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Harper will remain in left field for now

Feb 24, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

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VIERA, Fla. — Despite his relative lack of experience, Bryce Harper has already seen considerable playing time at all three outfield spots with the Nationals. In 253 total games since reaching the majors in 2012, he has spent 39 percent of his time in left field, 36 percent of his time in center field and 25 percent of his time in right field.

That’s an awfully even split across all three positions, a rarity for any big-league outfielder, let alone a budding superstar who only 3 1/2 years ago still considered himself a catcher.

And it’s something Matt Williams would like to avoid this season and down the road.

The new Nationals manager said Monday he plans to play Harper in left field and keep him there all year, barring any unforeseen developments.

“There are going to be days off for guys, so there may be opportunities for him in right,” Williams said. “There may be opportunities for him in center. But I would like for him to concentrate on playing left right now and see where we go with that.”

Upon drafting him in 2010, the Nationals converted Harper from catcher to outfielder, and the prevailing thought was that he would play right field to take full advantage of his arm strength. Then the franchise signed Jayson Werth to a 7-year, $126 million contract, and suddenly that position was clogged for the long-term future.

Injuries to Werth and others, though, prompted ex-manager Davey Johnson to move Harper around his outfield the last two seasons, resulting in those evenly-split stats. In his career, Harper has played 858 1/3 innings in left field, 776 2/3 innings in center field and 546 2/3 innings in right field.

There has been some thought all along that Harper will eventually end up in right, with Werth shifting over to left, but Williams suggested that won’t be happening anytime soon.

“I like the construction of our outfield right now,” the rookie manager said. “I think Jayson’s a fantastic right fielder. Denard (Span) is phenomenal in center. And Bryce is pretty special in left. Does it mean they’re not going to move around? No. But as we get started early on, I’m going to try to keep it that way and let them go play and get themselves in shape and ready to go.”

Williams also finds himself in a more advantageous position than Johnson was the last two years, with a well-established fourth outfielder in Nate McLouth who is equally comfortable at all three positions. That will allow Williams to make simple substitutions when one of his regulars is taking a day off or gets pulled from a game, with McLouth merely filling in wherever the vacancy exists.

“Nate McLouth is a huge piece to the puzzle as well,” Williams said, “because he plays all three.”

Harper’s surgically repaired knee, meanwhile, has been no issue thus far in camp, and the 21-year-old has been able to participate fully in all activities. Harper tentatively is slated to make his game debut Saturday against the Braves.

  1. sjm308 - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    Hate to seem totally clueless but when he hit the various walls, was he playing left field? l honestly can’t remember.

    • Mark Zuckerman - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:14 PM

      Both wall collisions last year (in Atlanta and in L.A.) came in right field.

      • sjm308 - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:34 PM

        Thanks Mark – I thought so but was too chicken to make an outright statement so I asked instead. Just another reason to keep the young man in one spot.

      • Doc - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:59 PM

        Correctomundo, Mark

        But I don’t think that the OF location had much to do with it. More issues of positioning and controlling his chase. Interestingly, he didn’t have similar problems in CF the previous year.

    • knoxvillenat - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:16 PM

      In Los Angeles he was playing right field. When he hit the wall in ATL I believe he was also in RF but I’m uncertain of that one.

      • knoxvillenat - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:16 PM

        I believe I owe the host a drink!

      • natinalsgo - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:30 PM

        Owing Mark a drink is a sign of great knowledge and wisdom. I think when Harp alligator armed a line drive in which the Nats lost a game with Soriano on the mound, he was also in RF.

  2. RPrecupjr - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    The key here, as mentioned by Mark and backed up by Mr. Williams, is the acquisition of McLouth. While he has an arm that probably ranks only slightly better than Juan Pierre’s, he is a good glove man at any of the outfield positions. There fore, if Werth needs a day off here and there, McLouth plays right. Same thing goes for Span. The only time we may see Bryce in reight or center is if one or the other is hurt and the healthy one needs a day off…which would leave us with and outfield of Hairston in left, McLouth in center, and Harper in right (strictly because of his arm). Here’s hoping we don’t ever see that day this season.

    • David Proctor - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:32 PM

      I have a feeling we’d be seeing Mr. Steven Souza if that were the case.

    • Joe Seamhead - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:17 AM

      “only slightly better than Juan Pierre’s.”
      Surely you jest. Where are you getting that from?

      • RPrecupjr - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:17 AM

        First, please note that I said “probably”, I didn’t state it as a fact. I got that from reading the articles when we signed him that said he was a good hitter, good fielder who could play all three outfield positions, but had essentially no arm. So I chose to compare him with the best-known noodle arm out there.

