There is no doubt that Bryce Harper has made a dynamic debut in his first week as a major leaguer. Whether he is hitting doubles into the gap or stealing home, Harper has shown that he can play at the highest level, and play well. The average fan is seeing every great play or hit, but coaches and baseball minds know that he is doing the little things right to make the big plays happen. After all, you don’t get to the Show without doing the little things well.
It’s the little things that often go unnoticed, but they are fundamental and can make a big difference. For young ballplayers looking to improve their game, let’s look at the little things Harper does to make his outfield throws to the plate absolutely phenomenal. Harper had two great throws in his first week – one on a ground ball single to left and the other on a sac fly to left field.
Example 1 – The Ground Ball Base Hit
The first one we’ll take a look at is his throw against the Dodgers in his first ever major league game. To set up the situation, there is a runner on second base with one out. When the batter hits the ball through the 5-6 hole and it makes its way into left field, the runner on second rounds third base hard and goes for home. Here’s the video:
Now, if his catcher holds onto the ball, the runner is out at the plate and the Nationals still have a one run lead. But regardless of the end result, let’s take a look at Harper’s approach and execution so that his team would at least have an opportunity to make the play.
- Does not wait for the ball to come to him – Harper does not hesitate on the ball as it makes its way into the outfield. He is charging hard, building up his momentum towards the direction the ball will be thrown. This is a mistake that many young outfielders make. Instead of attacking the ball, they wait for the ball to come to them. This not only wastes time in picking the ball up, but does nothing to gather speed toward home plate.
- Quick Release – As soon as he fields the ball cleanly, Harper loads up and gets rid of the ball. Any hesitation and the play at the plate is not even close with the runner scoring easily. Many times at lower levels of the game, an outfielder will hesitate on the throw even after fielding the ball cleanly.
- Throws the ball on a line – This is preached by every coach I’ve ever known, and yet many young outfielders still have trouble putting their throw on a line. Instead, they throw the ball high enough to kill a few birds that might be passing by. It doesn’t hurt that Harper has a strong arm to begin with, but by keeping the ball out of the high sky and on a line he is allowing his catcher to stay planted on the ground and/or his infielders a chance to cut off a throw that is offline.
Example 2 – The Sacrifice Fly
Now, let’s take a look at Harper’s throw off of a sacrifice fly against the Diamondbacks only a few days later. The setup – bases loaded with one out and the batter hits a fly ball to left field. The runner on third tags up and after seeing the ball caught, makes a break for home. Here’s the video:
Again, the end result is not ideal for the defense as the runner was called safe. (Replay shows he was actually out.) But the play by Harper is outstanding from catch to throw. Again, he exhibits a quick release and a throw that is on a perfect line. But, because this is a fly ball, we can take another piece of information from the play and learn from it.
Notice that Harper does not “camp out” under the ball and wait for it to come down. His feet are constantly moving and gaining ground towards home plate (similar to the ground ball in the previous example). The difference between the fly ball and the ground ball is that Harper has to time the fly ball a little better in order to meet the ball at the right moment where he can catch it while continuing to move his body forward. His forward movement allows him to get a little more power behind the throw, and as you can see in the video, it’s a strike from left field.
Watch and Learn
I firmly believe young baseball players can learn a lot about the game just by watching others play. Whether they are watching major leaguers, college players, or even their own teammates, there is a ton of opportunity to observe how to play the game the right way. You should try to take one new piece of information away from each game (or inning). Imagine what that new knowledge could do for your own game.
Bryce Harper is an outstanding athlete and watching him play definitely provides great entertainment value. But, beyond the “wow” factor there are many opportunities for young baseball players to learn the fundamentals of playing in the outfield.