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Harper dominating, especially the outside pitch

It’s going pretty good for Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper these days.

Harper, who hit three home runs on Wednesday, hit two more in Friday’s win over the Atlanta Braves. Harper tied the major-league record with five home runs in a two-game span. In fact, the Elias Sports Bureau notes that at age 22, he’s the youngest player in major-league history to have five homers within two games. The previous mark was Mark McGwire (age 23)

Harper was in a 1-for-17 slump prior to this two-game run, in which he’s raised his season batting average from .245 to .284. He now has twice as many home runs this season (10) as he has doubles. For his career, he now has 65 home runs and 65 doubles.

Harper was valued at 1.0 Wins Above Replacement last season. He entered Friday with 1.5 WAR and Friday’s game almost certainly added to that total.

Harper’s 10 home runs in the Nationals’ first 30 games are one more than he hit in the first 30 games of the 2013 season. That year, he was hitting .320 with a 1.072 OPS through their first 30 games.

Harper was unable to maintain those numbers that season, as he dealt with injuries and hit .259 with 11 home runs in his last 89 games.

But this is a different Harper, as Ben Lindbergh noted in a recent Grantland article, one who is more willing to hunt for his pitch.

That means looking for something on the outer half of the plate. The last two days, opponents have been more than willing to give that to him. Nineteen of the 24 pitches he’s seen were outer-half or off the outside corner.

Harper has taken full advantage. Four of the five home runs over the last two days came on pitches to that area, as have eight of his 10 home runs this season.

In fact, 25 of Harper’s 29 hits this season have come against pitches to the outer half or just off the outside corner, as the heat map below shows.