Julio Teheran is a really good pitcher. Imagine how good he’d be if he didn’t have to face Bryce Harper in five or six games every season.
We stipulate that Harper is a really good hitter. (National League MVP in 2015, ICYMI.) When he faces Teheran, he’s not just a good hitter. He’s Barry Bonds in 2004. The cold — actually not so cold — numbers: Harper is 15-for-33 against Teheran with seven home runs, three doubles and 17 RBIs. He has walked five times, struck out five times.
Harper has three career grand slams; two have come against Teheran. Harper’s OPS against Teheran is 1.720. Remember the bit about Harper being to Teheran what Bonds was to every pitcher in 2004? That’s not exactly true. Bonds’ OPS in 2004 was 1.4217, which stands as the best season, OPS-wise, in baseball history.
Meaning: Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ best player, is better against Julio Teheran, the Braves’ best pitcher, than any hitter — the top 10 OPS years ever: Bonds four times, Babe Ruth four times, Ted Williams twice — has ever been over a major-league season. And not just better by a bit; better by a big fat lot.
One of the reasons Teheran is a good pitcher — before Harper came to town, he’d yielded two earned runs in 19 innings — is that he throws different pitches well. Nothing he throws to Harper works. A recap of Wednesday’s Teheran/Harper duels:
First inning: Harper hits the first pitch he sees over the wall in right-center. It’s a four-seam fastball at 90.7 mph that’s belt-high down the middle, meaning not very fast in a hittable spot. In sum, not a great pitch.
Second inning: With the bases loaded and two out, Teheran starts Harper with a slightly faster fastball (91.5 mph), which is taken for Ball 1. The second pitch is a changeup — 81 mph — that Harper, having seen two fastballs, is surely expecting. It’s dipping toward Anthony Recker’s mitt, the catcher having set a late low target, but it doesn’t dip fast enough. Another not-great pitch. Harper hoists it over the center-field wall. Grand slam. Two innings, two swings, two homers, five RBIs.
(We say again: Teheran’s first 19 innings of the season saw him touched for two earned runs; his first three pitches to Harper saw him touched for five.)
Fourth inning: Two out, runners on the corners. For the third time, Teheran starts Harper with a four-seamer. Fouled off. The next two pitches are astballs taken for balls. With count 2-1, Teheran throws his first curve to Harper. It bounces past Recker, a run scoring on the wild pitch. With first base now open and nothing working against Harper, Teheran and the Braves say, “Heck with this.” An international Ball 4 is delivered.
There’s your good pitcher/good hitter matchup: Three plate appearances, six runs (seven if you count the one on the WP), two home runs and an ultimately (but still too late) intentional walk.
Sometimes this happens, and the hitter doesn’t have to be Ted Williams. The otherwise ordinary Mike Redmond hit .438 with two doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs off Tom Glavine. (Glavine talks about this a lot, and he’s clearly still ticked.) Redmond’s average against all pitchers was .287. He had 13 career home runs.
Seldom, though, does it happen with All-Star versus All-Star. (I mean, isn’t good pitching supposed to stop good hitting?) Just another reason to hope that Harper does as most expect come the fall of 2018 and sign with the Yankees. Until then, just walk the dude.