Among the many ways Bryce Harper has made an impression on the major leagues in two months, the most stunning could be this: You can reasonably say Harper, at 19 years old, has been pitched to with more care than any hitter in the majors other than Josh Hamilton.
Data compiled by FanGraphs.com shows that the majority of pitches Harper sees are either out of the strike zone, offspeed pitches or both. Opposing pitchers are not throwing the youngest player in the league many good pitches to hit.
In his 250 plate appearances this season, Harper has been thrown a fastball 46.3 percent of the time, the third-lowest rate in the majors. Only Alfonso Soriano and Hamilton see fewer fastballs than Harper, and only eight other major league hitters have been pitched fewer fastballs than offspeed pitches.
Harper has also seen far more balls than strikes: 38.3 percent of the pitches he’s seen have been inside the strike zone. Only Hamilton and Lucas Duda have been thrown pitches outside the zone with greater frequency.
The combination of breaking pitches and balls becomes more startling when you consider how the majors’ other high-profile rookie has been pitched. Mike Trout has seen fastballs 65.6 percent of the time – the fourth-highest rate in the league. He has been thrown pitches inside the zone 47.6 percent of the time, which lumps him in the middle of the pack.
How has Harper responded to the cautious way he has been pitched to? He swings at 36.4 percent of pitches outside the zone, which is 24th most in the majors – not bad for a hitter as aggressive as he is who is seeing so many balls.
His plate discipline has been streaky. From May 13 to June 13, Harper drew 14 walks in 122 plate appearances. Since, Harper has drawn five walks in 68 plate appearances. At the end of last week, in Denver, Harper addressed the issue.
“It’s a little tough right now,” he said. “But I’ll grow and I’ll get older, and they won’t be able to do that anymore. I’ll take my walks. The past two weeks, it’s been a little rough. I’ll get it going.”
This is not surprising if you’ve watched him hit, but Harper is also incredibly aggressive when he sees a strike. Harper has swung at 76 percent of the balls inside the strike zone, sixth-most in the majors.
Harper’s dearth of strikes to hit is also surprising partly because Ryan Zimmerman hits behind him. Zimmerman struggled for the majority of the season, and perhaps Zimmerman’s recent surge will help Harper see more and better pitches to hit. Zimmerman is 14 for 37 with three homers and four doubles in eight games since receiving a cortisone shot in his aching shoulder.
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