Bryce Harper’s start to the 2016 season had many questioning if he was getting ready to repeat his MVP campaign from a year ago. But those thoughts have long since subsided, as Harper has been held hitless in 25 of his past 52 games and is looking up at the league with a .252 batting average in 71 games.
What’s the problem?
Harper is struggling in many situations, but strikingly so when he is ahead in the count. He is batting .195 when in a hitter’s count in 2016, third-worst among 169 qualified hitters and 169 points worse than the major-league average (.364). (A hitter’s count is defined as a count of 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1 or 1-0.)
Last year, Harper hit .542 when ahead in the count, the highest mark for a full season since the dataset become available in 2009.
A key difference between this year and last isn’t how Harper has been pitched or what he has swung at, but simply what he has done when he has made contact.
Unfortunately for Harper, the problem seems to be getting worse. From May 1 through Friday, Harper is batting .154 when ahead in the count.
Among qualified hitters, the major league average for percentage of hard-hit balls while ahead in the count beginning May 1 is 25.6 percent.
Last year, in an undeniable MVP campaign, Harper finished with 9.9 wins above replacement. He’s on pace to be less than half as productive this year.