How do you defend against Bryce Harper?

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
10:40
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper showed no signs of wearing down from the rigors of a major-league schedule. If anything, he showed that he’s made the adjustments necessary to be a star at this time of the season.

So heading into the postseason, how do you defend Harper?

Where do righties have the most success?
Righties had success against Harper when they threw fastballs knee-high over the middle of the plate, and to the outside corner, and when Harper was willing to chase an offspeed pitch below the knees.

Harper went 0-for-7 against Jason Hammel, who got Harper out by throwing pitches to the outer-third of the plate or off the corner 68 percent of the time.

He made six outs without getting a hit against Trevor Cahill, who threw 17 of 27 pitches to Harper knee-high or below. Five of the outs came on pitches in the lower-half of the strike zone.

Where do lefties have the most success?
Harper had a brutal slump against lefties after the All-Star Break, but rebounded a bit at season’s end.

The one part of the plate that Harper is able to cover against a lefty is middle-in. Most other areas are weaknesses. His 55 percent miss rate against offspeed pitches on the outer-half of the plate and off the outside corner ranked among the worst in baseball.

Phillies lefty specialist Antonio Bastardo had the right formula for getting Harper out.

He threw Harper sliders two-thirds of the time and threw more than 70 percent of his pitches to the outer-third or off the corner. He struck Harper out six times, all on pitches outer-half or off the corner, before Harper finally got him for a triple in their final meeting of the season.

How should the infield defend Harper?
Some teams shifted against Harper early in his career, but that dissipated as Harper showed he could spray the ball around the diamond.

The one type of shift or defensive adjustment he may see is this:

Against left-handed pitching, Harper almost never hits the ball down the third base line (four times on his first 58 grounders), so you might see both infielders on that side of the infield cheat towards second base.

How should the outfield defend Harper?
Harper hits line drives into the outfield with about equal opportunity to the left and right sides. But his fly balls are almost twice as likely to go to left field and left center than to right field/right center. The left fielder won’t want to give up the line—Harper hit more line drives down the left field line than any other Nationals hitter.

Though a left fielder can play at a fairly normal depth against Harper, the right fielder is going to want to play him deep.

When Harper hits one to right, he tends to drive it like few others in baseball. The average distance when he hits a ball in the air to right or right center is 323 feet, among the furthest in the majors.

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