With a runner or two in scoring position midway through a close game and Bryce Harper due up, managers opposing the Phillies will face the season-long decision whether to go after Harper or pitch around him with Rhys Hoskins lurking.
On opening day, an intentional walk of Harper led to a Hoskins grand slam. Saturday night in Colorado, Harper continued to complicate that decision for opposing managers by hitting a three-run home run off a lefty reliever.
It is a situation that lacks a correct answer. Do you go lefty-lefty vs. Harper? Do you walk him and go righty-righty vs. Hoskins? Do you base it on who has looked better that night or the few preceding games?
Harper's homer came against 11th-year lefty specialist Mike Dunn, a reliever he's seen more than any other throughout his eight-year major-league career. In 23 plate appearances against lefties this season, Harper has gone 7 for 18 (.389) with two doubles, two homers, four walks and four strikeouts. He's reached base 12 times — more than half of his plate appearances vs. lefties.
This isn't small sample size theater, either. Over the last five seasons, the only left-handed hitter in the majors with a higher OPS against lefties than Harper is Joey Votto. Since 2015, Harper's hit .277/.383/.489 against lefties — a higher batting average than fellow lefties Corey Seager and Robinson Cano, a higher OBP than Freddie Freeman, a better slugging percentage than Christian Yelich.
The pitch Harper hit out last night against Dunn was not a good one. It was an 86 mph, middle-in slider that didn't move much. It was a mistake. But you still have to barrel up that mistake. It could have easily been pulled foul or skied high in the air.
Harper doesn't look great in every at-bat against a lefty. He occasionally pulls off, leaving himself in a bad position to make contact. One of the impressive parts of his game Saturday night was that he rolled over to the right side of the infield twice in his first three at-bats by trying to pull pitches too far outside, before hitting that two-strike homer off Dunn.
Every time Harper does damage against a left-hander, it will create one more wrinkle for the opposing manager to consider. The situation last night was the seventh inning, two outs, runners on second and third with the Phillies up 4-3. There could have been merit to pitching around Harper to get to Hoskins.
Twenty games in, we've seen the Phillies make the other team pay no matter which option they choose.
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