Why is Bryce Harper Not Hitting for Power in 2014?

Bryce Harper has been disappointing so far in 2014, both before and after he launched three home runs in one AA rehab game.  The highly touted left-hand hitting outfielder has been pretty bad for a guy with a .346 BABIP.

As of August 7, 2014, he’s still been walking a lot (11.2%), but he’s striking out far too often (27.4%).  His ISO is just .121, which is lower than Dustin Ackley, Alexei Ramirez, and Billy Hamilton.  He’s also slugging just .374.

Yes, it’s only 215 PA so far.  That’s about a third of a season however, so I’m going to dig into to something that may contribute to why he’s struggling and hitting for next to no power.

First I will look into the types of pitches he’s getting.  Harper is seeing significantly more fastballs in 2014, and a lot less curve balls.  He is seeing 56.2% fastballs in 2014, compared to 45.9% in 2012 and 49.9% in 2013.  He is seeing 9.1% curve balls in 2014, compared to 13.1% in 2012 and 12.4% in 2013.

Now that we know that, let’s look at what Harper has actually produced with these pitches.  His HR/FB is less than half of what his career mark is.  This year, his HR/FB rate is 7.1%, down from his career mark of 15.6%.  This is interesting because he is hitting more fly balls than he ever has, at 34.4%, which is about 1% above his career average.  The final difference in his fly ball rates are infield flies.  He’s hitting infield popups 9.5% of the time, up from his career percentage of 7.6%.

So what does all this mean?

Harper has gone through a lot in 2014.  He’s changed his stance a couple times and he’s missed time with a thumb injury.  These two factors, especially the thumb issue, could be causing Harper to be late on fastballs.  There’s evidence that shows he is late on some pitches as well.  His ISO is just .071 when he hits the ball to center field and .118 when he goes to the opposite field.  For his entire career, his ISO is .209 to center and .188 to the opposite field.  That’s a pretty significant difference.  Most of his fly balls are going to center and left as well, as you can see here, which suggests he’s not driving the ball the other way with as much authority as he usually does.  His contact has clearly been weaker when taking the ball up the middle and the other way.

Let’s all remember he’s still a 21 year old kid.  He’s learning. He will be fine.  This is just a blip on the road and an area in which he’s struggled with this season.

The fact that Harper is getting pitched differently means he will need to make an adjustment, just as pitchers have clearly made an adjustment to him.  With his talent, he will certainly make that adjustment.  Once his thumb is fully healed, he will be able to drive the ball better as well.  These are also still short samples too, so if you’re a Nationals fan, there’s no reason to think Harper’s non-existent power will continue.

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I am a junior at East Stroudsburg University of PA. Majoring in communications and minoring in English, I'm aspiring to be a baseball writer. I have a passion for the Red Sox, and MLB and statistics in general.

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1 year 9 months ago

Ywah it is clearly all because of the thumb injury, its a injury that is always understated because the effect it has on a swing and espexially power is actually massive. Even Stanton would stop hitting homers with that injury.

1 year 9 months ago

How he’s being pitched is important, for sure, as are the injuries. Particularly this year.

However, his mechanics are such that his power will never be as consistent as other true power hitters. For one, he doesn’t generate any (or very little) linear momentum in his stride, which limits ability to turn his weight up and into the ball, and his strength at point of contact is diminished by his spine angle because his neck tilts at point of contact, bending critical nerve pathways. There is much dispute about these two matters, incidentally; though, I happen to be one who buys into them as Harper’s power-sappers. I’m confident he’ll be great one (as a Nationals fan, I feel obligated to continue believing that), but I’m not sure his power will ever truly of the 35-hr/year variety. .295, with 20-25 HRs is probably more realistic, with a lot of extra base hits to the gaps.