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May 01, 2019

What they're saying: Why Bryce Harper is slumping — and why there's no need to panic just yet

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Bryce-Harper-slump_050119_usat Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper.

At least one group of people thinks Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper will snap out of his recent slump: oddsmakers.

According to BetOnline.ag, who recently released updated MVP and Cy Young odds now that we're a month in to the MLB season, Harper still has the fourth-best odds to win National League MVP honors this season, despite his recent struggles. 

Here's a look at the Top 10:

Cody Bellinger 5/2
Christian Yelich 3/1
Ronald Acuna Jr. 9/1
Bryce Harper 12/1
Javier Baez 12/1
Paul Goldschmidt 12/1
Pete Alonso 16/1
Fernando Tatis Jr. 16/1
Paul DeJong 16/1
Nolan Arenado 16/1

Interestingly enough, Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins is tied for 11th with 20/1 odds. 

Clearly, with fewer than 30 games played to this point, the Phillies right fielder has plenty of time to turn it on and get back to his power hitting ways. And the good news is, Harper's on-base percentage (.388) hasn't taken much of a hit as he's still among the best in the game at drawing walks. 

But there's no doubt about it, with his average down to .240 on the season following Tuesday night's 0-for-4 performance against the Tigers, Harper is slumping. And during that home loss to Detroit, Phillies fans voiced their displeasure in the team's $330 million man. 

That's where we'll begin today's edition of What They're Saying... 

Harper understands the boos

Todd Zolecki | MLB.com

To Harper's credit, he said all the right things after his home fans let him hear it on Tuesday night. 

There might not be a Phillies player alive that has not heard a few boos from Philly fans.

Bryce Harper heard a few during Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Tigers at Citizens Bank Park. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. A ball dropped among Harper, Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins in shallow right field to spark a three-run rally in the third inning. He dropped a fly ball for an error in the eighth.

“I’d do the same thing,” Harper said of the reaction from restless Phillies fans. “It’s not fun to lose, it’s not fun to watch when you’re playing that way. [I was] 0-for-4 with two punchies, I’m probably thinking the same thing walking back to the dugout.”  [mlb.com]

Let's see how he responds on Wednesday night... 

The root of all slumps

Matt Breen | Philly.com

Over at Philly.com, Matt Breen took a look at what's been causing the right fielder's slump, and believes that he can get back on track, he'll be just fine. Then again, that's easier said than done, and sometimes, a slump can feel like a snowball rolling downhill. 

It hasn’t been Harper’s best game for most of the last three weeks. Since April 7, Harper has had two multi-hit games and is 15-for-80 with 29 strikeouts and a .330 on-base percentage. Take away his five-hit game in Colorado on April 19, and Harper has a .609 OPS in his last 21 games. Harper, after an exciting start to the season, is in a funk...

Harper is swinging at roughly the same out-of-the-zone pitches that he did last season, but his contact rate on those pitches is 10 percent less this season. His contact rate dipped Tuesday night to 64.3, which would be a career low, and his swinging-strike percentage spiked to 16.4, five points higher than his career average with Washington...

Harper’s slump has been caused by his failure to do two things he did so well in the past: Make contact on pitches outside the zone, and crush fastballs. He is just one month into a 13-year contract, which began with an emotional first few weeks. Harper, if he is able to play to his strengths, will be just fine.  [philly.com]

Life comes at you fast(ball)

Jack Fritz | 94 WIP

The biggest issue for Harper appears to be his inability to hit fastballs. Breen also touched on this, as did some others, but here are some really good numbers comparing Harper's year-to-year stats against fastballs. The scary part is, other teams are well aware of this, and have been loading up on fastballs against Harper. And that won't stop until he proves his slump is over. 

So why is Harper not off to a crazy fast start, you ask? Because Harper is not punishing fastballs at the rates that we’re used to seeing from him. In a time where fastballs are getting crushed, Harper isn’t catching up, and now teams are catching on to the trend.

