How nice of Davey Johnson to illustrate my point yesterday. There was no need for Storen to pitch at that moment. Only Krol (who has now become Davey's go to guy) had pitched in the last two games making him off-limits. Clippard was available. Soriano hadn't pitched since the 20th. If you felt like you had to keep the game close to have a chance to win it you NEEDED to bring in one of those guys. But out comes Storen because righties were up and he's the righty non-8th inning or closer guy right now. Oops.
That alone didn't cost the Nats the game (but can you at least admit he pitched poorly, Dad?). Neither did the missed call on the tag. The main reason the Nats lost the game was that the offense stunk again. We can point to any number of reasons why the offense is still flailing despite everyone being back and presumably healthy (have you seen Rendon in July? This is why I warn you people not to get too excited. It's HARD to be good in the majors) but the main reason, in my mind, is the descent of Bryce Harper.
Let's get this out right now. Bryce hasn't just been bad since coming back from injury. He's been bad since April ended.
April : .344 / .430 / .720
May : .193 / .319 / .368
July : .214 / .329 / .329
Now he wasn't likely to keep up that April. The BABIP was a little high (.338) and the HR/FB rate was also up there (30%). What you see in May was the reverse luck on BABIP (.198). See it all the time, nothing to worry about. Given Bryce still walked a decent amount and his power was still seemingly good (thanks to a 27.3% HR/FB rate - again on the high end) he was still somewhat effective. But it turns out that May was an illusion and we're finally seeing through it in July.
In May Bryce's power still looked good, but that was a fluke of the HR/FB rate. It's not that you can't have a HR/RB rate over 25% in a month. It happens all the time. But it doesn't give you a true indication of a guys power overall since even the sluggiest of sluggers usually fall in the 20%-25% for a season. To check power it's also helpful to look at other XBH. In April Bryce hit 6 doubles and 1 triple. In May Bryce hit 1 double. That's it. That's worrisome.
Fast foward to July. You all remember that he came back and hit a home run on his first at bat, right? Do you all know he hasn't hit one since? He does have 3 doubles and a triple but it looks like the drop in power from April might be harder to shake off. Worse is that batting average. In May you could blame luck. In July his BABIP is .286. That's actually pretty reasonable. What's going on? He's striking out A LOT more.
April : 15%
May : 19.7%
July : 25.9%
Even though his luck has turned for balls in play, his average isn't going up because he's not putting as many balls in play. That's a disturbing trend.
Monthly swing data isn't easy to come by but I can tell you overall for the season nothing looks funny in the fancy stats. Of course that could be (probably is) that he was doing super good early and terrible now so take it with a grain of salt.
What I can tell you is that pitchers are pitching him differently in May and July as compared to April. He's getting a lot more sliders and two-seam fastballs (presumably I'm not sure exactly how these sites tell this). He's getting more pitches down and away than in April, too. So maybe the pitchers are figuring him out, but before you go down that path I'll let you know that he saw a lot of off speed stuff down and away last year too. Despite that, in September he hit .330 / .400 / .643. The pitch mix isn't exactly the same, he's certainly seeing more sliders and two-seamers than he has in the past, but I have a hard time buy that that's the only reason for the decline.
You can armchair psychologist this if you want. Another road to look down might be the injury route, but before the knee, I might look in this direction. Really there is no good place to get injured and if this was more than a mild bruise and it got overlooked because of the more immediate knee issue, well it could be something. Mike Morse hit for less power last year than he has in recent memory. Mike Morse injured his lat last year. Of course it could also be nothing. I'm just guessing here. Looking in through the window. The hope is the Nats are being more thorough and have covered this base.
Either way I'm not inclined to say "Bryce Harper was so overrated!" just yet. I'm not convinced it's the league catching up to him and anything else I can think of- luck, pressure, mild injury - should go away in the offseason if not sooner. He adapted to the league just fine over the course of last year and he still can't legally drink in America until October. Smart money is still on him.