Nationals vs Lefties: On Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Adam LaRoche

Greg Fiume

Bryce Harper wasn't the only Washington National to struggle with left-handed pitching last season. Denard Span and Adam LaRoche couldn't hit lefties either and it was a big problem in a disappointing season. Davey Johnson had advice for Harper on his way out...

Denard Span couldn't explain his struggles against left-handed pitchers in 2013. Span put up a .301/.374/.365 line vs lefties in 2012 in his final campaign in Minnesota, and even after posting a .167/.221/.202 line vs left-handed pitchers in Washington in 2013, he still has a .281/.358/.374 career line against lefties after five years with the Twins and one season in the nation's capital. "'I hit lefties,'" Span told the Washington Times in September. "'I always have.'"

"I was telling him, 'You're going to really hit left-handers good, when you realize any left-hander, all left-handed pitchers are just dumb.'" - Davey Johnson's advice to Bryce Harper

"'You check my stats. I normally don’t say that but I’ve hit them my whole career in the big leagues. I don’t mind playing against lefties. I want to play every day. I see myself as an everyday player.'"

Span's 29-game hit streak kept him in the lineup late this season, but he forced then-Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson to consider platooning him throughout the summer. Johnson's frustration with all of his left-handers struggling to hit lefties was captured perfectly by the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, who wrote in August of hearing Johnson wondering "aloud to no one in particular," when his lefties would turn things around.

"'My left-handers got to start hitting left-handers sooner or later,'" Johnson said. Maybe in 2014?

Adam LaRoche posted a .268/.319/.506 line against left-handed pitchers in 2012, but the middle-of-the-order bat finished his disappointing 2013 campaign with a .190/.246/.324 vs LHP. LaRoche has a .244/.300/.430 career line vs LHPs. Bryce Harper put up a .240/.300/.415 line against left-handers in his first major league season in 2012, but the 20-going-on-21-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick put up a .214/.327/.321 line vs lefties last summer while improving from .286/.360/.509 vs RHP in 2012 to .300/.388/.560 on the year in 2013.

ESPN.com's Mark Simon tweeted Harper's heat maps vs lefties and righties so far in his career yesterday, showing where the trouble spots are for Harper, while also noting his rough .376 SLG against lefties so far in his career and his issues with sliders from LHPs:

Harper's outgoing manager offered some advice before he stepped away from the Nats' bench.

"I was telling him, 'You're going to really hit left-handers good,'" Johnson said, "'when you realize any left-hander, all left-handed pitchers are just dumb. You'll hit them real good when you realize that."

Harper finished his second season in Washington with a .274/.368/.486 line overall, 24 doubles and 20 HRs in 118 games and 497 plate appearances over which he was worth + 3.8 fWAR. Can he make even a modest improvement against left-handers this season? Will LaRoche and Span both have down years against lefties again in 2013?

Will Tyler Moore (if he can get enough AB's) hit lefties in the majors like he did at Triple-A last season (.366 AVG)?

It would also help if Ryan Zimmerman (who has a .310/.396/.503 line vs LHPs in his career) improves on the .259/.374/.476 line he put up against lefties last year...

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