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HomeMLB BaseballBryce Harper Is Getting Snug With First Base

Bryce Harper Is Getting Snug With First Base

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports activities

First base protection is sophisticated. It isn’t one of the vital troublesome positions, however that doesn’t imply it doesn’t have its personal challenges. Gamers within the latter half of their careers who’ve misplaced athleticism typically undertake the place as their new residence, which is attention-grabbing as a result of it’s way more troublesome to be taught a brand new place if you’re previous your athletic prime. However as a result of first base doesn’t require prime tier athleticism, it’s not unusual for that to occur. Bryce Harper’s case is an ideal instance of this.

Between Philadelphia’s crowded outfield and its curiosity in preserving its star wholesome as he ages via his 30s, first base turned a viable choice for the previous MVP when the place opened up and he was getting back from Tommy John surgical procedure in report time. Final 12 months, he dealt with it properly — even when he at instances ventured too far off the bag for grounders within the gap, as if he had been again in proper discipline attempting to chop the ball off within the hole — provided that he was studying the place on the fly.

It was a guess on Harper’s baseball expertise and IQ that appears to have labored out properly. His defensive metrics appeared strong in 2023 (+3 OAA); after all, contemplating the small pattern, we shouldn’t take these numbers as bond, however they had been encouraging nonetheless. Now, with a full offseason of studying the place and a month’s price of performs, we have now a greater thought of what his true expertise is on the place. Later on this article, we’ll watch some video of Harper taking part in first to guage the place he stands. However first, let’s check out the numbers.

Up to now in his first base profession, Harper has a +6 OAA and a Success Price Added between three and 4 p.c. His OAA this season is +3, which is the very best amongst first basemen. Mainly, the numbers indicated that Harper had a strong basis already, and with extra expertise, he’s change into one of many prime defenders at his place.

For the remainder of this piece, we’ll use video to interrupt down Harper’s dealing with of three elementary sides of the place: his footwork on groundballs that he takes unassisted, his feeds and really feel for flipping to pitchers, and his alternatives to make outs at second. There are different elements that go into first base protection — similar to catching pickoff makes an attempt, securing scoops, and receiving cutoffs earlier than delivering relays — however I’m most concerned about his expertise fielding groundballs. With that mentioned, let’s begin by grounders hit shut sufficient to the bag for Harper to make an unassisted putout:

Unassisted Groundballs

Two issues stick out to me straight away: Harper is nice at working from the bottom up, and he nearly all the time retains his physique shifting in the fitting route. Any shortstop would let you know that progressively shifting your ft and physique weight towards your goal as you discipline the ball is essential. The identical premise holds for first baseman.

With a gradual chopper, you must stagger your ft to be sure to keep below management and don’t overplay the baseball and get a nasty hop. When working towards the primary bottom line, as Harper has carried out so properly, you steadiness how arduous the ball was hit with the angle you’re taking to it; on more durable hit balls, you place your physique on the road to guard towards a double, whereas when a deep chopper comes, you reorient your middle of mass towards the bag to be sure to’re prepared for a race with the runner or to throw to the pitcher. Harper seems very snug making these choices. I snuck the liner from Matt Olson in there to point out how fast he may be on his ft. Not each first baseman can transfer like that. Now, let’s transfer on to a extra sophisticated job: flipping to the pitcher.

Flips to Pitcher

Harper has carried out properly sticking to the basics right here. He has a rhythm established with Zack Wheeler specifically, however his execution of main every pitcher to the bag is on level. He maintains composure all through every of the throws, even when the batter-runner is a speedster like Elly De La Cruz. Urgency and tempo are vital elements of fielding grounders at first as a result of you will get caught in a foot race with a runner. However when you’re constant together with your supply and have really feel for rushing up your arm when needed, there isn’t any must rush your ft.

I’m impressed by Harper’s capacity to make performs shifting to his proper. He makes use of his proper foot to plant or pivot very properly. That has loads to do along with his athleticism. He will get into good positions to remain below the baseball and make reads along with his palms. The subsequent clips spotlight that much more:

Potential Performs to Second

There are three completely different strikes that you could make as a right-handed thrower when deciding to ship a fireplace to second from the assorted first base positions (shallow, medium, deep) — you may pivot towards your throwing shoulder to sq. your physique to the bag, you may spin towards your forehand and non-throwing shoulder to sq. your physique, or you can also make the throw on the run. Harper clearly has a really feel these three strikes.

On the grounder hit by Olson, Harper’s footwork is incredible as he spins, turns, and throws, and his supply is to the proper aspect of second base. Then on an analogous grounder (the third play), he realizes he doesn’t have a throwing lane and decides to take the certain out at first. On the arduous groundball from Mike Trout, Harper switches his ft in a short time (like a catcher would) and delivers the ball proper on prime of the bag. The one hiccup comes within the ultimate play within the clip, when he will get the groundball close to the outfield and decides to carry it as a substitute of creating a spinning throw to second. If he fires to second as a substitute, the Phillies have had a shot at an inning-ending double play. That is one thing to maintain your eyes on as Harper continues to develop on the place. It’s the longest throw a primary baseman will make and requires a fast choice. He’s clearly snug making the spinning throw from a shallow depth, however this final piece will assist him change into extra full on the place.

On the whole, I’m impressed with how snug the Phillies slugger seems at his new place. His fundamentals are on level. He can pop off the bag shortly after holding a runner on and get his ft in examine to maneuver in any route. Even when he makes a mistake, it’s not as a result of he isn’t ready along with his ft. This may not be a Mookie Betts-level place swap, nevertheless it’s nonetheless price appreciating.



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