Bryce Harper’s Intentional Walk Problem: Dusty Baker’s Zen Solution

Bryce Harper has been getting annoyed by how much he has been intentionally walked as of late, and Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker has recently utilized his decades of MLB experience to come up with a method by which Harper could take advantage of the general hesitancy to pitch to him in order to improve his own hitting performance. The question is, is Harper patient enough to try out Baker’s method?

First, a bit of context. Harper started off the 2016 season as hot as any manager could hope for, being on pace for 82 home runs and 208 RBIs through Washington’s first 18 games.

At that point, pitchers from opposing teams caught onto the fact that Bryce Harper was on fire, and so they started employing a strategy reserved for baseball’s all-time offensive elite: nearly constant intentional walks.

Harper, who SB Nation points out is young and eager, quickly grew irritated with the steady flow of free passes, which he saw as a series of opportunities being withheld from him. Without the chances to clobber the baseball he was used to, Bryce’s spirits sunk, and so did his offensive performance. He continued to be walked most of the time, but his hitting prowess when he did get something in the strike zone was definitely diminished.

“Let’s face it, when he was seeing pitches, he wasn’t really hitting them,” reflected Dusty Baker in a recent interview via Federal Baseball.

“Before they stopped pitching to Bryce, about the last couple weeks in April, he was kind of struggling a little bit. You know what I mean?”

Harper’s walk-induced slump has continued until now – Bryce’s batting average has been.183 in his past 25 games.

The Washington Post argues that only three batters in history had previously received the same relentless no-pitch treatment that Harper is enduring: MLB godfather Babe Ruth, Red Sox legend Ted Williams, and all-time home run king Barry Bonds. And luckily for Bryce Harper, his manager, Baker, used to coach one of those players; Bonds played on the San Francisco Giants when Baker managed the team.

Baker, who has faith that Harper will come out of his slump, compares Harper to Bonds and believes that Bryce can use the same method as Barry to own the frequent walks instead of letting them get to him.

“Hurlers constantly fell behind in counts hoping he would fish for bad balls,” explains the Washington Post piece in reference to Barry’s at-bat strategy.

“That gave him many chances within the same game to anticipate — really, guess — pitches or locations. Or sometimes both, such as ‘low fastball.’ He studied tendencies. Then he waited. If he got what he was anticipating, he usually clobbered it. When he got to two strikes, he battled. But until then, he was just picking low-hanging fruit. If he didn’t get something to his taste, he walked.”

Barry Bonds Bryce Harper Dusty Baker Intentional Walks
Barry Bonds is arguably the greatest hitter the San Francisco Giants have ever had, and his incredible eye did not hurt that fact. [Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images]

In other words, Baker said, it is very possible that Bryce Harper could use the count to his advantage. Unfortunately, he said, that strategy requires immense patience and concentration.

“Barry mastered taking concentration to the next level. I never saw him get frustrated.”

And patience is a quality that Bryce Harper has shown the world he may lack, at least at this point in his career, leading even Baker to question if Harper is capable of the almost Zen mentality that made Bonds such a great hitter.

Baker has faith in Harper, though.

“They’re actually doing Bryce a favor,” he adds optimistically.

“The more pitches he sees he can zero in on what is good and what’s not.”

Dusty even went so far as to say that the scarcity of hittable pitches Harper is currently going up against will ultimately make Bryce a better ballplayer by improving his eye.

“It’s tough to take now, but I think this could possibly help him in the long-run,” Baker continued. “Because it’s all about vision and determining one pitch from another pitch and Bryce, when he does get a pitch to hit, he’s fouled it off.”

Only time will tell whether Bryce Harper can and will take Dusty Baker’s advice and if it will be successful in getting him out of his slump.

[Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images]