Opposing pitching staffs are throwing Harper a four-seam fastball 42% of the time, which is a career high, and for good reason -- his numbers against the four-seamer are abysmal.

According to Fangraphs, his numbers against four-seam fastballs this year are this:

.200 AVG/.356 SLG/.701 OPS

During the last two seasons those numbers were:

2017: .355 AVG/.744 SLG/1.206 OPS
2018: .302 AVG/.634 AVG/1.075 OPS

This season he’s swinging and missing on four-seamers 17% of the time, which is a career high, and up from 10% each of the last two years.

Not great.  [94wip.radio.com]

Walk this way

Gabe Lacques | USA TODAY

As we mentioned earlier, Harper has been great at drawing walks again this year. And he also struggled earlier last season before turning it around in the second half. So don't give up on him just yet.

While Harper started out red-hot  – reaching base eight consecutive plate appearances at one point – he has just four hits in his last 29 at-bats, with two home runs.

But Harper has led a Phillies domination of another important category: Walks. He’s drawn an NL-high 23, second only to Mike Trout in the big leagues. Andrew McCutchen, signed to a three-year, $51 million deal three months before Harper’s arrival, ranks second with 22 walks...

It’s not sexy, but it’s increasingly a part of Harper’s profile – along with the game’s general trend lines. Harper’s average was languishing in the .215 range in the first half of his final year in Washington before he rallied to a more respectable .249 mark by year’s end – and also drew an NL-best 130 walks.  [usatoday.com]

Don't call it a comeback

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Let's take a break from the Harper coverage and focus on the pitching staff instead for a minute. Recently, the Phillies sent Nick Pivetta down to the minors after a rough start to the season. Now, he could come back in an entirely different role.

Gabe Kapler mentioned on Tuesday that the 26-year-old righty could land in the Phillies bullpen, although nothing is imminent, according to Jim Salisbury.

“It’s something we’ll consider,” he said.

And given the current state of the bullpen, the Phillies might benefit from some changes. Of course, Pivetta will have to do better than he did in the starting rotation this season.

Pivetta’s demotion has coincided with the Phillies sending a couple of key relievers, David Robertson and Victor Arano, to the injured list. Another key reliever, Tommy Hunter, has been on the injured list all season.

The organizational preference is to still see Pivetta develop into a consistent big-league starter. He’s got the weapons to do that. But he might also be a pretty good bullpen weapon, especially if the Phils' current rotation of Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff holds up.

“I think a good one,” Kapler said when asked what kind of bullpen weapon Pivetta could be.  [nbcsports.com]

Another lefty starter option?

Joe Giglio | NJ.com

According to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, Tigers lefty starter Matthew Boyd could be on the trade block this summer. The Phillies would like to add a lefty to their rotation — like Madison Bumgarner, perhaps — but would they be willing to give up someone like Alec Bohm, as NJ.com's Joe Giglio speculates?

Here’s the latest on the potential Boyd asking price, via The Athletic.

Would the Tigers trade Matthew Boyd? Of course they would — but preferably for a specific target, according to major-league sources: A premium young hitter who would complement the young pitchers rising through their system...

...What the Tigers lack are offensive prospects of similar pedigree. Such players do get traded on occasion; the Padres landed Fernando Tatís Jr. for James Shields and the White Sox acquired Eloy Jiménez for José Quintana. And, for a pitcher with the same amount of remaining control as Boyd, right-hander Chris Archer, the Rays last season obtained outfielder Austin Meadows, righty Tyler Glasnow and top pitching prospect Shane Baz.

Based on that criteria, Alec Bohm, last year’s No. 3 overall pick in the amateur draft, stands out as the name to watch if the Tigers and Phillies talk this season. Bohm, recently promoted from Single-A Lakewood to High-A Clearwater, is a power-hitting third baseman that came into the season ranked No. 56 overall on MLB Pipeline’s list of Top 100 prospects.  [nj.com]


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