Has anyone asked Bryce Harper where Bryce Harper should be playing? His stats tell the story. His swing and miss rate in June is what you would expect from a poor hitting pitcher. The Nationals clearly have 3 better outfielders in Juan Soto, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor. Maybe there are 4 better outfielders if you consider Brian Goodwin an option. There was that time when Harper wanted to push Denard Span to the bench to have Ryan Zimmerman in leftfield and Jayson Werth in rightfield.
“I’m not sure,” Harper said back in early June 2014 about the line-up. “Zim’s pretty good in leftfield right now. I think Rendon is a hell of a third baseman. Espinosa, he’s a hell of a second baseman. I really have no idea what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it. I think everyone knows I love centerfield. That’s where I like to be. My numbers are a lot better in centerfield. I feel good there. But you know, of course we have Denard Span.”
Everyone has an opinion on the line-up. How do manger Dave Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo handle this situation and the line-up? It is a debacle for sure. Best 8 position players start, right? Wrong. Bryce Harper won’t be benched in all reality although he probably needs what Matt Williams used to call “mental rest” days.
It also does not take a genius to jump on the bandwagon to diagnose Bryce’s problems that have existed for over two months as Bryce started to expand the zone. On April 16th, Bryce was batting .315. Today, he is batting .212. From that day to today, Harper is batting .190 with a .310 OBP and a .400 slugging in 232 plate appearances with a K rate of 31.3%.
Worse, look at the last month in 112 plate appearances the batting average was .184 but much fewer walks where the OBP dropped to .277 and the slugging dropped to .377 and the K rate skyrocketed to 40.8%.
Bryce’s batting average is now just 12 points over Mendoza at .212 as the slump has deepened, and he is not running out balls.
“He has become a pull-groundball machine,” Tom Verducci said. “I see him chasing balls away. He has grounded out more times [this year] to the pull-side than he did all of last year. That tells you he is out in front and rolling over. We see it over and over again — a guy getting over-anxious. He is seeing too few pitches to hit — it’s causing anxiety. But to me, he has to get that front hip staying closed. If I was him I would go Anthony Rizzo: Get a little more on the plate and make that outside – in because nobody is pitching him middle-in now because everything is away or under the zone.”
Maybe Verducci didn’t realize that Bryce has moved up on the plate last week after working with his father in New York, but he still has the open stance with the front foot off the plate and is still chasing pitches out of the zone. The solution is stop swinging at balls off the plate and take your walks and make pitchers pitch to you again in the zone. Easier said then done. Harper’s contact % for the season has dropped well below the worst in his career at 68.9%.
Every analyst believes Harper will turn it around but it seems that in the meantime you have to sit Bryce down for a heart-to-heart. Does he need a day-off? Does he need to move back in the order? Doing nothing hasn’t worked yet.