Bryce Harper’s Weakness

Few players can hold a candle to Bryce Harper. At an age where most kids are still in college, Harper has already emerged as one of the best players in baseball. After a strong rookie year, Harper has taken a step forward in year two. His walk rate is up, strikeout rate is down and his .378 wOBA is 20 points higher than last season. There is, however, one area where Harper has looked mortal. In his first season-and-a-half in the majors, Harper has shown a significant platoon split.

Following a groundout during Saturday’s game, Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post pointed out the issue on Twitter. While Kilgore’s tweet only dealt with this season’s struggles, Harper also had a difficult time against lefties during his rookie year.

Career numbers PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Lefties 270 8.9 25.4 0.219 0.290 0.370 0.291
Righties 540 11.5 16.8 0.294 0.377 0.550 0.396

For the most part, the table shows that Harper has been much worse against left-handers over his brief career. At the same time, it’s important to point out that we’re dealing with an incredibly small sample size here. Harper has only faced lefties in 270 plate appearances. That’s hardly enough to be a huge concern, but opposing managers have started to take notice.

The main issue for Harper appears to be low and outside against lefties.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 12.35.41 AM

Harper is hitting below .100 on the three squares in the bottom-left corner. Remember, the charts are from the catchers point of view, so the bottom left corner would be outside to a lefty. Breaking pitches have given Harper the most trouble off the plate low and away. In those same three squares, Harper has gone 2-38 on “breaking pitches” over his career. Breaking pitches include sliders, curveballs, slow curveballs and knuckleballs. Pitchers have taken notice of Harper’s struggles with breaking stuff low and outside. He’s only seen 19 “hard pitches” in that area and four “offspeed pitches” in that area over his career from left-handers.

While it’s easy to suggest Harper’s average would be low on pitches outside of the strike zone, that’s not the only explanation for his struggles. Harper has shown high swing rates on breaking balls low and outside. He’s had a tough time laying off those pitches. As expected, his whiff rates are high in that area. He’s whiffed at a whopping 52.08% of breaking pitches thrown in the box directly below the outside corner in his career.

Given Harper’s age and lack of experience, it’s not surprising that there are still things he needs to work on. And since we’re just working with 270 plate appearances, there’s no major reason to panic just yet. Harper has never seen stuff this good from left-handers, and it makes sense that he would need some time to adjust. The league is likely aware of the issue, and Harper is going to see his fair share of late-inning left-handers coming out of the bullpen. But in his case, more experience is a good thing. Even with the struggles against lefties, Harper has become one of the most feared hitters in the game. Once he figures out how to lay off on pitches low and outside, the league is going to be on high-alert.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

16 Responses to “Bryce Harper’s Weakness”

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  1. ndbrian says:

    FP Santangelo cries, “BLASPHEMY! There’s nothing wrong with Bryce! He’s just doing it to bait managers into pitching to him with a left.”

    Anyone that’s listend to a Nats game understands…

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  2. NatsLady says:

    Righties get to Harper (0-5 yesterday) with the change-up, especially when he is down in the count.

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  3. Cool Lester Smooth says:

    Well, it’s a good thing he’s only 20 years old, then.

    He has about 6 or 7 years to work on hitting lefties before he gets to his prime.

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  4. tonysoprano says:

    The good ones always figure it out….and I’m sure he will too.

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    • Corey says:

      He’s got a hitch in his swing, watch him, he raises his hands up right after load for no apparent reason instead of loading them into the hitting slot, he can be a great player and never hit the low pitch, but if he’s ever going to hit down there he’s got to change his swing.

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      • Amateur Hitting Coaches United says:

        It’s a little presumptuous of you to tell Bryce Harper that he needs to change his swing. There’s nothing wrong with his results against RHP’s. It’s an approach/discipline issue v. LHP’s.

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      • Corey says:

        Actually if you look at his whiff rate instead of his batting average he struggles with low pitches against lefties AND righties. I think he struggles less against righties just because he’s got a longer range of vision against righties so he has time, being a tremendous athlete, to get down there a little more often, but that split second less time against lefties hurts him. He can change his swing and improve on the low pitches or he can not change his swing and build his career around mashing the high ones as he’s done. If you look at his swing rates he clearly knows that’s not his pitch, so he gets a lot of credit for being smart. I don’t care if its presumptuous, the guy’s got a hitch in his swing, its a fact. Do lots of of people hit well with flawed swing mechanics? Absolutely, there’s also no shortage of guys who hit poorly with good swing mechanics. Harper doesn’t have poor swing mechanics, but he DOES have a hitch in his swing that makes low pitches hard for him to hit.

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  5. Fat Adams says:

    I cannot stand F.P. Santangelo. He thinks the Nats are the best team in the league and every single player is the best at his position. I’m so glad the Nats stink this year because it makes him look so uninformed and biased. I understand that the Nats pay his salary but as a consumer I would like a fair and close to an unbiased opinion as possible. This is certainly not the case for F.P. Please MASN, hire someone new!

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      When healthy, Harper, Werth and Desmond have all been arguably top 5 at their positions this year (Desmond actually leads qualified shortstops in fWAR, because Tulo has missed so much time), and Ramos has been very good since coming off the DL. The Nats are a talented freaking team, they’ve just never really had all of their offensive pieces healthy at the same time.

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    • ncb says:

      I find Carp to be a way bigger homer than FP, specially considering he (Carp) is supposed to be the play-by-play guy.

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  6. Dan Rozenson says:

    Andy Pettitte used it to his great advantage in the marathon game they played in Washington last June. He used his slutter outside to get Bryce swinging several times.

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  7. Bab says:

    So do is it a trend among MLB rookies to struggle with breaking balls low and away? As in, a marked trend.

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  8. Corey says:

    Interesting observation, its because he has a huge hitch in his swing.

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