Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is not a bust. But that’s not going to stop fantasy owners from complaining. The 21-year-old entered the season with giant expectations. Many fantasy owners spent high picks on Harper, hoping to get superstar numbers. Instead, they’ve received an injury-riddled, three home run campaign. Harper’s well aware of his issues at the plate this season. Early in the year, he made reference to not having his timing down. That same issue seemed to carry over immediately after Harper was activated from the disabled list. Things changed over the All-Star Break, though. Harper emerged after the break sporting a new stance, and while it’s only been a few games, a second-half surge seems possible.
Nationals broadcaster F.P. Santangelo immediately noticed Harper’s new stance July 18, saying “I watched batting practice today and he’s standing more upright, standing tall. He’s dropped his hands down.” For anyone who has watched the Nationals this season, the change was noticeable.
(Click to embiggen)
First off, please ignore the poor quality of each photo. Now, once you get past that, you can easily see the change Harper made to his stance. The picture on the left shows Harper in his first major-league at-bat in 2012. The picture in the middle shows Harper’s stance earlier this season. The picture on the right shows the stance Harper unveiled following the All-Star Break. The changes are easy to spot. As Santangelo said, Harper is more upright at the plate. He doesn’t have the same crouch he showed throughout his career. On top of that, his hands are much lower. In the first two pictures, Harper’s hands are up near his head. In the third photo, they are resting just below.
In order for this to matter, Harper has to perform. When he went out and collected three hits, including a home run, on the day he debuted his new stance, that drew some attention. Harper’s only played five games with his new stance, but he appears more comfortable at the plate. He turned in four strong plate appearances Tuesday against the Rockies. He drew walks in his first two appearances off lefty Yohan Flande, and added a single later off lefty Rex Brothers. Manager Matt Williams said Harper had been having trouble seeing lefties since his activation, so this was a step in the right direction.
It would be foolish not to acknowledge the small sample here. Given that, it would be unwise to say Harper’s suddenly going to mash with his new stance. But, based on what we know about Harper, we can look at this as a positive step. We know he’s made a change to his batting stance, and we know he has incredible talent. He’s no doubt had to make adjustments in the past, and he’s been able to do so with success.
What exactly does this mean for fantasy owners? Well, Harper is one of the most traded players in leagues over the past two weeks in CBSSports.com leagues. He’s been dealt 475 times during that period. Current owners seem to be willing to unload Harper for another part at the moment, or are willing to stick with what they were using when Harper was sidelined. Harper would have been a strong buy-low candidate if he changed nothing about his game. Given what we’ve seen thus far, there’s perhaps more reason for optimism in the second half.
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