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Statistically speaking: Nationals' Harper flailing at curveballs

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By David Golebiewski
Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, 8:51 p.m.

The Washington Nationals are a virtual lock to make the playoffs — Fangraphs pegs their odds at 98 percent — and they're running away with the NL East without an anticipated breakout season from Bryce Harper.

The outfielder slugged like a young Mickey Mantle or Ken Griffey Jr. through age 20, but he's channeling Pedro (Cerrano or Alvarez, if you prefer) in 2014.

Harper might want to consult Jobu this weekend, considering the Pirates' weekend starters excel at throwing curveballs. No pitch has done more damage to Harper this season.

Harper compiled a .773 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) before tearing ligaments in his left thumb while sliding into third base April 25. Since undergoing surgery and returning to action June 30, Harper has a paltry .678 OPS. His strikeout rate has soared post-surgery from 23.1 percent in April to 31.7 percent from June to August.

The first pick in the 2010 draft has the game's third-worst run value per 100 pitches seen versus the hook (minimum 230 plate appearances), and he ranks last in the NL.

Run value Player vs. curveballs

Kendrys Morales -3.87

Chris Davis -3.07

Bryce Harper -3.05

Chase Headley -2.76

Michael Morse -2.33

Source: Fangraphs

Harper doesn't look primed for a big weekend against Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez. Morton is tossing his curve a quarter of the time and has a +0.67 run value per 100 pitches thrown. Volquez, unleashing his bender 26.4 percent of the time, sports a +0.72 run value per 100 curveballs thrown.

The Nats' hitting prodigy won't get a break in the late innings, either. Pirates closer Mark Melancon goes to his curveball 22.4 percent and boasts a career-best +2.26 run value per 100 thrown. That's sixth highest in the majors and trails just Santiago Casilla and Carlos Torres among qualified NL relievers.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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