Bryce Harper’s Not 100% Yet

Bryce Harper‘s production has not be at high level since he has returned from the disabled list. Some people, including his manager, are saying his timing is off. In my opinion, I think his left thumb is not yet 100% for several reasons which is causing his timing issues.

In case someone has not been following the train wreck, here are Harper’s stats before and after the injury:

Before: .289/.352/.422, 23% K%
After: .129/.250/.161, 35% K%

The after is only 37 PA, but the results are abysmal.

To look a little deeper into Harper’s production, here is his batted ball placement before and after the injury (embiggen).

He has yet to hit one ball to the outfield’s right side after the injury. Historically, 81% of his home runs have been to center (30%) or right (51%) field. Since he is hitting nothing to the right side, I expect no substantial power from him.

This situation reminds me of left-handed David Ortiz from a few years back. He hit the ball weakly to left field after a wrist injury and then slowly began to pull the ball with authority to right field  as he got healthy. For a sign Harper is turning it around, look for him to start hitting to right field consistently.

The second key factor telling me the thumb still bothers him is he acts like it does. Players with injuries will physically show signs the body part bothers them. Here is Harper after a foul ball from Wednesday  night.

He concentrates on and re-grips with the injured thumb. I went back a looked at him plate appearances before the injury and he never did anything close to the re-grip. If a Harper owner wants to know if he is healthy, watch a couple of games and see if favors the thumb in any way.

Bryce Harper‘s thumb is probably not 100% yet and it is behind his offensive struggles since returning from the DL. Two items can be tracked to see if he is turning his season around. First, look to see if he is beginning to pull the ball with some power. Second, watch some of his at bats and see if he favors the thumb in any way.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

22 Responses to “Bryce Harper’s Not 100% Yet”

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  1. The LBG says:

    So, would you recommend benching him for the weekend series? I can play LaStella, Arenado, or Betts at Utility.

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    • Mike Wimmer says:

      I probably would bench him for Arenado. Arenado is at home against the terrible Twins pitching staff, that’s just such a tantalizing match up I would be hard pressed not jump at it. I know he hasnt set the world on fire since coming back either, but if I can start a Colorado player at home against a terrible pitching staff I will take my chances.

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  2. Mr Scout says:

    Nice work. Josh Hamilton had the same, or about the same, injury. His power has been slow to return but it seems he’s improving himself. Of course Harper would have nothing to prove playing in the minors, he did humiliate them during his rehab stop. Presumably his thumb can’t tell the difference between a great slider and an average slider.

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  3. dudekid says:

    was hoping for something like this, thanks Jeff. Been a frustrating year owning harper, he started off alright but the injury has sidelined him so long, now I cant even insert him back into my lineup, hes been killing me this week

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  4. King of the North says:

    Think he can recover enough to much of anything in the 2nd half?

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  5. NatsLady says:

    I dunno if I agree.. He’s swinging at a very high rate of pitches out of the zone (44.3%) which is higher (by a little) than Desi, and the highest of the Nats regulars (only Hairston is worse at 47.1%). To me that suggests his eye and timing are off, rather than that his thumb is making him hit weak grounders or popouts because he doesn’t have a good grip or strength. Those may be factors, but I think the main factor is not seeing major-league pitching for over two months.

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    • joe says:

      I think swining outside the zone has a lot to do with getting behind in counts. If he’s fouling off pitches instead of putting them in play, he can get behind and have to protect.

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  6. GK says:

    He was healthy enough to rake in his rehab starts. Unless he re-injured the thumb it doesn’t make much sense that he’d be able to hit the ball with so much authority in AA only to lose it in the bigs.

    He looks anxious at the plate to me, lacks confidence, and is in full tilt swing mode every AB.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      AA pitching =/= MLB pitching. He might have been good enough to crush AA but not good enough to crush things beyond AA due to missing bat speed, power etc that isn’t noticable at lower levels.

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  7. kman says:

    Is it just me or do the Nats always seem to rush Harper back too soon after significant injury. Didn’t this happen last year too? I wish they would’ve just left him on the DL the extra few weeks…

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    • mario mendoza says:

      Yeah, how can something heal when subjecting it to violent actions dozens of times a day (including BP)?

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  8. diamondhoggers says:

    It’s always something with Harper.

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  9. MLB Rainmaker says:

    Slightly off topic comment, but this article seems funny relative to the article on Josh Hamilton of a few days ago. Same exact injury, but the article on Hamilton assumes he’s completely healthy and can’t hit a breaking ball, whereas with Harper the assertion is that it couldn’t possibly be a skill problem so he must still be hurt.

    I guess I just don’t see how each player should be treated differently. I fully expect both to struggle for at least a couple months following an injury that is so important to the swing motion. We’ve documented a slow return to power for shoulder injuries in hitters and hammate bone removal, so why would you expect a thumb tendon to be any different? I guess I just don’t follow that logic.

    And I realize both articles aren’t so definitive in their outcome, but its seems like there is a bias against Hamilton in the other article right?

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      Different Jeff’s wrote each article.

      I would not be surprise Josh is still hurt. Less contact, less power. Maybe I could watch video him later.

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      • MLB Rainmaker says:

        Yup, that’s why I said off topic, think you’re article is right on.

        It just seems like there is a bit of confirmation bias in articles lately. Authors go out with a thesis about a player and then try to prove it vs. the scientific method which is the opposite — generate a hypothesis and try to disprove it. If you can’t, then the null case must be true.

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      • Jeff Zimmerman says:

        I am huge on watching the player now. A scout point out how hurt players act and it is easy to concentrate on in person. No camera changing view or people.

        I can’t speak for others. I find it hard not to do it myself. I would like to have more then one variable to look at. I am glad i found Zone% with pitchers because velo drop is too easy fall back on.

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  10. Kaline's Ghost says:

    I’ll never understand the Harper hate. All he does is play his ass off, and hurt himself playing his ass off. Can’t help but wonder if these are the same idiots who complain that Cano doesn’t hustle.

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  11. dave says:

    thumb injuries are tough. i fought mma professionally for a number of years and broke my thumb badly…it took a long time before i felt anywhere near the same grip strength and i still feel pain in it.

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  12. ncb says:

    so this is based on 37 PAs and him looking at his bat after a swing and miss?

    expected more from this site, but I guess the click bait of having harper in a title worked.

    Also, if you include his rehab starts (league adjusted) and tonight this article looks awful.

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  13. Bvillebaron says:

    Right you are diamond offers, right you are.

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  14. Cameron Theden says:

    I think hes young, and as of right now overrated… thought i had a super star for my second round pick (16 man league) to think i could have had tulo….. i really like harpers swing, though from just watching him play it seems like he just wants to crush the ball every time and misses, maybe second half just focus on contact and working the count, the power will come…. dude can be 0-20 and guys would still intentially walk him.

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