Harper’s patience getting historical

Coming into the 2015 season, I read and heard people saying that this was a make-or-break season for Bryce Harper. The notion seemed like nonsense to me. After all, Harper, despite having nearly 1500 plate appearances under his belt, was 22 years old.

Not only was he still very young, but he had 55 home runs, a .272 batting average and a 122 OPS+ through his age-21 season. That OPS+ ranked 11th all-time for players in their age 19-21 seasons with at least 1400 plate appearances. Mike Trout (166) tops that list, followed by Ty Cobb (159).

Urgency to produce hardly seemed in order for Harper … but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t driven to be better. And in 2015 he has been better. A lot better.

His manager Matt Williams recently told me that the difference in Harper in 2015 is improved patience without losing any of his trademark aggression. Williams said that Harper has now seen enough pitching that he knows which pitches he wants to hit and, unlike in the past, he’s willing to wait for it. The numbers agree.

PITCH f/x swing data across the board are career bests for Harper.

  O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
2013 30.2% 72.1% 48.4%
2014 33.2% 72.5% 50.9%
2015 28.7% 69.7% 45.7%

Harper’s adjustments manifested themselves on Tuesday night in Colorado when he went 0 for 2 in six PAs, walking four times (one IBB) and scoring four runs. In that game Harper became the 15th player since 1914 to have no hits but score four times with four walks in a game. 

The history doesn’t stop there. Harper’s .455 OBP in his age-22 season has also put him in some exclusive company in the modern era (since 1900):

  Year OBP
Ted Williams 1944 .553
Bryce Harper 2015 .455
Fred Snodgrass 1910 .440

Patience and Power. It appears Harper’s make-or-break season will end with a make.

FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference were used in data compilation.