WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper's contract year isn't to blame for his recent slump. Not according to Scott Boras.
"No," said the superagent on Tuesday when asked if the impending free agency of the Washington Nationals star was contributing to his struggles at the plate. Boras, who was in town for the introduction of client Mason Denaburg (Washington's first-round pick), expounded by saying that Harper's uncharacteristically low batting average isn't necessarily a good indicator of his performance at the plate.
"I look at metrics about how hard you're hitting the ball, and what you're doing with the pitches that you can hit. When the league doesn't want to participate in a way that's customary, we can't look at players in customary ways," Boras said. "There's no question that with the walk rates that Bryce Harper has, he's going to have less hits. No doubt about that. You keep having to ask the question, why don't they do this to other players if it's so effective? The answer is that teams feel the benefit of pitching to those players, there's much less of a consequence than there is to pitch to Harp. I would assume that has to do with his extraordinary power."
Entering Tuesday, Harper was tied for the National League lead with 21 home runs. A career .285 hitter before this year, the 2015 MVP is hitting .217 this season entering play Tuesday. His 18.5 percent walk rate ranked second behind Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout. It was also the second-highest rate of Harper's career and nearly 5 percent higher than a year ago. His 41.1 percent hard-hit rate, a career high, ranked 43rd among major league hitters, according to FanGraphs.
Boras blames the increased prevalence of defensive shifts for his client's low batting average, and says that shifting isn't fair to left-handed hitters.
"I've certainly come to the conclusion that shifting is grandly discriminatory in the game against power left-handed hitters. The reason for that is, you see that four men are at one side of the infield. Right-handed hitters, they have a great advantage in this regard. They can only put two and a half there because the second baseman can't go too far away and the first baseman is obviously way over.
"The other thing is, 70 percent of pitchers are right-handed, so they're getting sliders and breaking balls that are naturally inclined for them to hit where the ball is pitched and go the other way. Right-handed hitters can take a natural approach to the game as they were trained in their youth. They can hit a slider or curveball the other way, whereas left-handers, they're saying you're supposed to hit everything now the other way. The breaking ball's coming, the slider's coming, the fastballs are in, and you're now supposed to take inside-out swings?
"That's not how a power hitter's trained. You're affecting baseball on many, many levels in a negative way. You want hitters rewarded on both sides of the plate equally. If this continues, you're going to see the absolute absorption by parents of left-handed hitters ... I don't think it's good for the game. It's clear that hard-hit balls have almost 100 to 150 points lower average for left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters for exit velocities above 93 mph. When you see stats like that, you know there's reason for change. The game should be equal for both sides whether you're a right or left-handed hitter."
Harper's contract is set to expire after this season. Along with fellow 25-year-old shortstop Manny Machado, Harper, the first overall pick in 2010, is expected to garner a level of interest that could result in a record-setting deal. The current record belongs to New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million pact with the Miami Marlins in 2014.