Stats & Info: Bryce Harper

Nationals stumbling a little bit

April, 25, 2014
The Washington Nationals are starting to have a few bumps and stumbles on their way through the 2014 season.

Thursday, those may have hit their peak in a 4-3 12-inning loss to the San Diego Padres.

The Nationals tied a season high with 16 hits, but only managed three runs, the first time they put up such a combination since the 1979 season as the Montreal Expos.

The reason for that: they went 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position, their worst-ever performance in that situation in any game in franchise history.

Since their 7-2 start, the Nationals have lost 9 of 14 games. In their last seven games, they are hitting .215, with a .297 on-base percentage and a .305 slugging percentage. In those eight games, they don’t have any players who have multiple hits with runners in scoring position, with the team being a combined 7 for 63 in that situation.

Three of their best hitters are currently in funks. Ian Desmond is 5 for32 with 11 strikeouts in his last eight games. Jayson Werth is 6 for 31 in that same span. Bryce Harper is 5 for 31 and got caught off second base on Thursday’s game-ending double play.

Though he did go 2 for 5 in this game, Harper’s struggles seem to warrant a closer examination.

Inside the funk
Harper has one home run and five RBI in 76 at-bats this season.

He has apparently cured one of the things that ailed him the last two seasons, as he’s started 7 for 16 against left-handed pitching. But he’s a meager 13 for 60 with three extra-base hits against righthanders.

Righthanders are getting Harper out in bulk on pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s 3 for 28 in at-bats against righties ending on pitches out of the zone. That is a pace of about one such out per game, which would give him upwards of 150 such outs this season. His totals the last two seasons: 90 and 79.

Thus far, Harper’s ability to hit the ball hard has been limited. He’s registered what our hit-tracking system classifies as “hard-hit balls” about half as often against righties as he did in 2013.

Top stats to know: For openers ...

March, 30, 2014

Getty Images, AP PhotoAmong those worth watching on Opening Day are Stephen Strasburg and Albert Pujols.
Three teams have had their Opening Day so far, but the baseball season really gets going Monday with a near-full slate.

Here are some of the statistical storylines we'll be keeping an eye on.

Usually a good day for the Mets
The New York Mets haven’t had a winning record since the 2008 season, but Opening Day is usually a season highlight for them.

The Mets’ 34-18 Opening-Day record is the best of any team.

They’ll face a Washington Nationals team that was picked by 12 experts to win the World Series and that has the consensus favorite for MVP in Bryce Harper (by comparison, none of the experts have the Mets even making the playoffs).

The Nationals will start Stephen Strasburg, who was 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA in five spring-training starts. He’s allowed one run in 14 innings in two previous Opening Day starts.

Cano’s debut comes in best pitching matchup of day
Robinson Cano makes his Seattle Mariners debut in Anaheim (10 p.m. ET on ESPN2) against the Angels.

Cano has contributed 34.3 Wins Above Replacement over the last five seasons, the most in baseball in that span.

Jered Weaver will be charged with stopping Cano, who is 12 for 32 against the Angels ace in his career. Weaver has won his last three Opening Day decisions and has a 1.93 ERA in five Opening-Day starts.

Felix Hernandez has started all but one of those openers for Seattle (this will be his sixth straight). He’s 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA on Opening Day (five of the six starts came against the Oakland Athletics)

The Mariners have won seven straight Opening Day games. With the Diamondbacks losing their opener earlier this season, the Mariners’ Opening Day winning streak is the longest current one in the majors.
Milestone Watch: Most Opening Day HR
Opening Day in Chicago means a matchup of the two teams at the bottom in the AL Central last year with the Twins facing the White Sox.

White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn will be trying to set the major-league record for most Opening-Day home runs. Dunn’s eight are tied for the most all-time with Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr.

In terms of season milestones, the most notable one on the horizon is that Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is eight home runs from 500 for his career.

Pujols would become the fourth player to hit 500 home runs within his first 14 seasons, joining Mark McGwire (522), Alex Rodriguez (518) and Willie Mays (505).

Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Day
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Athletics are the first team to lose nine straight season openers since the Atlanta Braves did from 1972 to 1980. No team has lost 10 straight.

Oakland has been beset by pitching injuries, most notably to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, and will start rookie Sonny Gray, the ninth pitcher to start on Opening Day for the Athletics in the last nine seasons.

Gray, who impressed in last year’s postseason, will be making his 11th career start.

That won’t be the fewest of anyone on Monday. The Rangers, also beset by injuries, will start Tanner Scheppers against the Philadelphia Phillies. Scheppers will be the first pitcher to make his first start in a season opener since Fernando Valenzuela for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers.

