The hits aren’t falling for Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, but with a bit better luck and more hard-hit balls, he will return to MVP form.
Over his last 25 games, Harper is hitting just .182/.330/.386, which brings his season-long line down to .232/.396/.535. That is still good for an excellent 150 OPS+, though it doesn’t quite cut it for someone trying to be the first $400 million man.
First off, his numbers really are still pretty good. His on-base and slugging percentages for the season both rank within the top-15 among qualified National league hitters. His batting average is certainly unsightly, but as Brad Pitt says in Moneyball, “Do I care if it’s a walk or a hit?” (Well actually yes, you would prefer a hit, since those can turn into extra bases or RBIs, but Pitt’s point stands!)
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Still, if you are worried about Harper, don’t be. A tidal wave is coming.
Harper owns just a .192 BABIP, which is not only over 120 points worse than his career mark, it ranks 165th out of 169 qualified hitters this year. That is roughly 110 points worse than the MLB average BABIP.
If you want to dig a little deeper than just his BABIP, you’ll find that Harper is still making good contact. In fact, he ranks 20th in hard-hit percentage this season (44.4 percent), tucked right between future teammates Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge (sorry, that was mean). And over this 25-game stretch where his numbers have dipped, Harper is actually hitting the ball even harder (47.9 percent).
To cap it off, Harper is second in soft contact this season (just 6.8 percent). He is squaring up the ball over 93 percent of the time this season, but is getting absolutely nothing to show for it.
Among the top 25 players in hard-hit percentage, Harper is one of only 3 players with a BABIP below .250 (Joey Gallo and Khris Davis). Last season, Cincinnati’s Scott Schebler had the lowest BABIP amongst players in the top-25 of hard-hit percent, and Schebler still finished with a .248 mark. Even if Harper weren’t hitting the ball this hard, base hits would have to start dropping for the former MVP.
In the past, Nationals fans have seen Ryan Zimmerman hit the ball hard with few results, but Zimmerman had the tendency to keep the ball on the ground, which are obviously easier to turn into outs. Harper has no such issues; his 2018 line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates are also almost identical to his career numbers.
If it seems like Bryce Harper is crushing the ball right at people every time he makes contact, it’s because he is. Sooner rather than later, those grounders will find holes and liners will find gaps. A classic Harper tear should be right around the corner.