Bryce Harper is having a strange season for the Washington Nationals. With such a unique situation comes an interesting question. Should he bat leadoff?
The Washington Nationals are in a peculiar spot with star outfielder Bryce Harper. Despite the low batting average, he possesses an excellent on-base percentage and homer total. This begs the question, where should he hit in the lineup?
Well, there’s a compelling case to put him back in the leadoff spot, where’s he’s thrived at times. And given the player that he’s been in 2018, it makes a lot of sense.
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But the key difference between those two players and Harper? Their batting averages are all at least 90 points better than the Nats superstar.
In general, walks are as good as a hit, but with runners on, it’s not the walks that get the RBIs, it’s the base hits. With this in mind, those ahead of Harper in OBP should be hitting in the middle of the order to drive in runs given their ability to get hits.
So that leaves Harper as the best remaining fit for the top spot in the lineup. In his 12 games atop the order, he’s got a .217 average, .288 OBP, and a .832 OPS. But with a BABIP of .182, all those figures are bound to rise.
Another factor in pushing Harper to the top spot is to prevent killing rallies with strikeouts. The main reason the Nationals haven’t been able to consistently score runs is their inability to have productive outs with less than two outs. And with runners on, strikeouts are not productive in the slightest.
Harper currently has the fourth most strikeouts in the NL at 99, behind just Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Taylor, and Trevor Story. His alarmingly high K total has been the primary reason he’s struggled with a low average.
So by putting him at the top of the lineup, if he strikes out, there are likely to be no runners on after the bottom of the order has batted. Or if there are, it’s likely to be with two outs, where a strikeout is just as bad as any other out.
This move shouldn’t be intended as a permanent switch, as Eaton is by far and away the best leadoff man the team has. But until Harper can limit the strikeouts, and the hits start falling for him, a move to the top of the lineup will be best.
Bryce Harper needs to keep playing, with his ability to change a game with one swing of his bat. But the Washington Nationals need to get creative with how to use him to stop him from killing potential rallies.