Harper both progressing, struggling

September, 1, 2013

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.

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.

Top stats to know: 2013 All-Star Game

July, 16, 2013
The National League and American League will meet in the All-Star Game for the 84th time on Tuesday night at 8 ET. Let's run through some of the notable storylines for this game.

Statistical overview
The NL leads the all-time series 43-38-2 and has won the past three games, but the AL won the previous seven. The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, which is meaningful when you consider that teams with home-field advantage have won 22 of the past 27 World Series.

The NL has claimed both the All-Star Game and the World Series title in each of the past three years. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, should the NL win both again this year, it would tie the record (the NL also did it from 1979 to 1982).

The past five All-Star Games have been relatively low scoring, with the leagues combining for 32 runs. The AL has managed only two runs combined in the past three games, hitting a combined .189.

The NL will try for its longest All-Star Game winning streak since winning 11 straight from 1972 to 1982.

AL lineup: mashers galore
The AL has the advantage on paper in terms of offensive firepower in its starting lineup, with the top two home run hitters in the sport hitting cleanup and third in Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera.

The NL starting lineup features seven batters with .300-or-better batting averages to the AL's six. But the AL has the advantage in home runs, 185-136, featuring six hitters with at least 19 homers this season.

Starting pitching matchup: Scherzer vs. Harvey
The starting pitchers Tuesday night will be Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers and Matt Harvey of the New York Mets.

Harvey, who at 24 will be the youngest pitcher to start the All-Star Game since 23-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1988, will hope to fare better than the last pitcher to start the All-Star Game in his home ballpark. As a member of the Houston Astros, Roger Clemens allowed six runs to the American League in the first inning of the 2004 All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park.

Scherzer has a statistical connection to Clemens as well. He was the first pitcher to start a season 13-0 or better since Clemens did in 1986. Clemens started and won the All-Star Game that year, taking home MVP honors for his three perfect innings en route to a win in the Astrodome.

Harvey (7-2) and Scherzer (13-1) have a combined .870 winning percentage this season. According to Elias, it's the third-highest percentage for opposing starters in an All-Star Game. Randy Johnson and David Wells combined for an .879 winning percentage in 2000, while Johnson and Hideo Nomo had a combined .882 percentage in 1995.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Harvey has 29 career starts on his résumé, the fewest of any All-Star Game starter since Nomo (13) in 1995.

For more on the pitching matchup, check out our post from Monday afternoon.

Rivera’s last All-Star Game
Mariano Rivera was named to his 13th All-Star Game, the second most for any pitcher in major league history, trailing only Warren Spahn’s 17.

Rivera has actually appeared in eight All-Star Games. The only pitcher with more appearances is Clemens with 10.

Rivera has four All-Star Game saves, the most all time (one more than Dennis Eckersley), with his last coming in 2009. Rivera’s All-Star Game ERA is 0.00, with one unearned run allowed in eight innings. The only pitcher with more career All-Star innings and no earned runs allowed is Mel Harder with 13.

Rivera is tied with Derek Jeter and Joe DiMaggio for the third-most selections in Yankees history. Only Mickey Mantle (20) and Yogi Berra (18) have more.

Cespedes' HR slump no factor in Derby

July, 15, 2013

Yoenis Cespedes was the best home run hitter from start to finish in this season’s Home Run Derby.

Cespedes, the first non-All-Star to win the Derby, finished with 32 home runs and beat out Bryce Harper in the finals 9-8.

Here’s a look at some of the statistical highlights from Monday’s competition.

Hot at the right time
Cespedes’ 32 homers tied for third-most in Derby history. His 17 homers in the first round were more than twice as many as any other Derby competitor this year and tied for third-most by anyone in a single round all time. He had more home runs in the first round than any other player did in the first two rounds combined.

Cespedes entered the All-Star break with no home runs in his past 19 games and only two home runs in his past 31 games (both came June 21 against the Seattle Mariners). He’s homered in only three of the past 46 games he’s played since May 22. Cespedes’ current drought is 71 at-bats, which the Elias Sports Bureau notes is the second longest of his career and the longest current drought of any of the contestants this season.

Cespedes was the fourth straight AL player to win and ninth in the past 12 seasons. He’s the first right-handed hitter to win the Derby since Vladimir Guerrero in 2007.

Harper consistent as runner-up
The 20-year-old Harper, the second-youngest entrant ever into the Derby (trailing only Ken Griffey Jr, by 42 days), was trying to become the competition’s youngest winner. Elias tells us that mark is still held by Juan Gonzalez, who won in 1993 at age 23.

Harper hit eight home runs in each of the three rounds, hitting cutters thrown by his father, Ron. Harper is 12-for-29 in at-bats ending with cutters in regular-season games, with a pair of home runs.

