Nationals Baseball: Bryce Harper - Superstar! or Superstar?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bryce Harper - Superstar! or Superstar?

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.


cass said...

Really wish FanGraphs gave monthly splits on the plate discipline data. I tried to look for it last night and couldn't find it. I'd like to see his oswing% and contact% by month.

Hard to believe I'm turning on Davey, but putting Storen in last night was unforgivable. Davey must be the world's biggest believer in xFIP, since that's the only stat by which he compares favorably to the other Nats relievers.

cass said...

Also, we can still appreciate the greatest start of Strasburg's career even if he didn't get the win. It was the 11th highest game score (86!) of all time for a losing pitcher in a nine-inning game.

McCatty also had one hell of a tough loss (14 innings, I think? in the top 20 best game scores in lossses ever) back in 1980. They should commiserate.

Harper said...

cass - you can tease it out. You have to do it from the overall player page - subset to Nats and set the split to be by a certain month

For O-swing you see 33.9% -> 38.5 % -> 29.4%

For Contact 80.4% -> 69.0% -> 73.5%

What I'm seeing in July is a lot lower swing %. Everything else is not great but better than May.

I think Davey is in open revolt. If you aren't going to send these guys down and give me better guys, I'm going to throw them out there.

Strasburg is awesome. Better than ZNN, hope everyone gets that.

cass -

Erich said...

Harper -

Open revolt? You can't be serious. I would be horrified to know that he puts Lombo and Storen into the game just to make a point to Rizzo. I'll go with the "loyalty" argument. That said, neither really justify this.

Strasburger said...

First of all thank you for the post. I think he'll come around, he just isn't a leader right now that knows how to help a struggling team at the wrong time.

Werth's play is awesome, he's trying to inspire his teammates, too, and it's not working.

Strasburg is still one of the five most talented pitchers on the planet. He's always been better. Last night he looked like he had a chip on his shoulder, it really was awesome to watch.

... Like I said... 3 wins by the end of the Friday.

nicoxen said...


I see a lot of problems with Harper's swing, and I have noticed this since he was called out last year.

1) It's very mechanical. There is not the same fluid motion of a guy like Zimmerman or Laroche.

2) He gets no power off his back foot. By the time he makes contact his back foot is complete off the ground. All of his power comes from tremendous torque (which puts pressure on his right knee, think Tiger's swing).

3) His "violent swing" makes it difficult to make midswing adjustments for sliders, sinkers, and other offspead pitches.

4) Is it not a little odd that guy who is right-handed bats left-handed? I know many guys do this, but sometimes I wonder if this was conscious decision by Harper and is dad or early coaches.

Until now he has been able to overcome the flaws in his swing with pure athleticism and determination. But this is not sustainable.

Look at his whiff rate on offspead and breaking pitches:|SL|CU|CS|CH|FS|SB

Froggy said...

To Harper's 'open revolt' comment (which I agree with) prediction: if the rest if the season goes as it has, Rizzo loses his job and Cal Ripkin takes it.

Harper said...

Erich - assuming you make a point enough times to someone and they don't listen to you, sometimes you have to demonstrate it. Can't think of any other reason.

Strasburger - He's 20! 20! He barely remembers the Clinton presidency. Give him some time.

They certainly won't get to 7-4 on the homestand but if they could salvage a 4-7 (5-6?) that'd be something. I think they can do it. It's not that they can't whether this but its that they could only whether like 2 of these and now one is in the books.

nicoxen - whatcha think of this then? Wishful thinking?

I think he'll always be susceptible to lefties that can hit that outside corner with offspeed stuff but otherwise he's got good enough control to foul off the tough pitches and will crush your mistakes. It might not be career sustainable but if history is any judge athelticism and determination can take him through his mid to late 20s which is the better part of a decade.

Froggy - no way. Rizzo is set.

Harper said...

'weather' dammit not 'whether'.

Froggy said...

Maybe, but me feels Ripkin's presence next year.

cass said...

So does Bryce need to be more agressive? I'm surprised his oswing% is lower than in April. It's felt like he's been chasing more, but I geuss that was illusory.

And I don't want Strasburg to just be one of the best five pitchers on the planet*. I want him to be the best. Better than Harvey, especially. Mostly, I hate Harvey because he's made Strasburg seem less unique.

*Who are they? Kershaw, King Felix, Harvey, Strasburg, Verlander... or should Darvish get in over Strasburg or Verlander?

cass said...

Wouldn't Ripken be the natural choice to replace Davey as manager next year? Or is it known that he'd rather be a GM? He does seem more interested in being an executive, given his activities since leaving baseball. I imagine Angelos would howl if Ripken joined the org.

Froggy said...

I'll take Ripken any way we can get him but, I agree with you cass he does seem more like the GM type. I think it is no secret he wants to get back in the game.

Erich said...

That Bryce Harper, what a bum.

cass said...

Please write another article questioning how Bryce is doing tomorrow!

Kenny B. said...

Walk-off is all well and good; I didn't see it. But Jesus, Soriano gives up 4 earned runs?

They were lucky to come away with that one. It just goes to show that even when the bats show up, that's when the pitching (most often bullpen) hits the wall. Been that way most of this season.

It really feels like they play down to the competition, and every win feels tense and uncomfortable, even when the lead is large. That's probably just my fan psyche, but it's disturbing to witness.

Sirc said...

Which competition did they play down to?

Kenny B. said...

Sirc: Not sure if "play down to the competition" is the right phrase. I really just mean that they can't seem to hold on to large leads on the rare occasion that they get them.

cass said...

If they're playing down to the level of the Pirates, I'll take it!

Thelma said...

This is cool!