❚ Can Bryce Harper and other strug­gling hit­ters re­bound?

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Dave Adler @Base­bal­lHQ USA TO­DAY Net­work Sub­scribe to Base­bal­lHQ.com for more win­ning fan­tasy base­ball anal­y­sis

As the dog days of sum­mer ap­proach, some high-priced MLB tal­ent cur­rently re­sides in the dog house.

Bat­ting av­er­age on balls in play (BABIP) can ac­count for a low bat­ting av­er­age. Bat­ters tend to es­tab­lish their own rate that sta­bi­lizes over the years, so if it’s low af­ter a few months, there’s a fair chance BABIP and bat­ting av­er­age will nor­mal­ize over the rest of the sea­son. But some­times, prob­lems go deeper.

NA­TIONAL LEAGUE

What’s eat­ing at the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ Bryce Harper

(.212 BABIP)? Could the pos­si­bil­ity of a nine-fig­ure free-agent con­tract be weigh­ing him down? He’s strik­ing out more than usual, with whiffs in close to 40% of his June plate ap­pear­ances. Other than that, the pro­file’s fine – plenty of fly balls with a high launch an­gle and exit ve­loc­ity con­sis­tent with years past. With three month-plus DL stints in the past five years, Harper will al­ways carry some health risk. But if he stays on the field and starts mak­ing bet­ter con­tact, he’ll pro­duce in the sec­ond half.

Ryan Braun (.260 BABIP) of the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers will al­ways be tied to steroid use. But when he got back from that sus­pen­sion, he pro­duced $30-plus sea­sons in 2015 and 2016. Lately, though, his launch an­gle’s been pretty low, con­tribut­ing to a lot of ground balls. He's also strik­ing out more than usual.

Age catches up with ev­ery­one, and at 34, don't count on a lot from Braun — es­pe­cially now that he’s on the dis­abled list for a sec­ond time this sea­son with a back is­sue.

Af­ter spend­ing the first eight years of his ca­reer in Cleve­land, NL-only own­ers were happy to see Car­los San­tana (.216 BABIP) move to Philadel­phia. Talk about a tough start, he hit .153 with two home runs through the end of April. While he’s picked up the power pace, his bat­ting av­er­age still lags be­hind. San­tana’s an­other guy who makes fine con­tact; the hits will start fall­ing. Plus, the friendly con­fines of Cit­i­zens Bank Park mean there’s likely to be plenty of power to come.

When the front of­fice calls you out pub­licly for lack of ef­fort, it’s not a good look. John Mozeliak, the St. Louis Car­di­nals’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions, re­cently noted that Dex­ter Fowler (.201 BABIP) would lose play­ing time un­til he re­versed his plate woes.

With a bat­ting av­er­age well south of .200, who can blame him? Some en­cour­ag­ing trends ex­ist: Fowler is mak­ing con­tact as usual and putting the ball in the air a lot. But while a boost in launch an­gle looks good, a de­crease in exit ve­loc­ity makes many of those fly balls easy pop-ups. Fowler will hit for bet­ter av­er­age in the sec­ond half — how could he not? — but un­til he starts squar­ing the ball up, his pro­duc­tion will be limited.

With 64 home runs in 201617, there’s no doubt the Cincin­nati Reds’ Adam Du­vall (.233 BABIP) is a power hit­ter. But his bat­ting av­er­age was only .245 over that span. A his­tory of big strike­out num­bers means he’s never go­ing to hit for a high av­er­age. But af­ter a hor­rid April and May (.181 av­er­age), Du­vall has turned it around in June (.263). Look for more pro­duc­tion as his BABIP sta­bi­lizes. While the Col­orado Rock­ies’

Ian Des­mond (.244 BABIP) has only a .214 av­er­age, he’s clubbed 17 home runs. So he’ll re­main pro­duc­tive, right? Not so fast. Des­mond strug­gles to get the ball air­borne, as more than 60% of bat­ted balls go on the ground.

Plus, over 40% of the fly balls he’s hit have left the yard — an un­sus­tain­able per­cent­age given his typ­i­cal 15-18% rate. Sure, Coors Field helps, but there’s no way Des­mond keeps this up. While his bat­ting av­er­age may rise a bit, he won’t keep hitting homers at the same pace.

AMER­I­CAN LEAGUE

Earn­ing at least $20 in three of the last four years made the Min­nesota Twins’ Brian Dozier

(.243 BABIP) a pop­u­lar mid­dle in­field choice in 2018, rarely last­ing un­til the end of the third round. Those lofty ex­pec­ta­tions only make his 2018 per­for­mance more dis­ap­point­ing. Per­haps loom­ing free agency is in his head, also.

Dozier’s plate ap­proach re­mains un­changed – he takes plenty of walks and strikes out at a league-av­er­age pace. But there’s been a power out­age of sorts, with fewer fly balls leav­ing the yard. With a five-year track record of solid con­tact and strong power, look for Dozier to make a state­ment in the sec­ond half.

As if the early sea­son slump wasn’t enough to dis­cour­age New York Yan­kees fans, Gary

Sanchez (.194 BABIP) now sits on the DL with a groin strain. Sanchez's plate ap­proach looks sim­i­lar to last year, strik­ing out a tad too much, but with plenty of power. His launch an­gle leads to plenty of fly balls and home runs. Plus, at 22, there’s plenty of room to grow. When Sanchez gets back into the lineup, look for a big con­tri­bu­tion to New York's play­off push.

High bat­ting av­er­age and 32 home runs in 2017 made Jonathan Schoop (.228 BABIP) of the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles a pop­u­lar tar­get on draft day. Sure, he’s missed time this year with an oblique in­jury, but he’s dis­ap­pointed when he’s been on the field. There are rea­sons for con­cern: Schoop isn’t mak­ing hard con­tact, and he’s lost a bit of exit ve­loc­ity. A drop in launch an­gle also saps some power. Schoop has some swing me­chan­ics to iron out be­fore he can be counted on for a sec­ond-half surge.

Watch Jackie Bradley Jr.

(.254 BABIP) pa­trol cen­ter field for Bos­ton, and you un­der­stand his real-life value. And he’s pro­duced at the plate be­fore, with a .267 av­er­age and 26 home runs in 2016. But since the mid­point of 2017, Bradley hasn’t pro­duced much of­fen­sive value.

With a bat­ting av­er­age hov­er­ing around the Men­doza line, he’s strik­ing out in roughly 30% of his plate ap­pear­ances. It doesn’t help that Bradley puts the ball on the ground fre­quently with be­low-av­er­age power. While Bradley is fun to watch in the out­field, don’t count on a big con­tri­bu­tion at the plate. In 2017, the Oak­land A’s Matt

Joyce (.235 BABIP) hit the most home runs in his 10-year ca­reer, which was a bit of a sur­prise in the pitcher’s par­adise of Oak­land Coli­seum. He’s been un­able to sus­tain his gains this year, and los­ing time to a back in­jury hasn’t helped. Although launch an­gle and exit ve­loc­ity re­main con­sis­tent with years past, Joyce’s power re­mains MIA. Strike­outs limit any bat­ting av­er­age up­side, and his home park puts a cap on power, so don’t ex­pect Joyce to pick up the pace much over the rest of the year.

PA­TRICK GORSKI/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Lofty ex­pec­ta­tions fol­lowed Twins sec­ond base­man Brian Dozier as he en­tered the sea­son, which makes his 2018 cam­paign all the more dis­ap­point­ing.

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