No repeat title for Fielder
Prince Fielder was knocked out in the first round after hitting only five home runs, leaving Griffey Jr. as the only player to win the competition in back-to-back years (1998 and 1999). Fielder’s 68 lifetime home runs in the Derby rank third-most all time, trailing Griffey’s 74 and David Ortiz’s 77.

Citi Field no deterrent
If there were concerns that Citi Field was going to keep the home run total down, they proved to be unfounded. The 103 home runs hit in the Derby were 21 more than were hit last year and the most in any Derby since 2008 (105).

Top stats to know: 2013 Home Run Derby

July, 14, 2013
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty ImagesPrince Fielder will try to repeat as Home Run Derby champ.

The 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Monday night on ESPN at Citi Field. History suggests that one of the five left-handed batters in the competition is going to win it.

Seven of the past eight and 14 of the past 17 Home Run Derby winners have been left-handed hitters, including each of the past five: Fielder, Robinson Cano (2011), David Ortiz (2010), Fielder (2009) and Justin Morneau (2008).

Since the first individual competition in 1995, Frank Thomas (1995), Sammy Sosa (2000), Miguel Tejada (2004) and Vladimir Guerrero (2007) are the only righties to win.

Let's take a quick look at each of this year's contestants.

Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Alvarez was a late addition to the Home Run Derby, replacing Carlos Gonzalez. He leads the NL with nine "no-doubt" home runs this season, meaning homers that our video-tracking crew deemed cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet and landed at least 50 feet past the fence.

He's trying to become the first player to win the Derby as a member of the Pirates.

Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
This will be the third straight Home Run Derby for Cano, who went homerless in the 2012 Derby as the competition’s defending champ. Cano was the fifth player in the last 15 years to go homerless for a Derby.

Cano has two home runs in 57 at-bats at Citi Field. Each traveled an estimated 440 feet.

Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
Cespedes will be making his Home Run Derby debut and the best argument for him winning would be in how the ball jumps off his bat upon contact. His average home-run distance and speed-off-the-bat are both best among Derby participants this season.

Cespedes is trying to be the first Athletics player to win the Derby since Mark McGwire in 1992.

Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies
Cuddyer, a childhood friend of NL Derby captain David Wright, is making his first Home Run Derby appearance.

Only 10 of Cuddyer’s 16 home runs this season would have been home runs at Citi Field, the fewest of any player.

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Davis will try to be the first Orioles player to win the Home Run Derby since Miguel Tejada in 2004.

Davis enters the All-Star Break with 37 home runs, tied for the second-most by anyone before the Break. The only player with more was Barry Bonds with 39 home runs in 2001.

Since the individual competition began in 1995, the major-league leader in homers at the break has never won the Derby. Jose Bautista came closest, as runner-up last year.

Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers
Fielder is a two-time Derby winner and the defending Home Run Derby champ.

If Fielder was to win, he’d be the second repeat champ and the second three-time winner, joining Ken Griffey Jr. (1994, 1998, 1999) in both cases.

Fielder’s 63 Derby homers rank fifth-most all-time. He’s 14 behind the all-time leader, David Ortiz.

Fielder's average distance of 396.4 feet and average speed-off-the-bat (102.4 mph) are the lowest for any of the Derby entrants.

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Harper will try to become the first Nationals/Expos player to win the Home Run Derby.

This is Harper’s first major-league Derby, but he made a huge impact in a previous competition, as a 16-year-old using a metal bat at the 2009 High School Power Showcase.

Harper had one six-homer stretch in the competition in which his homers averaged 469 feet and 121 mph off the bat.

His longest homer in regular-season play was a 444-foot shot against the Miami Marlins last September.

David Wright, New York Mets
Wright will try to become the first Mets player to win the Home Run Derby (he was runner-up in 2006) and the first to win it in his home ballpark under the current Derby rules.

Wright enters with only three home runs in 159 at-bats at Citi Field this season. Since the ballpark opened in 2009, he's hit 37 homers at home and 50 on the road.

Here's a look at the home-run spray charts for Wright and the other entrants in this year's competition:

5 stats to know: Nationals at Phillies

July, 8, 2013

Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesDan Haren looks for his 1st win since May 9 when he takes on the Phillies tonight.
The Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies open a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park at 7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN. Here are five stats that will surely be talked about tonight on tonight's telecast.

1. Bryce Harper is starting to heat up after coming off the DL on July 1. He is 4-for-6 with four RBI in the last two games after going 1-for-19 in his first five games back. He has hits in all three games against the Phillies this season.

