Matz: Harper’s ‘Frustration’ at Plate Affecting Focus, Hustle

WASHINGTON — Through 18 games, Bryce Harper had nine home runs and boasted a .323/.405/.855 line.

Through 89 games, Bryce Harper has 19 home runs and a .252/.394/.477 line.

That’s all that really needs to be said for his extended hitting slump, one that has lasted, to a varying extent, for nearly three months. On April 25, Harper looked like he would dwarf his 2015 MVP season. It’s been pretty much all downhill from there for the 23-year-old slugger, especially after the four-game series against the Chicago Cubs on May 5-8 in which Harper was walked 13 times in 19 plate appearances.

Theories abound on what has caused Harper’s slump, and what’s keeping him from reaching his enormous potential this season, but ESPN.com’s Eddie Matz offered a few theories to The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan Tuesday morning. All of his theories, however, have one common element: frustration.

“I talked to some scouts about it to see what they see, I’ve used my own eyeballs, but one scout I talked to said he just looks frustrated. He looks frustrated top to bottom. He looks like he’s not being, obviously, as patient as he was being last year at the plate. And even when he’s getting his pitches to hit, he’s not hitting them. If you watch him swing, his swing is interesting. It’s a very powerful swing, but even when he’s going right like he was last year, he kind of has a natural pull off of the ball thing, where he sort of like falls off a little bit to the right. So that’s even when he’s going well, and when he’s not going well, like he is right now, it’s even more pronounced and it’s really easy to see.

I also feel like he’s not getting some of the calls he used to get last year. I feel like anything that was borderline last year, and he took it, it was a ball. This year, I feel like umps are calling those strikes more. I might just be making that up, but that’s what I see.

And what’s interesting is that scout that I was talking to said not only is that frustration manifesting itself at the plate for him, but you can also see it in the field, that he just seems not as focused overall because of what’s going on at the plate. And if you’ve watched the Nationals closely in recent weeks, you’ve seen some plays where you’re just like, ‘Man, typically Bryce would make that play.’ There was one game a couple of weeks ago where there were a couple balls hit to right field, and neither of them were easy balls, but they were balls that you felt like he should have gotten that he didn’t get.

And then on top of that, there have been some hustle issues. There was a couple of weeks ago, he drilled one off the center field wall and he kind of watched it. Later that night, Dusty [Baker] talked to him about it and you would have thought that that issue would have been resolved, but then a few days after that, he came up in the ninth inning in a one-run game, I forget if there was anybody out but there was nobody on, but he hit a ground ball. In that situation, I don’t care how hard you hit it, how much you hit it right at somebody, you gotta bust a hard 90 down to first base. And I remember watching that thinking, ‘Man, he didn’t really get out of the box that hard.’

So I think he’s just frustrated. I can’t blame him, it’s hard to not get the pitches to hit. But I think you’re right, I think that Cubs series really messed with him. I’m sure he’ll snap out of it, it’s just a matter of when.”

The whole conversation between Matz and the Junkies is available below.

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