Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper...trouble with the fastball?

Jack Fritz
April 30, 2019 - 11:52 am

Bryce Harper has gotten off to a bit of an odd start in the first year of a thirteen year contract with the Phillies.

He’s striking out at a higher rate than he ever has in his career. He’s popped 6 home runs (with the lowest launch angle of his career) and he leads the NL in walks. He’s also hitting the ball the hardest he’s hit it since his MVP campaign in 2015. It’s been a season of extremes so far for Harper.

No, Harper isn’t lighting the world on fire, but even so, he’s been a productive offensive piece one month into his tenure with the Phillies.

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.

One of the areas Harper is particularly struggling in is against fastballs that are 95 MPH or higher.

In years past, Harper punished these pitches. But so far this year, he’s not catching up to the heat.

Harper’s slugging percentage against 95 MPH or harder in 2018 was .714, which ranked him third in all of baseball and in the 98th percentile. This season, per, he’s slugging just.278 against 95+, which puts him in 35th percentile.  

That’s a major drop off and a major reason why Harper’s semi-struggling so far in 2019. He used to punish those pitches and so far this season, he’s not.

This will become a problem sooner rather than later if Harper can’t figure out the heat.

Why? Because in this day-in-age, everyone throws 95 MPH+ and if Harper can’t catch up to it-- teams are going to bury him.

For Harper to become the offensive player we dreamed he would be after signing him to that thirteen year contract he needs to figure out his problems against fastballs.

Could a portion of this be attributed to missing a month of Spring Training? Yes, definitely. He certainly wasn’t hitting high speeds while training back in Las Vegas waiting to get signed.

Getting your timing down on 95+ isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

He should get a pass on the first month of the season, but Harper and his issues with the fastball are certainly something to monitor in the coming months.