2. The Nationals are 13-10 against left-handed starters this season, but the offense has struggled against southpaws.

Washington hitters have a .218 batting average and .626 OPS against lefties, both the lowest in the majors.

The acquisition of Scott Hairston from the Cubs on Sunday should help; he has a .818 career OPS against southpaws.

3. Dan Haren will be activated off the DL for the Nationals and take the place of Ross Detwiler (who was placed on the DL).

Haren hasn’t won since May 9, and with a loss, he would be the fifth 10-game loser in the National League.

Over his last eight starts, Haren is 0-6 with a 7.01 ERA. He has allowed at least one home run in 11 of his 15 starts this season. His 19 homers allowed are tied for the second-most in the majors (Jeremy Guthrie has allowed 20).

Eleven of the 19 home runs Haren has allowed this season have come off his slider, one of his best out pitches during his three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

4. Domonic Brown is second in the NL with 23 home runs, 20 of them coming since the calendar flipped to May (most in the National League).

Brown has been especially productive at home. He leads the majors with home runs on 34% of his flyballs at home; compared to only 15% away from Citizens Bank Park.

5. For the second straight season, the Phillies placed Ryan Howard in the DL. After playing at least 140 games every year from 2006 to 2011, he’s played only 151 games over the last two years combined.

Howard signed a 5-year, $125-million contract in 2010 that runs through 2016 (with a club option in 2017). As for platooning, Howard has hit below .200 against left-handed pitchers in each of the last two seasons.

Top stats to know: Selection storylines

July, 6, 2013
Let’s take a look at some of the notable storylines from All-Star Selection Saturday as both leagues announced their rosters for the Midsummer Classic.

Youngsters take center stage
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was elected as an NL starter and will be the youngest player to start for the National League. Harper will be the first position player to play in two All-Star Games before turning 21.

In the American League, Mike Trout will be the youngest player in Angels history to start an All-Star Game.

His AL teammate, Manny Machado, would be the second-youngest infielder to play in an All-Star Game (a mark currently held by Alex Rodriguez) and the youngest third baseman (a distinction currently held by none other than Albert Pujols)

On Saturday, Machado hit his 39th double of the season. He’s one away from becoming the second player to hit at least 40 doubles before the All-Star Break, joining Edgar Martinez, who hit 42 for the Seattle Mariners in 1996.

There will also be a considerable amount of youth (and inexperience) on the pitching staffs. The two rosters have 19 pitchers who were selected to either their first or second All-Star Game.

There are 30 first-time All-Stars with the potential for a few more based on the Final Vote and injury replacements. The most in any season was the 35 in 2011.

Mariano’s final bow
Mariano Rivera was named to his 13th All-Star Game, the second-most of any pitcher in major-league history, trailing only Warren Spahn’s 17.

Rivera is tied with Derek Jeter and Joe DiMaggio for the third-most selections in Yankees history. Only Mickey Mantle (20) and Yogi Berra (18) have more.

Rivera earned his 29th save on Saturday. That’s tied for his second-most before the All-Star Break, his most since he had 32 in 2004.

Puig’s potential appearance
The NL Final Man vote figures to be a major story the next few days, with Yasiel Puig on the ballot.
Yasiel Puig
Though some such as Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon scoff at Puig’s candidacy, it should be noted that entering Saturday he was tied with Freddie Freeman for the second-most Wins Above Replacment (2.3) of the Final Vote candidates. The only one higher was slightly so—Ian Desmond with 2.7.

Who won’t be there
The All-Star Game will have a veteran presence, but among those who won’t be there …

The top five active leaders in home runs- Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Jason Giambi, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. In fact, the only player in the top 10 among active players in homers who will be at the game is David Ortiz.

Nor will any of the top 10 active players in hits. Carlos Beltran will be the hits leader among current All-Stars. He’ll be the only one there with at least 2,000.

And only one pitcher with more than 135 career wins will be at Citi Field—Bartolo Colon, who entered Saturday with 182, 47 more than the NL’s top winner, Cliff Lee.

Harper pacing NL in OPS thanks to hot start

April, 29, 2013

Chuck Myers/Getty ImagesBryce Harper looks to continue his hot start on Monday night against the Braves.
The Atlanta Braves host the Washington Nationals at 7:00 ET tonight on ESPN. The Braves won the first three meetings between the teams this season, outscoring the Nationals 18-5 in the process. Among those three wins was a victory over Monday’s starter Stephen Strasburg, the second of what’s turned into a four-game losing streak for Strasburg overall.

After their great start to the season, the Braves have also hit a rough patch of late. Atlanta started an MLB-best 12-1, but has gone 3-8 since and is currently riding a four-game losing streak after being swept against the Detroit Tigers over the weekend.

