Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 5/23/13
Even when I’m not trying to pay attention to Bryce Harper, he finds a way to capture my focus. Last night, I was seeing off a friend on the east side of Portland, and if I’d been thinking about any sport, it was hockey, since these are the days of the NHL playoffs. A TV was being projected onto one of the walls of the bar, and at first it was showing a minor-league hockey game. Eventually it switched to baseball highlights, which eventually turned to a game between the Nationals and the Giants. The Nationals won 2-1 in ten innings, but what stuck with me wasn’t the result, but rather a Bryce Harper double. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Harper rip a Jeremy Affeldt delivery into right field. The ball skidded all the way to the fence, where it was recovered by Hunter Pence, but Harper pulled up at second with ease. He’d score minutes later. I’ve seen Bryce Harper double before, but this one was different. This one was an in-between grounder/line drive, and it was hit between the first and second basemen, and it made it all the way to the wall. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw something like that. Naturally, I’ve prepared a .gif of the double. It’s the .gif you see below. One sees balls get hit to this location all the time. They go for singles, or, rarely, outs, in the event the defense is appropriately shifted. This was a double. Here’s a lousy screenshot of where the ball hit the ground: Here’s the ball reaching the fence: Baseball-Reference characterizes the ball in play as a grounder. Gameday calls it a sharp grounder. Its Retrosheet hit location is 34 — that is, it was between the first and second basemen. If you look at the linked chart, you can see this would technically be 34D, or 34 Deep. That’s right in front of 9 Shallow. It’s subjective, but so are most things. I got curious about any other 2013 doubles hit to this location. So off I went to the Baseball-Reference Event Finder, which brought to my attention eight doubles, Harper’s from Wednesday included. (There weren’t any triples.) I watched all of them on the MLB.tv archives, and it turns out five of those eight doubles were actually down the line, to the left of the first baseman, from his perspective. That tells you right there this data is imperfect, but anyway. There are lots of doubles hit down the lines. I wasn’t interested in those. I was left with three doubles from this season. Two of them by Bryce Harper. Here’s where one was fielded: That, for Harper, was a hustle double. The other double was by Gerardo Parra, and it was also a hustle double, and a much more hilarious one. I cut off the .gif because of file-size concerns, but Parra made it all the way to second safely. Here’s the baseball: Three doubles, this year, between the first and second basemen. At least that I could find. Two of them were hustle doubles. One of them was a double off the wall by Bryce Harper on Wednesday. That’s how fast the baseball came off of Bryce Harper’s bat. Which is the whole point of this exercise. There’s lots of evidence of how hard Bryce Harper can hit the ball. Here’s a really fast and impressive home run. The quality of Harper’s contact is most evident when you look at his power. This is the guy who hit that home run off that scoreboard when he was but a wee boy. Harper’s intimidating because he can hit the ball a mile. But Harper can hit the ball a mile because the ball is a rocket off the barrel. We’ve been talking about a sharp ground ball between first and second base. It reached the fence before the outfielder could cut it off. The ball was by Pence in less than three seconds. It reached the wall in just under 4.2 seconds. That’s after bouncing and slowing down on the outfield grass. I don’t have any reference points as to ordinary times, but just on intuition, and just from having watched the video, those numbers seem incredible to me. I don’t need HITf/x data to know that Harper hit the crap out of a sharp ground ball, which is a weird thing to say. But nobody else has done this this year. Only Harper has doubled off the wall on a grounder between first and second. The specific point: Bryce Harper hit the baseball hard. The less specific point: Bryce Harper hits the baseball hard. The least specific point: there are more ways than you can imagine for Bryce Harper to be amazing. People won’t long remember the details of Harper’s double off Affeldt on Wednesday. But it could be some time before anyone but Harper pulls the same thing off.
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