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Harper showing he can excel at 'the little things'


Harper showing he can excel at 'the little things'

In the midst of Bryce Harper's torrid May that has taken the baseball world by storm, it's been easy to forget that the skill set of the Nationals' phenom goes well beyond hitting the long ball. 

Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies, who saw Harper hurt them in more ways than one in the Nats' 4-1 victory Sunday afternoon. The 22-year-old right fielder didn't homer, but still went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run and two RBI, including driving in the go-ahead run on a groundout in the fifth inning and a two-out opposite-field bloop hit to bring in an insurance run in the seventh.

"Those will add up," he said later. "Definitely. Just trying to get those RBI."

Sure, Harper's home run totals have drawn and will continue to draw most of the headlines as his breakout season rolls on. But what has impressed his skipper the most is that, even while red hot, he's shown a consistent, disciplined approach at the plate. Rather than trying to swing for the fences in every at-bat, he's shown more of a willingness to work deep into the count and excel in key situations. 

"The secret of success for him or any other player is two-out basehits with guys in scoring position, getting that guy in from third base with less than two outs," said manager Matt Williams. "That's what will make a fantastic season. He accomplished both of those today."

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What'll also make Harper's season a success is if he continues to develop as an outfielder, something that showed up once again on Sunday. With the score still 2-1 in the seventh and a man on first base, Harper fielded a single to right and gunned it to second in time for a force out for his club-leading fourth outfield assist of the season. 

"I take a lot of pride in my defense," Harper said. "Being able to get out there every single day and shag and do the thing I need to do, taking those reps, getting some pointers from Denard [Span] and [Jayson Werth] and [outfield coach] Tarasco of course. Just trying to be the best right fielder I can. If I'm not hitting, then I don't want them to hit either." 

It seems as if even without hitting the ball out of the park, Harper still finds new ways to wow not only the D.C. fanbase, but the other members of the Nats clubhouse. His statistics in Sunday's boxscore may not look eye-popping on paper, but Sunday's win was a prime example of how he can help the ball club win in a multitude of ways. 

"He's just becoming the all-around ballplayer," starter Gio Gonzalez said. "You can see it. He's a superstar, and he's been a superstar since he was in high school. It's basically what we've been waiting to see, and he's bringing it."

"He'll hit balls over the fence, but that won't be the measure of his success," added Williams. "It will be those little things that he does over the course of a game that allow us to get an extra run, or cut a run down, things of that nature.

"That kind of talent makes him a special player."

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

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.