Why Bryce Harper Needs Extra Weight Even More Than Mike Trout
Get ready to see more of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper this year.
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times caused a stir last week when he reported that Trout, the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year, had reported to Los Angeles Angels camp at 241 pounds. That's somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds more than his 2012 playing weight.
Earlier this week, James Wagner of The Washington Post reported that Harper, winner of the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year award, reported to Washington Nationals camp at 230 pounds. He's listed at 215 pounds on MLB.com.
I'm already on record with my opinion that I'm on board with Trout's weight gain. It's perfectly harmless, and it could make him a more dangerous player.
I would now like to go on record with my opinion about Harper's weight gain. I'm more than OK with it. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say I'm thrilled with it. The dude (or bro, if you prefer) needs the extra weight more than Trout does.
Harper and Trout share a couple of common reasons for why their weight gains are nothing to panic about. One is that they're not going to weigh the same on Opening Day as they do now, as Trout is planning on losing five to 10 pounds during the spring and Harper is also planning on losing 10 pounds.
The extra bulk can also be forgiven because neither Trout nor Harper will be manning center field again in 2013. Both will be manning left field instead, meaning they'll have less ground to cover. Carrying more weight shouldn't have any sort of negative impact on their fielding.
H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY
But as much as it often feels like we're talking about twin brothers when we talk about Trout and Harper, they're not the same player. They have their differences, and therein lie the reasons for why Harper needs weight more than Trout.
One of the bigger ones is their height. Harper is listed at 6'3" while Trout is listed as being two inches shorter, at 6'1." Harper's body weight is thus going to be more spread out than Trout's, so he should be just as heavy, and it would actually be better if Harper were heavier by a few pounds. The type of player he is demands that he be on the heavy side.
Trout is a leadoff guy whose job is to get on base and score runs, and he can't afford to lose too much speed as long as that's the case. He can look to gain more power, but not to a point where his speed becomes a thing of the past. It's a big part of what makes him a special player.
Harper is different. He showed off surprising speed as a rookie, but he's much more of a power hitter with speed than a speedster with power, like Trout is. Harper's top priority should be to nurture his power, and he shouldn't worry too much about losing speed so long as he's adding more power.
Harper's place in Washington's lineup demands that he have as much power as possible. He spent much of the 2012 season in the No. 2 hole, but he's going to be a middle-of-the-order guy in 2013. His job will be to drive in runs, and power makes that job a lot easier.
Natural power is something Harper has plenty of, mind you. This is a guy who supposedly hit a 570-foot home run as a high schooler, and he had enough power to blast 22 home runs in his abbreviated rookie year.
However, Harper wasn't the most efficient home-run hitter in his rookie season. He only got the ball in the air 32.9 percent of the time, and his HR/FB rate was a modest 16.2 percent (see FanGraphs).
A good fly-ball percentage for a power hitter is something over 40 percent. A good HR/FB rate for a slugger is upwards of 20 percent. Harper's fly-ball rate wasn't even good enough to crack the top 90 in the league (see FanGraphs). His HR/FB rate was about the same as that of Derek Jeter, who isn't and never will be known for his home-run power.
For Harper to be a great home-run hitter, these numbers are going to have to get better. His added strength should be able to help, as he'll be able to put more weight behind his already incredible bat speed and drive the ball with more authority.
We'll know Harper's an elite power hitter, however, when he starts driving the ball with authority in certain directions.
There's nothing wrong with Harper's power to right field. His splits (via FanGraphs) show that he had a 52.0 HR/FB percentage when he hit the ball to right field, which is right about where he should be on fly balls to his pull side.
But most of Harper's fly balls went to left and center fields, and he hit most of those with very little authority. His HR/FB to center field was a mere 10.3 percent. His HR/FB to left field was 5.7 percent. His high slugging percentages on balls to center (.558) and left field (.535) had a lot to do with his collection of doubles and triples to those fields, not home runs.
The good news for Harper is that he's not far off from being a hitter with scary power to all fields. If you go to FOXSports.com and dial up his spray chart at Nationals Park from 2012, you'll see that he made a couple of outs on the warning track in left field and a couple more deep outs in left-center and straightaway center. He made similar loud outs at other ballparks.
A little more muscle, and those balls may be over the fence, in which case we'd be sitting here talking about a guy who broke Tony Conigliaro's home-run record for 19-year-olds.
Going forward, the last thing pitchers want to come to terms with is the idea of Harper as a sort of miniature Ryan Howard clone: a hitter who will go after a well-placed outside fastball and poke it over the left-field fence for a cheapie home run.
Who's going to hit more home runs in 2013?
Harper has the talent to be that guy. And thanks to his offseason weight gain, he may now have the strength, too.
I felt comfortable enough before in saying that a 35-home-run season was in the cards for Harper in 2013. I feel more comfortable saying so now. In fact, he should be able to flirt with 40 home runs if his added bulk leads to greater power to areas other than his pull side.
Harper is going to crack the 40-homer plateau eventually either way. And if he keeps putting on weight as his career moves along, projections of 50-home-run seasons to come are going to feel less like hyperbole and more like inevitability.
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