What's wrong with Phillies' Bryce Harper, and is he already starting to break out?

The Phillies star has been scuffling at the plate early on, but there are indications that this downswing could be behind him sooner rather than later.
Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper is starting to break out
Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper is starting to break out / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

Bryce Harper is the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Phillies. To the point that when he's struggling, the entire team can feel it. When he's on his game and locked in at the plate, however, it is quite a sight to see.

The tide seemed to turn for Harper after his unreal 3-homer game against the Cincinnati Reds on April 2, firmly snapping the 0-for-11 skid he found himself in to start the season. Since then, Harper encountered yet another hitless streak of 18 at-bats from April 7 to 11, dropping his batting average back to a season-low .196.

Per FanGraphs, Harper currently has a .239 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) fueled by some unusual metrics. His 10 percent barrel rate, a .249 xBA, a .493 xSLG and 18 percent line drive rate are all amongst the lowest of his career averages. Leading MLB in double play balls (6) is also rearing its ugly head as additional proof that Harper is hitting into outs at a worse rate than years past while also failing to lift the ball at a decent launch angle.

So what's the bright side for Bryce Harper?

There is some optimism to Harper's performance and proof that he can break out of this rut. Oddly enough, he's still posting a normal 91.7 mph average exit velocity, a higher-than-normal 52 percent hard-hit rate, and his best in-zone contact rate since 2020 at 84.5 percent.

He's making solid contact a good percentage of the time when he swings, but it just hasn't been quite good enough, as evidenced by his slightly depressed barrel rate. But that should change. Over the past week, he has barrelled the ball at a 15.8 percent rate, with an average exit velocity of 93.5 mph. He just hasn't had any luck, with a .278 BABIP over that stretch (last season, his BABIP was .352).

On Tuesday night, after yet another phenomenal outing by the starting rotation, Harper showed off some of that exit velocity and deservingly tattooed a 90 mph slider into the right-field bleachers in the eighth inning. His 104 mph blast put the Phillies up to an insurmountable 5-0 lead. He also smashed a 103.5 mph double in the sixth.

Harper went on to comment on his early-season frustrations and his success after Ranger Suárez's complete game 5-0 shutout win.

"Just get me to the box, that's all," Harper said after the game, per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "Just trying to get there, and understand that each day is a new slate. We've got a long season. Just try to go out there and get in the batter's box. It might not look pretty sometimes, but I've felt good; the work looks good."

Harper remains confident that these early struggles are just temporary misfortune and not a decline in his future production. He hasn't hit full gear yet, but as we've seen before, he can turn it on in the blink of an eye and go on a scorching run. It's appointment television when he steps to the plate, and Phillies fans should be ready to grab their popcorn.