Author: Bob Harkins


Reds’ ‘Mr. May’ Jay Bruce smashes 12th homer of month

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They’re calling Jay Bruce “Mr. May” in Cincinnati. And for good reason.

The 24-year-old Reds outfielder has had an amazing month, carrying the Reds offense. In Cincinnati’s 7-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday, Bruce was 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs, falling a double short of the cycle.

He’s bashed 12 home runs and driven in 32 runs in May while hitting .346. He’s two short of the team record for home runs in a month, shared by Frank Robinson (August, 1962) and Greg Vaughn (Sept. 1999). But the Reds play the Brewers again on Tuesday, so don’t rule him out just yet. Two home runs? It doesn’t seem impossible the way Bruce is swinging the bat.

Bruce has a career OPS of .814 (.901 this season), but has been prone to chasing bad pitches during his four-year career. But not so much this season, according to the man himself, as told to the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I’ve been making better decisions, which is one of the big things,” Bruce said. “It’s cliché and all that, but it’s the truth. Swing at pitches you want to swing at and don’t swing at the pitches they’re trying to get you to chase, and you’re going to have a lot easier time up there.”

It’s not so much about recognizing the strike zone – a quick trip over to Fangraphs reveals that Bruce is swinging at 29.1 percent of pitches out of the zone, just 0.2 percent below his 2010 level – but that he is swinging at, and crushing, pitches that he likes, whether they are in the zone or not. Bruce’s contact rate on pitches outside the zone is 61.6 percent (up from 53.2 percent for his career), and his overall contact rate is 76.2 percent (compared to 74.1).

Whatever the reason for Bruce’s hot streak, the Reds like what they see.

“It just shows his potential, what he can do,” Reds manager Dusty Baker told the Enquirer. “His concentration is great, his balance is excellent and he’s keeping his head still. It’s really nice to see him swinging great.”

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Is improved vision making Bryce Harper even better?


We’ve already discussed how Bryce Harper is making a mockery of the Sally League.

The Washington Nationals phenom has a 15-game hitting streak at the moment and is tearing the cover off the ball with a .396/.472/.712 line. It’s impressive for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old playing full-season A-ball for the first time.

But Mark Zuckerman at CSNWashington has a theory on why Harper took off after a mediocre start to his professional career: He’s been prescribed contact lenses to sharpen his vision, and is doing eye exercises to “strengthen his eye muscles and allow him to process what he sees much quicker than before.”

Since meeting with Smithson for the first time late last month, Harper has gone on a tear at low-Class A Hagerstown. After a 4-for-5 performance Wednesday night that included his first career grand slam, he’s now riding a 15-game hitting streak, having posted a .492 average, five homers and 16 RBIs during that stretch.

In the span of three weeks, Harper has turned a pedestrian start to his pro career into a full-fledged phenomenon.

I wouldn’t give too much credit to this for Harper’s gaudy numbers, and Zuckerman even writes that “no one ever doubted last summer’s No. 1 draft pick would dominate this low level of the minors. His skills and motivation were off the charts, and he’d never not dominated any league in which he played.”

On the other hand, I suppose it couldn’t hurt. Edgar Martinez, a career .312 hitter, did eye exercises every day to combat a disorder that affected his ability to focus.

Whatever the reason for Harper’s success, he doesn’t seem destined to remain in A-ball much longer, no matter how much the Nationals want to take it slow.

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

Boras shoots down idea of Royals locking up Hosmer


Those who follow the Kansas City Royals expected Eric Hosmer to be a star.

But they probably didn’t expect him to hit home runs on consecutive days in the Bronx and lead back-to-back victories over the New York Yankees. They also probably didn’t expect they would have to consider the 21-year-old’s departure from Kansas City so soon, either.

There is already talk in Kansas City that the Royals should try to lock up Hosmer – who has played all of six games in the majors – to a long-term contract. It worked for the Tampa Bay Rays with Evan Longoria, so why wouldn’t it work for the Royals? Well there is one huge reason why the stragegy might not work: Scott Boras.

From Jeff Passan of Yahoo!:

Agent Scott Boras on Thursday shot down any hopes the Kansas City Royals had of signing burgeoning star Eric Hosmer to a long-term extension, telling Yahoo! Sports he expects massive increases in television revenue to change the landscape of salaries in baseball.

“Athletes have to know that you have to look at the market you’re in,” Boras said. “You can’t look at the markets of the past. For players like Hosmer, as you go back and look, as [Mark] Teixeira had his own market and [Prince] Fielder had his own market, Hosmer will have his own. And something tells me it’s going to be a rather eventful one.”

Well so much for that idea.

Boras said he expects the market to be vastly different by the time Hosmer becomes a free agent, and that increased revenues will trickle down to lower-revenue teams like the Royals. Whether or not that means Kansas City will have the resources to retain Hosmer remains to be seen. And frankly, it’s far too early to tell.

Hosmer is not eligible to be a free agent until after the 2017 season, and a lot can happen in the meantime. Boras’ market predictions could prove to be way off. The economy could undergo another down period. Hosmer could end up being merely a decent player. There is also the possibility that Hosmer could overrule Boras and opt for the security of an extended deal, like Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies did last winter.

So don’t panic just yet, Royals fans. Just enjoy the moment.

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

Evan Longoria has magical hands (video)


Everyone knows that Evan Longoria is a great player.

The Tampa Bay Rays star third baseman not only has a dangerous bat, but is slick with the glove at third base, as his career UZR/150 of 17.8 attests.

But did you know that he doesn’t really even need the glove? At least it seems that way in this video passed along by Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, in which Longoria saves a TV reporter from certain death via a wicked line drive to the head.

Is it real? Well it’s probably about as real as this LeBron James video, meaning not at all. Given a chance to come clean by Topkin, Longoria “simply smiled – as a good actor would.” Real or not, it’s pretty well done.

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

Are Phillies fans — gasp! — going soft?


Philadelphia sports fans probably get more attention and take more heat for their behavior than any group of their kind in U.S. sports.

Whether it’s selling sex for World Series tickets, booing Santa Claus (and robots!) or various other acts of tomfoolery, Philly fans have built a reputation as being, well, a little bit tough.

I’m hesitant to paint such a wide group of people with such a narrow brush, and will even defend Phillies fans in some cases – that robot was pretty dumb – but the body of evidence seems to suggest that the reputation is not completely without merit.

There are some, however, who disagree. Take Frank Fitzpatrick, of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Fitzpatrick writes that while Philly fans used to be among the toughest in sports, they have lost their edge.

I have always believed Philly fans were among the toughest, most demanding in sports.

They rewarded and scolded the deserving with equal fervor. No player or team got a pass simply for wearing the home colors. They didn’t worship. They respected.

But I’m beginning to have doubts.

Fitzpatrick cites affectionate signs being held in the stands (“We Love You, Charlie M!”), as a signal of the unconditional fan love that will “drag us down to the level of St. Louis or Memphis.” He asserts that Philly fans aren’t questioning their heroes anymore, just worshipping them.

The columnist then continued on writing about the Flyers and their fans, and how they are suffering a similar fate. Luckily, since the Flyers are irrelevant to this blog, I will spare you any details. Besides, that was about the time my eyes started to glaze over.

So what say you, Phillies fans? Have you gone soft? Has all the success of recent seasons gone to your heads and turned you into mindless drones who root for your team without question or criticism?

I’ll be curious to read what you have to say in the comments section below (no batteries, please!). But feel free to finish your Chase Utley love letters first, of course.

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.