|Slumping Harper experiencing rookie woes||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on September 01, 2012
However, since being named to the NL All-Star team, Harper has been mired in a slump. Luckily for the Nats, offense has come from a variety of sources, so Harper’s struggles have not led to losing games.
Photo by Lane 4 Imaging, used under creative commons license.
Harper’s batting average was sitting a .307 in mid-June, but more importantly, he was getting clutch hits for the Nats. Between him and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it seemed a youth infusion was taking over professional baseball.
Harper looked like he would easily cruise to the NL Rookie of the Year title while smashing records for being the youngest player to achieve certain feats. He displayed all five tools that made him such a hyped prospect in the first place.
At age 19, he thoroughly exceeded expectations. Many baseball analysts felt he needed more seasoning, while others thought he should have started opening day for the Nats.
But now, Harper has looked overmatched. His average has fallen to .250, and he’s only driven in 15 runs and stolen three bases since the All-Star break.
Maybe Harper is fatigued from his first extended Major-League action or maybe the pressure of a pennant race is getting to him. But the reason for his struggles is likely that opposing pitchers have figured out his weakness: breaking pitches away.
None of the other teams had scouting reports on him when he arrived, so he was able to make adjustments quickly in putting up big numbers. However, he’s shown that he has trouble with breaking pitches away, so of course opposing pitchers are attacking his weakness.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson offered his perspective on Harper’s slump. He said that Harper thinks he can be a .400 hitter based on his talent, so he’s trying to muscle up to collect hits rather than focusing on just hitting the ball hard and hoping it finds a hole. Johnson said this is common for a young player of his caliber.
The problem with this mentality is that it makes Harper overly aggressive. He’s so conscious of wanting to break out of his slump that he’s pressing at the plate. And even during the course of a game, if he gets out in his first few at-bats, he takes himself out of the game mentally.
Johnson will also explore the option of sitting Harper against left-handed pitchers. Harper started this season on a .366 clip against lefties, but he’s now at just .214. Another Nats rookie outfielder, Tyler Moore, would serve as his platoon partner.
Nats utility man Steve Lombardozzi is on a torrid clip, and Johnson wants to finds way to get him into the lineup consistently. He may spell Harper even against righties, though this would wreak havoc on Harper’s confidence.
Again, the Nationals are still winning games, so it’s not like Harper’s slump is costing them too much. Let the rookie work through this slump now so that when the postseason comes around, he’ll be back on track.
At this point, Rookie of the Year honors seem out of the question. However, a long, productive career from their young star is all the Nats are worried about.