It probably doesn't hurt to have a sounding board that put up 33, 34, 38 and 43 home run seasons over the course of a 17-year major league career to discuss hitting with on a daily basis. Washington Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper, 22, who has a silly .336/.474/.737 line through 40 games this season in which he's hit eight doubles and 15 HRs, 10 of them in the last two-plus weeks and 17 games, talked earlier this season about the conversations he has with 49-year-old Nationals' manager Matt Williams about the art of hitting.
"He's very impressive with what he has to say," Harper told reporters in April. "It's a lot of fun to talk to him about approach and what I'm feeling and what he's thinking I'm doing."
Harper broke down what he was trying to do this season to improve as a hitter.
"Just trying to be quick, not as strong," he explained. "Just trying to do what I can up there to connect to the baseball, see my pitches, draw my walks when I need to."
He's certainly down that, with a major league leading 37 walks so far in 2015, the top OBP in the majors and the second-most home runs, behind only veteran slugger Nelson Cruz's 16.
Williams was asked before last night's game, in which Harper went 1 for 4 with a walk and a line drive home run to right in the first, what he and Harper discuss when they do talk hitting, whether it's mechanics or a particular pitcher's tendencies?
"We don't talk mechanics at all," Williams said. "We talk philosophy and what will hopefully take him to the level that he wants to get to. But he's swinging the bat. I offer if he asks."
They do discuss "mid-game things," the second-year skipper continued, "... but there's nothing mechanical that happens. It's all about philosophical approach."
When Harper's ability to adjust to what opposing pitchers are doing to him and make adjustments in-game and even in at bats was brought up, Williams said that was all Harper learning and assimilating information.
"I think that's just his progression," Williams said.
"I think he's understanding himself. What he's good at and what he's not so good at and he's calm and he's swinging the bat well, he's seeing the ball well, so that would all point to success for him."
While something (health?) definitely seems to have changed with Harper, who was already a pretty good hitter, starting with the postseason last October and continuing this season, Williams wanted to make sure it was understood that it's the work Harper has done and nothing he's said that's made the difference.
"I want to make it clear, that this has nothing to do with me," he stated firmly.
"It has everything to do with Bryce and his approach, and him understanding himself. That's a natural progression that every hitter goes through. And this year, so far, he has been calm. He knows what he can and can't do and he takes that to the plate every time. He understands that if he walks, it sets up the rest of our lineup. So he's been good about swinging at balls in the strike zone and taking balls that are out of the strike zone. And that's just the natural progression that hitters will go through as they mature and I think he's taken the appropriate steps to do that."
Over the last month, Harper has a .400/.520/.983 line with three doubles, 10 home runs, 15 walks and 11 Ks in 17 games and 75 plate appearances, and the run he's been on has played a big role in the Nationals winning 13 of 17 games so far in May.
"It affects our lineup in a real positive way," Williams said of the streak Harper's on.
"I don't have them in front of me, but the numbers that Zim has with guys on base, it seems like he's up there every time with a guy on base, which is good for our team."
[ed. note - "Zimmerman has had 84 plate appearances with runners on base and he has a .292/.345/.556 line, five doubles, four home runs and 30 RBIs in those PAs and he's had 61 plate appearances with runners in scoring position so far this season with a .320/.377/.580 line in those PAs, in which he's hit five of the doubles, two of the home runs and collected 26 of the RBIs."]
"And then if there [are] guys in scoring position and Zim doesn't get it done then Wilson [Ramos] gets an opportunity," Williams continued.
"Both of them are proven RBI guys, they understand how to drive runs in. And that just bodes well for our club if we create those opportunities for them.
"So, Bryce is at the center of that and the guy that generally hits in front of him, either in the two or three spot, in Yunel [Escobar], he's on base a lot too. It just provides opportunity. And that's what we look for on an everyday basis to try to score runs.
"Balls are going to go out of the ballpark once in a while, we certainly don't expect Bryce to stay on a pace with home runs that he's been on, that's unreasonable, but the other things that he's doing help our team."
What he's doing is also helping Harper win awards and even more recognition.
He became just the 10th player since 1974, when they started naming players of the week for each league, to win it in consecutive weeks, and he's well on his way to a Player of the Month nod for the month of May.
All of that is nice, of course, Williams said, but not what really matters.
"It matters for Bryce and it matters for us, the bottom line to it is though if he's playing well then it helps our team. And he understands that, we all understand that. Awards are great, but I don't know if Bryce thinks about that type of stuff.
"I think he wants to be as good as he can possibly be. I think he's made that pretty clear to all you guys this season.
"That he just wants to be a good player. Wants to be really good, so he's taken the steps to do that. I'm really proud of him for that."