Bryce Harper has had a tremendous first half to his rookie season, as he has helped the Washington Nationals stay atop the NL East through 77 games. The Nationals have relied heavily on their rookie phenom, who has been pivotal to the Nats' success after they were overcome with injuries to key offensive producers like Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and slugger Michael Morse.
While in the lineup for 30 of the Nats' wins, Harper has hit .328. In the 26 losses since joining the team, he's gone a .214 clip. That is just one of several areas where he needs to find consistency going into the season's second half.
If he can fix the following holes in his game, it will help the Nationals bring their first division title, and perhaps more, to D.C.
Harper has 24 strikeouts in only 76 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. In 147 at-bats against righties, he only has 25 strikeouts.
Harper's strikeout rate against left-handers has to improve going into the second half of the season. A big factor in cutting down on his Ks is increasing his production against opposing bullpens.
As noted, a huge hole in Harper's game is his inability to hit opposing relievers. Harper is only hitting .203 and has 22 strikeouts against relief pitchers this season.
Teams have identified and capitalized on this trend by matching him up with their southpaws out of the pen.
Harper is also having a problem hitting relievers due to his inability to succeed the first time he faces pitchers in games.
One of Harper's biggest holes this season is his ineptitude to hit pitchers the first time he faces them during a game.
Harper is hitting .271 the first time through against starters. That's not a terrible average, but his production the second time seeing a pitcher shows how much he can improve if he is a bit more prepared going into games.
Harper is hitting .357 with three home runs, two triples, five doubles and nine RBI the second time facing a starter in a game.
If he can work on becoming more comfortable his first time facing a pitcher, then his production will drastically improve.
Harper only hits .171 against relievers the first time he sees them in a game, yet he hits .750 when he faces them for a second time.
Harper also has shown a weakness in hitting with runners in scoring position.
In 56 games, Harper has 22 RBI. Over an entire season, this would give him only 62 RBI. A player of his talent is certainly capable of driving in over 100.
A major factor is Harper's low average with runners in scoring position, specifically with two outs. He is hitting .246 with runners in scoring position, including 17 strikeouts. With two outs and men on, he is hitting .200.
Harper is often compared to the L.A. Angels highly-touted rookie, Mike Trout. In the same situations, Trout is hitting .347 and .360, respectively.
Although Trout's numbers might not be attainable, it is certainly not out of the question for Harper to strive towards improvement in these areas.
If Harper wants to take home Rookie of the Year honors, which he is certainly capable of doing, then he must produce when there are runners on base.
Aside from hitting with runners in scoring position, Harper has struggled in general in games in which he has hit in the seventh inning or later while the Nats were tied, ahead by one or with at least the tying run on deck.
In these situations, Harper is only 8-for-42, a .190 average.
The late-season stretch and the playoffs are all about clutch hitting. Harper will need to work on hitting in those situations if he wants to still be playing late in October.