Bryce Harper Just Keeps Getting Better

Earlier this month I set out to explore an adjustment Bryce Harper has been working on, a sort of lower gear, to ostensibly better allow him to compete against elite velocity and with two strikes.

As of July 26th, the leg-kick-less swing remains, and it continues to get results. It has helped Harper become the best two-strike hitter in baseball this season and it is not particularly close as you can see via FanGraphs leaderboards.

Two two-strike wRC+
Name OPS ISO wRC+
1 Bryce Harper 0.931 0.264 139
2 Zack Cozart 0.860 0.197 123
3 Mike Trout 0.827 0.252 123
4 Justin Turner 0.801 0.080 120
5 Jose Ramirez 0.832 0.214 118
6 Anthony Rendon 0.819 0.181 116
7 Joey Votto 0.777 0.123 111
8 Mikie Mahtook 0.813 0.208 111
9 Scooter Gennett 0.824 0.256 109
10 Aaron Judge 0.779 0.224 109
11 George Springer 0.756 0.212 102
12 Eric Sogard 0.728 0.070 102
13 Denard Span 0.748 0.163 100
14 Robinson Cano 0.727 0.181 99
15 Buster Posey 0.735 0.117 99
16 Marwin Gonzalez 0.730 0.216 99

And it’s not just helping Harper with two strikes, it has allowed him to be the top hitter in NL the over the last month (237 wRC+) — and second in all of baseball only to the otherworldly run Jose Altuve is enjoying.

Let’s consider an at bat from Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks when Harper rained on the parade that was the MLB debut of Anthony Banda.

Earlier in the at bat, when Harper had the advantage, his leg kick — his 100 percent swing — was still present.

With a 2-0 count …

And a 3-1 count …

But with two strikes, Harper changed. The leg kick was toned down.

And if you ever wanted to see the reaction of a father witnessing his son allowing a 460-foot home run in his MLB debut, the following video footage is for you. (And, again, note the lack of leg kick and power generated:)

This is a frightening development for the rest of baseball.

This adjustment is of interest to this author for a variety of reasons. For starters, the amount of power Harper is generating without the jump start that is a leg kick is interesting. And also of note is that this is a 24-year-old superstar not satisfied with his performance or swing, he is looking to improve. A better Harper is a scary thought for opponents but he should get better. He is not yet in his prime years and perhaps this adjustment is evidence of aptitude and willingness to adjust.

MLB.com’s Jamal Collier asked Harper about his swing adjustment after Saturday’s game. He did not extract much from Harper.

“Not even trying to think about it at all,” Harper said said. “I don’t know, sometimes I [stride], sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I swing, sometimes I miss, and it’s part of the game.”

Harper told me he “hates stats” earlier this year when I approached him to ask about some areas in the zone where he has improved. I kind of doubt he “hates” information that could help him. I suspect he’s not willing discuss much of his secrets and methods and he did not seem particularly interested in discussing his B-swing.

But Washington Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu did talk about the new swing Harper has worked on.

“It just kind of simplifies things,” Shu said.”He usually does it when he gets to two strikes now, or he gets like a really tough matchup with a lefty. Just kind of keeps it simple, kind of like a B hack.”

Later in the game, Harper continued to use the modified approach with two strikes:

In a contributing piece for The Athletic, I asked Corey Kluber about his strikeout jump this season despite not enjoying any apparent skill growth in the form of velocity or movement increases.

“Guys a lot of times don’t really make adjustments,” Kluber said. “They go up there swinging for the fences. More times more than not [the breaking ball] is the best pitch to take advantage of that.”

But a few hitters, including some of the game’s best hitters — have you seen Joey Votto choking up seemingly a foot on the bat? — are making adjustments. And Harper is perhaps the best, young hitter making a very visible adjustment.

While this is just one adjustment in what figures to be a long, productive career, it might speak to the ability of Harper to adapt and adjust and get the most out of his considerable abilities. When one of the game’s most powerful and effective hitters is also its best two-strike hitter, that seems to say something about the player’s aptitude and ability. It means we haven’t yet perhaps seen the best of Harper.





A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Thomas Leinenweber
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Thomas Leinenweber

This means he’s going to hit his prime once he’s playing for the Cubs. #backtobackoneday

JimmieFoXX
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JimmieFoXX

ROFLOL!

Cubs spent their money on Jason Heyward.

Phillies
PHILLIES
P H I L L I E S

Pig.Pen
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Pig.Pen

Harper understands how a player’s legacy is diminished by bouncing around between teams. That stuff matters to him. Only way he leaves DC is if he doesn’t think they will spend the money to win long-term. And remember, baseball’s richest owners (like not even close) are the Lerners who own the Nationals. Harper will spend his entire career in DC.

jpg
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Just because they’re rich, it doesn’t mean they like to spend it. Ask Twins fans about Carl Pohlad’s spending habits. Your statement is especially funny when you consider that this team has lost out on multiple marquee free agents because they seemingly can’t offer a big contract without deferring half the damn money.

Pig.Pen
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Pig.Pen

They’re business men. They have a young franchise with a still developing fanbase. When it came time to spend on the original face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, they did. They also like spending on Boras clients. They’ll spend on Harper, look at the buyout of his last arb year he signed this year for over $20M a year. Cubs, Yankees and Philthies fans can downvote me all they want, but he ain’t playing for your team.

TKDC
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TKDC

You’re all wrong. Harper is going to my favorite team.

JimmieFoXX
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JimmieFoXX

I remember when this was funny three years ago.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

And yet, here we are. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

kenai kings
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kenai kings

Harper would have to look up the meaning of legacy.
One more reason I really hope he can’t read.