it's not too early to take a look at Bryce Harper's slugging percentage heat maps.

Click image to enlargeHarper hit his second HR yesterday on an Anthony Bass 1-0 fastball that was up and out over the plate:

Click image to enlargeHarper is currently 6 for 17 on fastballs with three doubles and a home run. His other HR came on a slider low in the strike zone from Padres' Tim Stauffer a day earlier.

That first HR notwithstanding, pitches down in the zone seem to be the one area that has given Harper some trouble. On low pitches, he's currently hitting .100 (2 for 20, 4 Ks) with a swing and miss rate of 29.8% and a chase% (balls swung at out of the strike zone) of 37.7%.

Again, it's only 16 games worth of data and thus too early to draw any meaningful conclusions.  Nonetheless, tonight's starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates Erik Bedard may want to keep the ball down on Harper as much as possible.