So what can we expect on Monday night? Let’s run through some notes to know:


Bryce Harper currently leads the big leagues in OPS (1.200) with two games to play in April. At 20 years old, he could become the youngest player to lead MLB in OPS through April since 1965 when Ed Kranepool of the Mets also did so at age 20 (1.161).

Harper had just one hit in 10 at-bats against the Braves in their series earlier this month, but his five career home runs against Atlanta are tied for his second-most against a single team. He has six career homers against the Marlins.


Across the diamond, Braves outfielder Justin Upton is third in the big leagues in OPS at 1.171 and he leads all of baseball with 12 home runs. He’s the sixth player in major-league history to hit at least 12 homers during the month of April and he’s just two shy of the April record shared by Alex Rodriguez (2007) and Albert Pujols (2006).

Since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Upton’s April is one of five months in which a Brave has hit at least 12 HR and marks the most any Brave has had during the month of April.


(Read full post)

Harper, Upton, Stanton play to strengths

April, 27, 2013
Let’s go inside the longball and summarize some of our best notes on the day’s most notable homer-hitters.

Harper and Ott … expect that a lot
Bryce Harper’s ninth home run came in the Nationals 24th team game. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the only player under age 21 to hit more home runs than that within his team's first 24 games is Hall of Famer Mel Ott, who had 10 for the 1929 Giants.

Harper has played in 23 of the Nationals 24 games. It took Harper 75 games played to hit his ninth home run last season.

Harper now has 31 home runs for his career, just over halfway to Ott’s total of 61, which ranks as the most for someone before they turned 21.

What has led to Harper’s success this season? Dominance of the inner half of the plate has been a big part of it. He’s 16-for-32 in at-bats that end with pitches on the inner-half of the plate, or off the inside corner.

Harper’s home run on Saturday came on a pitch knee-high, on the inside corner. Seven of his home runs this season came on inner-half pitches. He had nine such home runs last season.

Justin Upton keeps pace
Justin Upton hit a 423-foot home run in the Atlanta Braves loss to the Detroit Tigers.

That basically matched Upton’s average homer distance for the season, a major-league best 423.5 feet

All 12 of Upton's home runs have measured at least 400 feet.

Upton is two home runs shy for the major-league record for the most by the end of April. Albert Pujols set the mark with 14 for the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals and Alex Rodriguez tied that with 14 the following season for the New York Yankees.

Upton’s success has come against pitches in the lower-half of the strike zone, or below the knees. Saturday’s homer was his 10th against a lower-half pitch. He had a dozen home runs against pitches to that area last season.

Stanton finally hits one out
Giancarlo Stanton’s first home run of the season came in the Miami Marlins 18th game of the season and was a prodigious blast, calculated at 440 feet by ESPN Home Run Tracker.

Stanton has nine home runs of at least 440 feet since the start of 2012, tied with Miguel Cabrera for most in the majors.

It actually took Stanton longer to hit his first home run last season (20 games). The homer was only his second extra-base hit in his last 59 plate appearances.

Stanton homered against an inner-half pitch, something he did 21 times last season. He averaged a homer for every 42 pitches to that area last season. He has one in 153 inner-half pitches this season.

Stanton’s biggest issue this season is that he hasn’t gotten many pitches to hit. As a result, similar to past seasons, he’s extended his swing area a bit. That’s gotten him into trouble. He’s made 29 outs this season against pitches out of the strike zone, tied for eighth-most in the majors.

Matchup of the day: Harvey vs Harper

April, 19, 2013
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesA reaction of frustration is just what Matt Harvey will be looking for from Bryce Harper on Friday.

Matt Harvey has said that he is keyed up knowing that he’s matched up against Stephen Strasburg.

But let’s not forget that he has to pitch against the Nationals lineup. And the hitter who provides the most interesting matchup is Bryce Harper.

The 20-year-old Harper is 20-for-55 (.364) this season with a 1.089 OPS, five home runs and 11 runs batted in. His signatures on what could be the start of an MVP campaign are home runs in his first two at-bats of the season, and a 4-for-5 on Wednesday against the Marlins on a day in which he was sick and needed an IV prior to the game.

Harper had a very good 2012 against the Mets, hitting .295 with three home runs, beat them with a 12th-inning walk-off hit in his debut against them, and had a four-hit game against them.

But the last time Harper faced the Mets – last September 12 - he struggled, going 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.

The Mets starter that day was Harvey.

Harper took nine swings in three turns against Harvey, fouling off five, missing three (including a changeup for one of two strikeouts), and flying out softly to left field on the one he was able to put into play. That happened to be the slowest of the six fastballs Harvey threw to him (93 miles-per-hour).