        Inspired by your comment (or because I’m bored at work today) I decided to see if I could back it up with stats. Went to FanGraphs and looked up the ARM rating (Outfield arm runs above average) for McLouth, Pierre, and our starting three. I went back five seasons (except for Harper, obviously) and this is what I got:

        Pierre: -17.7
        McLouth: -8.1
        Span: -5.1 (!)
        Werth: +9.0
        Harper: +9.2
        And for good measure: Hairston: -4.3

        So I did the same with the rARM stat (Runs saved above average) for the last five years:

        Pierre: -17
        McLouth: -8
        Span: -16 (!)
        Werth: +8
        Harper: +8
        Hairston: -3

        Needless to say, both of those gave me a little pause regarding our current center fielder, but considering his glovework and effortless footwork, I’m ok with his arm not being so good.

        So I stand by what I said about McLouth. I’m thrilled that we have him (and not a converted IF (Lombo) or lumbering 1B (Moore) as our fourth outfielder and I don’t think his arm ranks immediately ahead of Pierre’s, but it definitely isn’t his strong suit.

  3. jd - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Sorry,

    Werth is NOT fantastic in Right

    • sjm308 - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:37 PM

      No jd, he is not but he has played it for enough years that he does know the angles in all the parks and also has a good idea of where to play for each hitter. I think Harper will be there the majority of his career and am also thinking this will be Werth’s last year in right. It actually makes sense for both players when that move is made. I do like Harper having a full year in left before making the move. It will be good to have him settle in and not worry.

    • natinalsgo - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:41 PM

      By UZR and advanced stats you are correct but when the game is on the line he will sacrifice his body and turn in a Web Gem. His HR robbing play in Game 1 in St Louis was a thing of beauty. Jayson seems to pace himself because to him this is a marathon and not a sprint.

      Personally I think Jayson looks like a prototypical 1st baseman with that tall frame. He’s taller and more athletic than ALR and with some work there could prolong his career.

    • David Proctor - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:43 PM

      He’s good in right if he’s 100% healthy and has his legs under him. But he turns 35 this year and hasn’t been fully healthy in 2 years. So…

  4. jd - Feb 24, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    I just think that Harper’s arm is wasted in left and I think left is less taxing than right so it makes sense to me to make the move now.

    • zmunchkin - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:43 PM

      His arm is not wasted in left. The primary reason that most teams want the strongest arm in right in to limit the runners from advancing from first to third on hits that are in the general direction of where the right fielder was positioned.

      In left, a strong arm is quite often a deterrent to runners advancing from 2nd to home on shallow singles.

      Harper’s cannon for an arm is definitely not wasted in left.

  5. Section 222 - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:06 PM

    I’m with you jd, but we’ve known for quite awhile that either JW doesn’t want to move or his managers don’t want to ask him to move. And JW may not be great, or even better than Harper, but he’s not awful either. So we’ll live with it.

    This is the first time, however, that I’ve heard that McLouth’s arm is sub par. If that’s true, does it really make sense to have him play RF, instead of putting Harper’s gun over there when Werth gets a rest?

  6. Joe Seamhead - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    OK, I’m going to pipe in here. [a disclaimer, the rest of this post is just my opinion].First off concerning Bryce Harper penned in for playing LF: that’s where he belongs at this point in time, with this team. Bryce has said on more than one occasion that he has a hard time getting a good read in RF, and the earlier poster was correct that it was in RF when he crashed into the wall on both occasions along with the infamous Soriano game when Bryce was playing way to shallow in SF and the ball went over his head, costing the Nats the win. What Soriano said was correct, Bryce was out of position for the situation, and the fact is most any outfielder on any level knows that was a “no doubles” situation. I don’t blame Harper, I blame whatever coach was supposed to position him. Anyway, right field is often times the most difficult of the outfield positions to play, and with Harper’s limited experience it is flat out the worse place for him to play. And for those that don’t think that Werth plays a good RF? I can see where you are coming from if you are judging how he let balls drop in front of him last year, but the guy had several hamstring and groin issues, not to mention a wrist that still wasn’t 100%, but Jayson plays as one of the most intelligent outfielders in MLB. I never thought of him as an elite outfield athletically speaking. Hell, Justin Maxwell is a better athlete than Werth, but Justin ain’t no Jayson in RF! Werth plays the tough caroms in right as well as anybody. I’m with sjm308 in that eventually Bryce and Jayson will switch, but the team, and Bryce are still better off with him in LF right now.
    One more thing: UZR is still not always a very reliable/accurate “advanced” statistic. It just isn’t. I’m not saying that it’s useless, but it is one stat that I take with only a couple of grains of salt.

    • zmunchkin - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:39 PM

      Well said Joe Seamhead.

      And frankly, the fact that the defensive stats don’t rank JW as a great right fielder is more an indictment of how silly they are than JW’s skills in right. All of these so-called defensive stats are nothing more than opinions/guesses that folks have tried to quantify by associating numbers with them.

    • natsjackinfl - Feb 24, 2014 at 7:08 PM

      Good job Joe . I’ve adopted the same reaction I get from the professional scouts whenever I mention UZR or defensive Sabre metrics which is shake my head and chuckle.

