Perhaps the contract year pressures are taking up too much space in Bryce Harper’s head.
The Washington Nationals’ star outfielder, who is projected to garner a contract worth north of $300 million as a 25-year-old free agent this upcoming winter, has struggled mightily at the plate this season. And for the teams intending to offer Harper a large sum of money during the offseason, there’s a reasonable cause for concern.
In 68 games (240 at-bats), Harper has a career-low .217 batting average and .212 BABIP. Since 2014, his current strikeout percentage (23.4) has never been higher, and his current on-base percentage (.355) has never been lower. At this point last season, Harper was hitting .318, and as the 2015 National League MVP, he hit .330.
Although Harper leads the NL in home runs (19) and walks (48), the first half to his campaign has been awfully sour.
So, why isn’t he living up to his status as a generational talent?
Kevin Long, the former Yankees’ hitting coach (2007-14) who now holds the same job with the Nationals, recently discussed the hitting woes hampering Harper with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic:
There are other issues that go along with it. Certainly when you see your average start to tumble, you’re trying real hard. He starts expanding. He tries harder and really, really expands the zone. He’s gotta stay in the strike zone, bottom line. When he swings at good pitches, he’s deadly.
That’s part of it. Part of it, too, is he wants to hit home runs. And when you want to hit home runs, instead of just squaring the ball up, it’s a hard thing to do. But when he squares the ball up, mostly he hasn’t gotten any love, nothing. When you’re hitting .213 on balls in play, it’s hard to do — almost impossible, especially as hard as he hits the ball.
He is jumping a little bit more, getting really low in his load, which causes him to jump up and get out of his swing. He’s working on that. There are some things he can do better mechanically. But at the end of the day, his swing is what it is. He’s had that swing his whole career.
(The results) are going to change. Right now, we’re in a really good spot as a team. He knows that, and that’s helping him. I’ve got to believe he’s probably going to end up around .270 at the end of the year. He believes it. I believe it.
The way he works . . . he hit early both days at Yankee Stadium. He hit on an off-day. The will is there. He wants to be great. He wants to be the best. He does everything he can to do that. When you have that kind of work ethic, it will turn around.
Harper and the Nationals (37-31) will host the Yankees (46-21) in a one-and-a-half game doubleheader in D.C. on Monday night. Game 1 will start with the score tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the sixth inning.