It may be too soon to worry about Bryce Harper’s struggles with the Phillies. However, he has trended the wrong way with whiffing on fastballs in recent years.
DISCLAIMER: IT IS MAY. I know that we’re only one month into the season, and there is no reason to make mountains out of molehills. However, the number of swings and misses I have been seeing from Bryce Harper have been hard to watch. I had also noticed that the whiffs seemed to occur with more regularity than most other Phillies.
As a team, the Phillies swing and miss 11.4% of the time, which ranks 12th in the league according to FanGraphs (non-pitchers). Harper has a swing and miss percentage of 16.8%, which is seventh-highest among hitters with 100+ plate appearances his year.
While this high strikeout rate may be a common trait among power hitters (Javy Baez and Khris Davis are also in that seven), Harper swings the least out of those seven (47%), which means he isn’t making the most of his swings.
One of Harper’s most significant problem areas is against the fastball, and this has been a growing concern of his since 2016. Harper has seen at least 57% fastballs in every season since 2016, as to be expected. What isn’t likely expected is Harper’s whiff rate increasing every year against fastballs, and they aren’t small increments.
After whiffing on 15.7% of fastballs in 2016, Harper’s whiff percentage has increased to 20.5% in 2017, 27.1% in 2018, and 34.5% so far in 2019. What’s worse is that he is striking out on fastballs 33.8% of the time, which is his highest percentage for one pitch in his career, outside of breaking balls in 2014.
The area Harper has been struggling is the outside part of the plate, and pitchers have noticed. In 2019, Harper has seen 33% of his pitches up and away.
Harper is whiffing on nearly 45% of those pitches and striking out on almost 56% of them. He only whiffed at 22% of those pitches in 2017, and that increased to 35% in 2018. Even still, on fastballs up and away in the strike zone, Harper is missing 61% of them.
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So with Harper missing all these fastballs, why is there no reason to worry again? Well, his numbers are still pretty good.
As John Town wrote Wednesday, Harper’s numbers so far were better this year than the first half of his All-Star season last year. Harper leads the NL in walks and has six home runs and 20 RBI, which are both third best on the Phillies. If he can continue to put up these numbers, he’ll hit 33 home runs and 111 RBIs, which will make Phillies’ fans more than happy.
If Harper continues to struggle with the fastball, he may need to make some changes to his approach at the plate.
Harper can’t rely on launching off-speed pitches; he needs to make pitchers pay when they give him a fastball in the zone.
Good thing it’s only May – plenty of time to make adjustments.