The holes in Harper’s game are hard to find, but one is that he (like many other hitters) has not yet established himself against some of the game’s hardest throwers -- the guys in Harvey’s class.

Harper has faced 18 right-handed pitchers whose average fastball over the last two seasons reached at least 94 miles-per-hour.

Basically, this is a group of the hardest-throwing relievers, mixed with starters who fit Harvey’s velocity profile, like the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija and the Brewers' Wily Peralta.

If we include postseason play, Harper is 2-for-33 with 14 strikeouts and no walks against that group since his career began.

He came up empty on 27 of the 77 swings he took, a 35 percent miss rate that was more than 10 percentage points higher than his miss rate against other pitchers. He couldn’t catch up to the fastball and was vulnerable to the varied offspeed offerings that came his way.

If you talk to any major-league manager about matchups, they’ll always tell you that they tell their pitchers to stick to their strength and not worry about anything else.

In Harvey’s case, that would be sound advice, since Harper hasn’t proven up to this sort of challenge just yet.

Youth serves Harper well on Opening Day

April, 1, 2013
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Bryce Harper's home runs came in the first and fourth innings, both off Ricky Nolasco.

It's hard to make as immediate of an impact on a season as Bryce Harper did with home runs in his first two at-bats on Monday.

In doing so, Harper became the youngest player in MLB history with a multi-home run game in his team's Opening Day. That honor previously belonged to Don Money, a Philadelphia Phillies shortstop who in 1969 went deep twice off Ferguson Jenkins.

But what about doing it in his first two at-bats? The Elias Sports Bureau helped inform us that Harper became the first player in Nationals/Expos franchise history with home runs in his first two at-bats of the season, regardless of age. The only other players in franchise history to hit a pair of home runs on Opening Day in any at-bats were Vladimir Guerrero (2000) and Al Oliver (1983).

The home runs were a necessity, not a luxury, since they accounted for the only runs of the game in a 2-0 win. That made Harper just the third player in the live-ball era to have two home runs in an Opening Day game where his team only scored two runs.

And the others both lost.

They were Luis Gonzalez for the Diamondbacks in 2004, and Joe Torre for the Braves in 1966.

More tidbits from the afternoon action on Opening Day...

• Edinson Volquez gave up six runs to the Mets and was pulled after recording just nine outs.
Edinson Volquez

Five of the last six seasons have seen exactly one opening-day starter not record more than 9 outs. Last year's distinction went to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. In 2011 it was the Indians' Roberto Hernandez and Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs did it in 2010.

In franchise history, the only other Padres starter to get 9 outs or fewer on Opening Day was Andy Ashby, who allowed eight hits and six runs to the Rockies in the first inning on April 4, 1999.

• The New York Mets Collin Cowgill hit a grand slam in the seventh inning, joining Todd Hundley as the only Mets players with Opening Day grand slams in franchise history.

Cowgill also become the first Mets player to hit a grand slam while batting first in the lineup since Angel Pagan on Aug. 1, 2009.

• The Yankees' 8-2 loss was their first home loss on Opening Day since 1982. They'd won 11 straight such games.

Plus, in every Opening Day game since 1999 the Yankees had scored at least two runs. Monday was the first time they were held to two runs or fewer on Opening Day since a 4-1 loss to the Angels in 1998. Andy Pettitte was the Yankees Opening Day starter that year.

• Finally, no one homered in the Red Sox-Yankees game this afternoon. Since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, that has happened only three other times in 72 games between the teams, all at Fenway Park.

Stats where Harper and Trout can improve

March, 25, 2013

What’s one area of potential statistical improvement for both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout?

Let’s take a look at what the pitch-performance data shows.

Bryce Harper: Performance vs Breaking Ball Away
Through much of last season, Harper had issues against a specific type of pitch: breaking balls on the outer-half of the plate, or off the outside corner.

Harper had really good numbers when he made contact with that pitch, but making contact was an issue.

He missed on 43 percent of his swings against curves and sliders to that location (the major-league average for non-pitchers was 33 percent) and put only 31 percent of them in play (MLB average was 41 percent). Both of those ranked in the bottom 16 among the 144 hitters who qualified for the batting title last season.

Until he proves that he can hit them, Harper will likely see breaking balls to that area. Last season, Harper saw among the lowest rates of fastballs in the majors (53 percent if you include sinkers, splitters and cutters) and a top-20 rate of breaking pitches (32 percent).

Mike Trout: vs Left-Handed Pitching
It’s hard to find areas of improvement for someone who was a 10-win player per the Wins Above Replacement stat last season, but here’s one area where Trout may still be developing: his performance against left-handed pitching.

