Happy Feet – A Look at Bryce Harper’s Last Second Adjustment

While last night’s Washington Nationals game against the St. Louis Cardinals will be remembered for the almost no-hitter for rookie starter Michael Wacha (and rightfully so), there was an interesting side story in the 7th inning, courtesy of Bryce Harper.
 
Jimmy, roll the tape:

 
(Click to unleash the gif)
harper_wacha
 
Did you see it? Did you notice the last second hop/skip/jump in the box towards Wacha before he swung at a 96 MPH fastball?
 
Here’s a different angle of the swing, which really gets the point across:
 
(Click to unleash the gif)
harper_wacha2
 
First of all — wow. In a game determined by milliseconds, Harper takes something already tough to do and laughs in the face of it, making an adjustment as Wacha is throwing a pitch. A 96 MPH FASTBALL.
 
Second — why? My thought is that Harper was guessing changeup — Wacha’s biggest secondary pitch, and one that was especially good last night in his 8.2 innings of one-hit ball. His 32 changeups last night came in at a 62.5% strike rate and a 15.6% whiff rate. When you also consider that Wacha threw just three curveballs and one cutter, you get a better appreciation of Harper’s mindset in this at bat. Already down in the count 1-2 and knowing he wasn’t going to get anything breaking, he assumed he wouldn’t get something hard, so he set up in his usual fashion in the batter’s box, then scooted up to get to that assumed changeup before it darted out of the zone.
 
Here’s a plot of the pitches he saw in the at-bat; as you can see, Harper was one step ahead of Wacha as far as getting that changeup, eventually striking out on the pitch:
 

 
Pretty darn impressive. To not only be able to move the feet, keep your swing mechanics intact while doing so, look for and react to a changeup, but then get a high-90’s fastball, and still be able to catch up to it enough to just foul it off is all sorts of amazing and impressive. But you know what? It’s been done before.
 
Remember Hal Morris?
 
halmorris
 
While his church league softball batting stance wasn’t as egregious as Harper’s, Morris also employed a foot shuffle before getting the bat through the zone. With a .304 batting average, relatively low 12.3% strikeout rate, and 14.6 fWAR over a 13 year career, Morris was surprisingly effective with the approach. Also to note is while Harper all but leaped towards Wacha with his swing, Morris’ was more of a shuffle up towards the plate, with a small step towards the pitcher; small difference, but an important one.
 
While the end result wasn’t terribly desired — Harper ended up striking out — it nonetheless was an interesting look at Harper’s approach and how he is able to not only make adjustments, but make them in real-time; a very rare feet feat.

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