Super agent Scott Boras sure sounded like a man who doesn’t want to see a potential record-setting contract slip through Bryce Harper’s hands.
Boras was adamant when speaking to reporters Tuesday that the pressure of Harper’s looming free agency was not to blame for the superstar’s historically low batting average this season. Harper’s contract with the Nationals is set to expire at the end of this season, making him one of the most highly coveted free agents this winter.
With a monstrous deal likely on the way, Boras said Harper’s offensive contributions could be measured in ways beyond the career .285 hitter’s .218 average as of Tuesday — an average that actually dipped to .215 Wednesday, after an 0-for-4.
“I look at metrics about how hard you’re hitting the ball, and what you’re doing with the pitches that you can hit. When the league doesn’t want to participate in a way that’s customary, we can’t look at players in customary ways,” Boras said, via ESPN.
“There’s no question that with the walk rates that Bryce Harper has, he’s going to have less hits. No doubt about that. You keep having to ask the question, why don’t they do this to other players if it’s so effective? The answer is that teams feel the benefit of pitching to those players, there’s much less of a consequence than there is to pitch to Harp. I would assume that has to do with his extraordinary power.”
Harper, 25, is walking more this season than he ever has, with a 18.5 percent walk rate second to only Angels star Mike Trout. He’s also second in home runs in the National League with 21, trailing Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado by one.
It doesn’t help that Harper has been one of the lone stalwarts in a lineup riddled by injuries and below-average play, leading Harper to joke in May that the Nationals had been trotting out a minor-league team. Since then, infielders Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy have returned, but first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and catcher Matt Wieters have taken their place on the disabled list.
The players’ frustration reached a peak Wednesday when Washington held a players-only meeting after dropping its fifth consecutive game, a 3-0 loss to the Red Sox. The result sent the Nationals below .500 for the first time this season and seven games behind the NL East-leading Braves.
Harper, who’s been shuffled around the top of the Nationals lineup and even taken turns at leadoff this season, is at an inherent disadvantage as a left-handed hitter in the modern game, according to Boras.
“I’ve certainly come to the conclusion that shifting is grandly discriminatory in the game against power left-handed hitters,” he said. “The reason for that is, you see that four men are at one side of the infield. Right-handed hitters, they have a great advantage in this regard. They can only put two and a half there because the second baseman can’t go too far away and the first baseman is obviously way over. …
“I don’t think it’s good for the game. It’s clear that hard-hit balls have almost 100 to 150 points lower average for left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters for exit velocities above 93 mph. When you see stats like that, you know there’s reason for change. The game should be equal for both sides whether you’re a right or left-handed hitter.”
Despite his concerns for left-handed sluggers, Boras appears confident Harper will generate plenty of interest this offseason. The 2015 MVP is expected to enter a lucrative bidding war, along with Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, among MLB teams in need of starpower.
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