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Entries in Washington Nationals (19)


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.


Stephen Strasburg: Awesome at the Plate, Too

Stephen Strasburg is an awesome pitcher. Considering that Strasburg leads all qualified starting pitchers in K/9 (11.6) and ranks ninth in ERA+ (144), that statement won't come as breaking news unless you crash-landed on the LOST island and just made your way back to civilization. But did you know he has been a threat at the plate too?

As if his mid-90s heat and knee-buckling curve weren't enough to beat opponents into submission, Strasburg is raking in 2012. He's batting .323, getting on base at a .400 clip and slugging .548 in 37 plate appearances. It's a tiny sample, of course, and Strasburg's prior history with the bat isn't promising (he hit .038 with nary a walk or extra-base hit in 30 PA from 2010-11). But he's showing a shockingly disciplined approach at the dish this season.

Check out Strasburg's swing rate in 2010-11, and then 2012:





In 2010-11, Strasburg did what most pitchers do: he let a lot of strikes go by (55 percent in-zone swing rate, 63 percent MLB average) and swung at a lot of crappy pitches out of the strike zone (38 percent chase rate, 29 percent MLB average). This year, though? Strasburg has swung at 72 percent of in-zone pitches. His chase rate is 12 percent, which is actually tied with George Kottaras for lowest in the majors among those with at least 30 plate appearances.

That's a whole different level of hitting mockery, isn't it? No longer content to just make batters flail while on the mound, Strasburg is taking and raking at the plate. It's like he's peering at the opposing position players and saying, "You call THIS hard? [BAM]" Maybe he is a cyborg after all.


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.