We recently received a DM, after Bryce Harper’s first moonshot with the Philadelphia Phillies, about an observation the reader made. He remarked that whenever he sees Bryce Harper hit a home run, it seems to be on the inner third of the plate. I decided to dig into the data to see where the majority of Harper’s dingers come from — the inner third, the middle third, or the outer third. I wanted to take it a step further and look at a few more data points to see in which location Harper really does the most damage.
I obviously wanted to see how many pitches Harper has seen in each location since 2015 — when Statcast started tracking data — and how many batted balls he has in each location as well. I also wanted to see how many hard-hit balls, home runs, and barrels he has in each location. Additionally, I wanted to see what his average exit velocity and launch angle were on pitches in each third of the plate, as well as his average fly ball distance, and his batted ball events per home run and xwOBA for each location.
I found just about the total opposite of what the reader had observed — that Harper crushes pitches on the inside and the majority of his home runs come over the inner third of the plate. Unsurprisingly to me, Harper has the most success when pitchers leave pitches over the middle third of the plate. Out of 656 batted balls he’s had that have been over the middle third of the plate, he’s hit 79 home runs (8.2 batted balls per home run), he’s hit 363 of them hard (greater than or equal to 95 mph), and he’s barrelled 103 (15.8%) of them. Harper’s xwOBA on balls over the middle third of the plate since 2015 is .439, compared to a mere .326 xwOBA on balls on the inner third.
What did surprise me when looking at Harper’s pitch location splits is that he actually has the least success when the ball is on the inner third portion of the plate. I put everything into an easy-to-decipher table.
His splits on the outer third and inner third are pretty similar, but he just doesn’t hit the ball as hard when it’s on the inner third of the plate, and he doesn’t get as much distance on them either — an eight-foot difference is pretty substantial.
After I put this together, it made me wonder. I wanted to know how Harper’s splits compared to some of the game’s other notable power hitters. So I went to work and did the same thing for the five guys with the most home runs since 2015 — Khris Davis, Nelson Cruz, Nolan Arenado, Edwin Encarnacion, and Giancarlo Stanton. Bryce Harper has the ninth most home runs since 2015, and is the only left-handed bat in the top ten of that list.
Below are the pitch location charts for those five guys to use as a comparison tool to Harper’s.
Again, quite unsurprisingly, all five of those sluggers love the ball over the middle third of the plate. Khris Davis absolutely mashes anything that pitchers put over the middle of the plate, as does Giancarlo Stanton.
Most of those guys do not like the outer third. Cruz and Arenado both have their best BBE/HR and xwOBA on balls on the inner third of the plate. All five of them, like Bryce, have their worst BBE/HR and xwOBA on balls on the outer third of the plate. Stanton’s numbers on balls on the outer third are staggeringly worse than when they’re on the middle or inner third.
Davis, Arenado and Stanton all perform much worse on balls over the outer third of the plate, whereas the difference between Harper’s performance on pitches over the inner third and the outer third is rather marginal.
The thing that is pretty obvious with these five guys: pitchers should probably stop throwing them pitches over the middle of the plate.