Trout hit .267 against lefties last season, with a .368 on-base percentage and .493 slugging percentage (.862 OPS). Those numbers, while not bad, are not the dominant ones you would expect from someone with numbers like Trout.

The batting average, in particular, ranked below average for a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching. It was the lowest among the eight AL righties who hit at least .300 (though only two points below Adrian Beltre).

Inside Edge tracks a stat called "hard-hit rate" which reflects how often a batter hits the ball hard. Trout had a well-hit ball in 27 percent of his at-bats against righties, the 12th-best rate in the majors (out of 144). His 18 percent rate against lefties ranked 101st.

Even taking strikeouts out of the mix and Trout’s hard-hit rate against lefties is 24 percent, well short of his 36 percent rate against righties.

How did lefties get Trout out? The pitch he had the most issues with from a statistical perspective were fastballs (excluding cutters, sinkers and splitters).

Trout missed on 19 percent of swings against fastballs, a little bit above the major-league rate of 16 percent, and his 32 percent in-play rate was below the big-league average of 43 percent.

This was also a way to keep Trout in the ballpark. He saw 451 fastballs from lefties and hit only one home run.

Top stats to know: Washington Nationals

March, 5, 2013

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesDespite starting 2012 as a teenager, Bryce Harper improved dramatically by the end of his rookie season.
Baseball Tonight will be at Washington Nationals camp on Tuesday afternoon. The Nationals are the consensus National League favorite, returning much of their team from a 98-win season.

Let’s look at some stats to know on this team.

90 has been tough to duplicate
The Expos/Nationals franchise has won 90 or more games in consecutive seasons only once -- the 1979 and 1980 seasons.

The Nationals haven't even strung together consecutive winning seasons since 2002 and 2003.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the Nationals are the fourth team since 2002 to be eliminated from the postseason by losing a game in which they led in the ninth inning or later. The previous three teams -- 2005 Atlanta Braves, 2009 Boston Red Sox and 2009 Colorado Rockies -- declined by an average of nine games in win-loss record the following season. None of the three made the postseason.

Harper no longer a teen
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had a historic season by teenager standards, netting 5.0 Wins Above Replacement.

That’s the highest total by any player in an age-19-or-younger season (age as of June 30) in baseball’s modern era (since 1900).

Harper, who turned 20 last October, ended the 2012 regular season on a tear.

Over his last 34 games, Harper hit .341 with 10 home runs in 126 at-bats and increased his average fly-ball distance from 281 feet (prior to that) to 304 feet (the rest of the season).

Harper’s 1.098 OPS in that span ranked best in the National League.

He also showed an ability to make adjustments. On breaking balls on the outer half of the plate, Harper hit .225 in the first four months of the season with just three home runs and a strikeout rate of 27.1 percent. In August and September, Harper hit .313 with a .914 OPS, four home runs and a strikeout rate of 17 percent.

Strasburg unleashed
Stephen Strasburg should have the freedom to go deeper into the season after being shut down last September with 159⅓ innings pitched.

Strasburg allowed 10 runs in 14 innings in his last three starts, but was brilliant throughout the season, posting a 3.16 ERA and averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Strasburg’s overpowering fastball was complemented by nasty off-speed stuff, getting a 46 percent miss rate on his curve, slider and changeup. That was the second best of any starting pitcher in the majors, trailing only Cole Hamels of the Phillies.

Notable acquisition: Denard Span
The Nationals made a trade with the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Denard Span, whose 4.8 Wins Above Replacement ranked ninth-best among AL position players last season.

Much of Span’s value last season came from his defensive play, ranking third among major-league outfielders with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.

Notable acquisition: Rafael Soriano
The Nationals added to an area that was already a team strength by signing Rafael Soriano. Last season, Washington’s bullpen ranked eighth in ERA and seventh in opponents’ batting average.

However, Washington’s bullpen was taxed quite a bit last season. Nationals relievers threw 515⅓ innings last season, second-most in the National League.

Soriano excelled at escaping trouble as the New York Yankees' closer for much of last season. Opponents were 4-for-50 (with nine walks) with two outs and men on base against him.

That .080 batting average rated best in baseball.

The year in MLB heat maps

December, 31, 2012
With 2012 about to come to a close, we thought we'd take one more look at the baseball season.

We'll do so both in words and with heat maps-- visual images that may bring back a memory, or tell you something about the greatness of a particular moment or performances.

The Year of the Triple Crown

Miguel Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown. He produced one of the most memorable baseball seasons in recent memory.

Cabrera helped the Detroit Tigers all the way to the World Series, by outhitting and outsluggling everyone in his path.

He solidified his finish and the Tigers pennant hopes by hitting .333 with 11 home runs and 30 runs batted in in September/October.

