Harper both progressing, struggling

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
1:45
PM ET

It has been a rough series for Bryce Harper, as he was caught not hustling on a ground ball, then got thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple facing a nine-run deficit in the Washington Nationals' losses to the New York Mets in the first two games of the series.

The teams meet again on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 ET on ESPN2. Here are some of the things our announcing team will be talking about with regard to Harper’s second season.

Power at a young age
Harper has 41 career homers, the third most of anyone before turning 21. He’s likely to end up third, since he turns 21 at season’s end, and trails Tony Conigliaro by 15 homers and Mel Ott by 20.

He can match Conigliaro as the only players to hit 20 homers in a season twice before turning 21 with one more home run.

Harper’s batted-ball profile has changed slightly. He’s more of a pull hitter when he hits the ball on the ground. He’s also hit the ball in the air to center with a little more muscle. Last season, he hit 61 balls in the air to center, with four homers. This season, he’s already matched the four homers with 45 balls hit in the air.

All-righty!
Harper’s numbers against right-handed pitching are at an elite level.

His batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line against right-handed pitching is .314/.404/.603, up from .286/.360/.509 in 2012.

Harper has more homers against right-handed pitching (17) than he did all of last season (16).

What still needs work?
Harper’s numbers against lefties have come down from last season, in two of the three slash-line stats, with on-base percentage being the exception. He’s having a hard time hitting off-speed pitches from lefties, as the chart on the right notes.

Pitchers are throwing Harper fewer strikes this season, not giving him a chance to beat them when there are runners in scoring position.

The strikes lefties are throwing him, he’s not hitting well. He’s had a hard-hit ball in only 10 percent of his at-bats against lefties, down from 17 percent a season ago.

Harper will see a tough lefty in Jonathon Niese on Sunday night. Lefties are 2-for-20 against Niese in his past three starts.

Less defensive impact
Harper has not quite had the defensive impact he had a season ago. Last season, playing primarily center field and right field, Harper had 14 defensive runs saved. This season, limited mostly to left field since returning from an injury that cost him all of June, Harper’s contributed three defensive runs saved.

One of the reasons for that is that Harper rated above-average in center last season at getting to balls hit to both the deepest and shallowest parts of the outfield. He rates at or below average doing so in left field.

Looking ahead to September
The end of the regular season was when Harper shined brightest, hitting .330 with seven home runs in his final 31 games, including nine hits in 25 at-bats against left-handed pitching.

That year, the Nationals were playing from in front of the other National League teams. This season, they’re 7 games off the wild-card pace and not helping themselves with the way they’ve played the past two days. We'll find out what Harper has in store this September beginning Sunday night.

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