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Harper creating distance in quest for NL batting title

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Harper creating distance in quest for NL batting title

With Bryce Harper already at the 40-home run mark and in pursuit of a likely NL MVP award, perhaps overlooked in his historic season is his chance for another rare and impressive accomplishment. With two more hits on Thursday night, Harper raised his NL-best batting average to .340. The first batting title in Nationals team history is well within reach.

Reinforcing that thought was the fact Marlins All-Star Dee Gordon was also on the field on Thursday. Gordon is second in the NL with a .333 average and had two hits himself in the game. But with the way Harper has been heating up, it's his award to lose.

Through 16 games in September, Harper is batting .423. That's up from his .327 average in August and his .300 mark in July. He reached the .340 mark on Thursday for the first time since July 12.

That day, July 12th, Harper actually mentioned the .340 mark as a specific goal for him this season. 

"I'm pretty upset I dropped below .340 today, so hopefully I improve that," he said.

It took Harper 59 games to get back, but the Nats' right-fielder was not interested in talking about that number or the possibility of winning a batting title after Thursday's loss.

"I really don’t give a crap about my accolades or anything like that. I’m gonna play and I’m gonna play hard. At the end of the year, my numbers will be there and votes will be votes and whatever," he said.

Harper will surely be able to appreciate his season once it is over, as he is on pace to join some exclusive company, particularly in D.C. baseball history. He could become the fifth player in Washington history to win a batting title and the first in 62 years.

1928 - Goose Goslin - .379
1935 - Buddy Myer - .349
1946 - Mickey Vernon - .353
1953 - Mickey Vernon - .337

Harper is almost certain to finish this season with the best batting average in Nationals history. The current record is Dmitri Young, who hit .320 in 2007. Harper, in fact, has a chance to catch the Nats/Expos franchise record of .345, set by Vladimir Guerrero in 2000. Only one other player in franchise history has hit .340 or higher, Hubie Brooks in 1986.

Harper is on pace to have the best batting average by a National League player since 2010. Only three of the last 10 winners of the NL batting title have hit above .338.

Harper has been particularly hot over the last 30 days. In 29 games since Aug. 18, Harper has raised his batting average from .326 to .340. Through that stretch he has batted .385 with 10 homers, 19 RBI and a 1.315 OPS.

Nine of those homers have actually come in his last 13 games, something Harper says is a result of being more selective at the plate.

“I just think I’m trying to still have good at-bats and still look for the pitch I want to hit. I’m still walking when I can. I’m swinging at that 2-0 pitch now which I haven’t been in a couple weeks. I’m swinging at that 3-1 again now. That’s been tough because 2-0, I haven’t really got a pitch over the plate to swing at so I’ve just been taking it," he said.

Harper is aware of his numbers, but he insists his focus is primarily on other things. At least for now that is, while the Nats continue to cling to their longshot playoff hopes.

“Everybody’s gonna expect 40 a year every time I play now. 40 homers without a whole lineup I guess all year, that’s the only thing I can say that’s something where I’m pretty proud of myself to be able to have the games, have the walks, have the ability to stay in games and really just do the things I can to help this team win.”

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player. 

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