Cabrera would go on to win the AL MVP in a much-discussed resounding victory.

The Year Buster Posey Returned

Sidelined for a good portion of 2011, Buster Posey returned to form in the latter part of 2012 to cop MVP honors and help the San Francisco Giants to the World Series.

Posey hit .385 after the All-Star Break, a batting average 35 points better than anyone else in the majors and a number topped only three times in Giants history.

The Giants have won two World Series in three seasons with Posey as of their most important figures. He's establishing very early in his career that he'll be a player not to be forgotten.

The Year of Trout

Mike Trout lived up to his billing as one of baseball's most touted prospects. It didn't take long before he was the best player in the game.

Trout was a five-tool player who seemed like he could do almost anything at bat or in the field.

He hit .326 and finished one stolen base shy of a 30-homer/50 steal season.

He also robbed four players of home runs with his running, leaping catches at the fence.

...and Harper
Bryce Harper had some weaknesses in his game, but improved significantly upon those in helping the Washington Nationals to the NL East title.

Harper showed he would not be intimidated by stealing home after Cole Hamels hit him with a pitch.

His numbers in the season's final month were among baseball's best.

The AL and NL Rookies of the Year showed the ability that has many thinking they’ll be two of the biggest stars of this generation.

Each brought an intensity and skill that wowed fans of all ages.

The Year of Josh Hamilton's Extremes

Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton looked like he was going to be the one contending for the Triple Crown in the early part of the season.

In his first 27 games, he hit .406 with 14 home runs and 36 RBI, capped by a four-homer game against the Baltimore Orioles.

What was most interesting about those four homers is that they came against pitches on the outer-third of the plate.

Those same pitches would give him quite a bit of trouble later in the season.

As good as Hamilton was early in the season, he struggled almost as much in the year's final weeks.

In his last 26 games (including the one-game playoff against those same Orioles), Hamilton struck out 39 times and missed on 45 percent of his swings.

Pitchers took advantage of his overeagerness repeatedly getting him to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

Hamilton went 2-for-17 in his last four games, a rough end to his Rangers career.

But his greatness was still enough to net him five years and $123 million from the Angels this offseason.

The Year of Perfection

There were a major-league record three perfect games in 2012, thrown by Philip Humber, Matt Cain, and Felix Hernandez.

Humber's was special for its unlikely nature. His 11 wins entering his perfecto start were the second-fewest by anyone at the time of their perfect game.

Cain's was magical, remembered both for his strikeout total (14, tying Sandy Koufax's record for strikeouts in a perfect game) and the great defensive play by Gregor Blanco to save it.

Hernandez's was great because of his dominance with both his fastball and his offspeed pitches. All 12 of his strikeouts came with his offspeed stuff.

The Year of the Knuckleball

New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey brought the knuckleball to new heights in 2012.

Dickey found a way to command and dominate with a pitch that baffled opposing hitters.

Dickey resorted to a few new tricks, throwing it a little harder than usual and a little higher than usual.

The image at right shows Dickey’s success vs lefties. He whiffed as many in 2012 (110) as he did in 2010 and 2011 combined.

He finished with 230 strikeouts in all, becoming the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award.

The Year the Orioles Flew High

No one figured on the Baltimore Orioles making the postseason in 2012, but this overachieving group put together one of the more improbable runs on its way to winning a wild card spot.

Buoyed by timely hitting and a great bullpen, the Orioles won 16 straight extra-inning games.

The Orioles didn't have anyone who ranked among baseball's best in Wins Above Replacement, but their sum was greater than their parts.

Adam Jones epitomized Baltimore’s late-game magic by smacking four game-winning extra-inning homers.

The Orioles outlasted the Rays and challenged the Yankees for the AL East title, then took New York to five games in the ALDS.

The Year of the Unlikely Athletics

After a major offseason overhaul, the 2012 Oakland Athletics roster was comprised of a cast of unlikely standouts, who somehow knocked off the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels to win the AL West.

Grant Balfour was among many who achieved beyond their usual means and had a little something left at season’s end. He closed the season with seven saves and a win in his last 10 appearances.

Lefties hit .157 against Balfour in 2012. The last 13 to face him were retired.

The Year of the Scutaro

Marco Scutaro was an afterthought to many in baseball after the Giants picked him up late in the season, but he’d be anything but an afterthought the rest of the way.

Scutaro hit .362 in the final 61 games of the regular season. Then, after nearly being taken out of the series on a hard slide from Matt Holliday, he bounced back up and finished as NLCS MVP with a .500 batting average.

To cap off the amazing end to the season, Scutaro got the winning hit for the Giants in extra innings in their World Series-clinching win against the Tigers.