2022 Fantasy Baseball: Bryce Harper in a Slump

by Yeon Lee
2022 Fantasy Baseball: Bryce Harper Slump

Welcome to this week's sabermetrics deep-dive article, 2022 Fantasy Baseball: Bryce Harper in a Slump.

Harper has been an elite hitter ever since he debuted. He hits for average with power, he can take walks, and he has always been worth your draft pick in the early round.

However, he looks a bit different this season even though it's still April. He's hitting .246 /.308 /.478 with three home runs. His BB% is 7.7%, which is a career-low number.

Is there something behind his struggle? Let's see what's caused his slump.

2022 Fantasy Baseball: 2022 Fantasy Baseball: Bryce Harper in a Slump

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It All Started From Spring Camp

Before we dive into the deeper stats, here's a study about the correlation between spring camp stats and regular season stats. The bottom line of the study is that peripheral stats such as plate discipline can be a predictive indicator.

In the 2022 Cactus League, Harper hit eight home runs in 13 games, but his worsened plate discipline got overshadowed by his outstanding performance. His K% was 37.1% while BB% was only 6%. Harper has been a patient hitter, but for some reason this summer, he seemed to be in love with swinging.

More Aggressive, Less Selective

Unfortunately, the trend still continues. His K% is 27.1%, which is also a career-high. it increased by 4.7% compared to the last year.

If you take a look at his plate discipline numbers a little more deeply, it looks obvious that 2022 Harper is different from his past self.

Bryce Harper Plate Discipline

SeasonTeamO-Swing%Z-Swing%Swing%O-Contact%Z-Contact%Contact%Zone%F-Strike%SwStr%CStr%CSW%
2012WSH34.5%74.6%49.8%63.1%86.0%76.2%38.2%59.0%11.8%11.7%23.5%
2013WSH33.2%74.8%48.4%65.6%86.1%77.2%36.6%57.5%11.0%11.4%22.4%
2014WSH35.4%75.5%50.9%59.0%82.9%72.7%38.6%61.0%13.8%12.4%26.2%
2015WSH27.6%72.5%44.7%60.9%84.4%75.4%38.0%54.6%10.8%11.8%22.6%
2016WSH27.0%68.1%42.7%66.3%87.4%79.2%38.2%50.7%8.6%15.0%23.6%
2017WSH30.1%74.4%49.0%55.9%85.1%74.8%42.7%54.7%12.2%11.2%23.4%
2018WSH26.1%75.4%45.4%55.4%79.6%71.1%39.1%57.4%12.9%11.6%24.5%
2019PHI31.6%77.3%48.3%52.2%79.7%68.3%36.4%59.5%15.1%11.3%26.4%
2020PHI31.1%75.0%45.7%57.9%84.8%72.6%33.3%58.6%12.2%10.7%22.9%
2021PHI29.4%74.5%47.2%54.2%78.9%69.5%39.4%55.3%14.1%11.6%25.7%
2022PHI37.9%82.8%55.9%54.8%78.2%68.5%40.1%72.9%17.9%10.7%28.6%
Total- - -30.3%74.2%47.1%58.9%83.1%73.5%38.3%56.8%12.3%11.9%24.2%

His SwStr% is up by 3.8%. It's always a bad omen of the foreseeable slump. The most noticeable one is his F-Strike%. It's elevated by 17.6%. The numbers indicate that he takes a more aggressive swing approach this season. Does his swing change bring a better result for him? Zone breakdown shows a clearer answer for this question.

2021 harper

2022 harper

He seems to swing more at the bottom of the inside zone. Sadly, that is where he whiffs the most as well. Furthermore, we see more red outside the zone in the 2022 zone breakdown. His less selective but more aggressive swing approach has given him more Ks so far.

More Changeups, Fewer Fastballs

If you look at his pitch highlighters, Harper has seen 5% more changeups this season, compared to 2021.

 

His whiff rate against the changeup is now 42.4%. It explains why his zone looks all red at the bottom. Interestingly, he's faced more changeups this season so far. Pitchers have never thrown him changeups more than 15%, but they throw 19.8% this season. Additionally, this is the first time he sees less than 30% fastball at the plate.

It's clear that pitchers throw more offspeed pitches and fewer fastballs against him. Another struggling veteran player Paul Goldschmidt shows a similar pitch% except that he sees more breaking balls rather than off-speed pitches. It's not statistically proven but we can assume that there's a reason why some players face a certain type of pitch more.

Conclusion

We see Bryce Harper has struggled to hit against off-speed pitches, which is a common issue for a big power hitter with a hole in his swing. However, he has been more like a complete product rather than a one-dimensional power hitter.

I believe he is currently at a fork. Either, he needs to sacrifice his batting average to maintain power numbers or he starts to decline due to the issues addressed above.

I think he's too talented to fade away quickly. But the last year would be probably the last time he records an over .300 batting average.


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