How Teams Defend Bryce Harper and What to Expect Situationally

Bryce Harper is not the traditional left-handed power hitter who struggles against same-handed pitching.

Last season, Harper had nine home runs, 12 doubles and an .857 OPS against lefties. All three numbers would have led all Phillies regulars - righty or lefty.

Over the last four seasons, Harper has hit .273 against lefties with that same .857 OPS.

Plenty of times over the years, we've seen the Phillies bring in a lefty reliever to face Harper in a big spot and Harper win the matchup. In fact, during his career, Harper has a .397 on-base percentage against Phillies lefties.

What about the shift?

Last season, teams shifted their defense against Harper in 51.6 percent of his plate appearances. There were 49 left-handed hitters who faced the shift more than Harper. 

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To put this in perspective, Carlos Santana faced the shift in 85.5 percent of his plate appearances.

Harper did perform significantly better when not shifted against, but his production was still better than league average when facing the shift. 

Defensive shifts have obviously exploded in recent seasons. And Harper, despite facing the shift less than many notable left-handed bats, has seen shifts against him rise dramatically, from 16 percent in 2015 to that 51 percent figure last season.

Harper does tend to struggle with pitches on the outside corner because he doesn't often take them the other way on the ground. Last season, he hit 20 points lower than the league average on ground balls.

When he does take the ball the other way, it's often a hit. Harper hit .379 last season when going the other way, well above the league average for lefties of .315.

Lineup construction

The Phillies can do so many different things with this lineup. They could use Cesar Hernandez and Jean Segura as a traditional 1-2, followed by Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen. That's a deep 1 through 6. 

It makes sense to bat Segura second given his bat wizardry and how frequently he can hit the ball the other way. With a first baseman holding on the leadoff hitter, Segura will have even more room to work with.

Harper's ability to perform vs. lefties, coupled with the ability of Segura and Realmuto to hit righties, will make this lineup more platoon-proof than most across baseball.

The Phillies are going to put up plenty of crooked numbers in the first inning this season. They're going to give their pitchers more of a cushion, and they'll have the type of offensive firepower to untie games in innings 7-9.

They've also created such a deep lineup that they should be able to win games even when Harper or Hoskins are slumping. One of those slumps could coincide with a hot week from Odubel Herrera or Maikel Franco. It could coincide with a game when McCutchen hits a three-run homer.

We've seen so many stretches of Phillies baseball the last five years when the entire offense was in a funk at the same time. It will be much harder for that to happen in 2019 and beyond.

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