With all of the nagging injuries that the Washington Nationals have heading into Opening Day, the first month of the season is going to bring a lot of pressure for Bryce Harper. For one, the 22-year old is the only lefty in a lineup surrounded by right-handed hitters and his power will need to stay on the field because of his history of small injuries. Usually, with Harper heading into his fourth season, spring is about getting your work in and getting in form for the season. However, there is an interesting stat Harper leads in this spring that doesn’t usually define his game.
In 12 games this spring, the Nationals right fielder has drawn ten walks, including a walk in each of his last four games and five of his last six. Yes, Harper’s power numbers are down this spring as he only has the one home run that he hit last Friday against Houston. However, Harper’s plate discipline could be crucial for Matt Williams and company this season.
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One thing that fans know about this Washington team is there a team that knows how to make the pitcher work. Last season, the Nats were third in the National League in walks (517) behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. With those high walk totals, Harper is also second on the team in on-base percentage this spring (.444) behind Dan Uggla and Matt Skole.
Now, this isn’t suggesting that Harper is not going to remain a power hitter. What this stat can show, albeit it’s only spring, is that it looks like he is going to be more selective when he gets to the plate. His strikeouts last season increased from 94 to 104 in 18 fewer games. Plus, Harper’s walk total last year went down from 61 in 2013 to 38 a season ago. Manager Matt Williams has even commented on how Harper needs a new strategy at the plate:
"“He’s got the ability to walk. He’s a good on-base guy – traditionally, in his young career, he’s been that. At the same time, I don’t want him to feel pressure to do too much. If he can just be him, then it will be a great year for him. We are working on collectively his pitch recognition at the plate, making sure that we give him all the information we can possibly give him about the opponent.” (h/t Chris Johnson, MASNSports.com)"
For the Nationals lineup, they need Harper to be more towards the 61 walks that he had in 2013, especially early in the season. He is a player that usually does work a count, but to see the strikeouts only at seven for this spring is a good sign. This could also be a coincidence as well, but in the last three spring trainings, Harper’s walk totals have gone up as well.
Of course, Nationals fans come to the park to see Bryce Harper hit the long ball and to be active on the bases, but this could be another aspect of Harper’s game that if it develops, could make him a better player than what he already is. That would be scary for the rest of the league, wouldn’t it?