    • Doc - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:06 PM

      Yeah Seams, you pretty much summed it up.

      Maybe with the new lF/OF coach we won’t see any repeats of Harper being out of position. Like you, I blame those that ‘positioned’ him, not Harper!

  7. letswin3 - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    Well, my hopes for signing Choo and moving JW to first base this season were unmet. So maybe the first base vacancy next season will offer an opportunity to ask Werth how he would feel about that spot. I agree that he would be well-suited for it, and it might add a couple of productive seasons to his career. The outfield vacancy created could possibly be filled internally by prospects already in the system.

  8. Joe Seamhead - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    I wonder how Matt Williams will deal with it if Bryce Harper makes a clown move like he did last year when he threw to 1B from LF?

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    Werth plays the corner in Nats Field better than any RF we’ve had, which may not be saying much but it’s true. Hes got umpty-ump years of experience playing the walls and corners in every other NL park, compared to Harper’s half-dozen games or so. Do you suppose it’s entirely coincidental that both Harper’s trips into the wall were in away games? As to McLouth I’ve never heard that he has a lousy arm. In any event, CF is probably the position in which a cannon is most over-valued. There are only a handful — literally — of players who have Harper’s ability to throw from the fence to the plate, so comparing McLouth’s or most any other CFs arm to that standard is unrealistic. The things that CFs are judged by are positioning, reaction time, route-running and catching the ball, before arm strength. Once the ball is over the CF’s head or off-the-wall in LC or RC it’s all about hitting the cutoff man or the runner running out of breath.

    A good arm, on the other hand, is not wasted at any outfield position. Depending on the park (e.g., Fenway, Houston, Citizen’s Band Box) a good arm may be even more important in LF as who knows how many runners are dissuaded from attempting to stretch a single into a double.

    Let things be as they are.

  10. David Proctor - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:56 PM

    McLouth has a strong arm, it’s just not always accurate.

  11. ArVAFan - Feb 24, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    From Kilgore:

    “Between Williams, General Manager Mike Rizzo, assistant GM Doug Harris, director of player development Mark Scialabba and several other coaches and front office officials, the Nationals’ brain trust may have less hair than any in the majors. International scouting director Johnny DiPuglia, follicly bereft himself, swung through camp today with a gift for his fellow cue balls: red T-shirts that read, “Balditude.””

    I noticed that at Nats Fest: you could tell the players from the management by the hair–or lack of it. I just hope management wears hats or sunscreen.

    And if anyone happens to catch one of those shirts *on* said management, well, we’d love a photo.

    • trochlis318 - Feb 24, 2014 at 8:09 PM

      you know how the red sox grew out their beards, well maybe the nats go bald, LOL that would be fun to see, just imagine, werth with no hair!, or Bryce, it might be too funny fo them to do. how about gio the hair lover!

  12. David Proctor - Feb 24, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    Kilgore has the lineup for Friday’s game:

    1. Nate McLouth, RF
    2. Danny Espinosa, 2B
    3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
    4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
    5. Ian Desmond, SS
    6. Wilson Ramos, C
    7. Tyler Moore, DH
    8. Scott Hairston, LF
    9. Michael Taylor, CF

    • nats128 - Feb 24, 2014 at 8:52 PM

      Looks good. Tyler Moore has his work cut out for him. Kilgore predicts him to be in AAA on Opening Day.

      • Doc - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:10 PM

        Poor TyMo, he needs to be traded, so he can re-start a big league career.

        Maybe Bo and the Astros still want him?????

      • Joe Seamhead - Feb 25, 2014 at 6:19 AM

        I wonder how much, if any, interest Rizzo has gotten from other teams regarding Tyler Moore?

    • naterialguy - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:31 PM

      any pitchers?

  13. naterialguy - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:27 PM

    wow a line up card. That is exciting.
    Port St Lucie here I come :-)

  14. Section 222 - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:32 PM

    If my DirecTV guide is correct, Friday’s game will be broadcast on MLB Network. Set those DVRs!

    • Section 222 - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:36 PM

      Oh, and the broadcast will be at 9 pm on Friday…

      • veejh - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:57 AM

        Channel 639…live at 1:10pm EST. Replay on MLB at 9pm EST.

      • Section 222 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:55 AM

        Good to know. Thanks.

  15. Joe Seamhead - Feb 25, 2014 at 6:16 AM

    One more thing on the three outfield starters. In my opinion, the error stat is not worth too much more than the UZR stat! Mainly because official scorers are so inconsistent as to how they charge them, but regardless, the three primary outfield starters Harper, Werth, and Span were charged with 8 errors between them. Span had none, Werth had 2, and Harper had 6. Now, the Nats team fielding percentage was not very good, but you could lay very little of that poor stat on the outfielders.

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