ATLANTA -- In addition to his long home run in the second inning, Bryce Harper walked four times during the Nationals' 8-1 victory over the Braves on Monday night. It's the fifth time in his career he has drawn four walks in a single game.
Hank Aaron and Stan Musial only had five such games in their career. Joey Votto, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. only did so four times. Harper is 25 years old.
Consider Harper's streak of reaching base in eight consecutive plate appearances, which spanned from the top of the sixth inning Sunday to his groundout in the ninth inning Monday. Here's how they went: home run, walk, home run, walk, home run, walk, walk, walk. To compare this or his night Monday to Barry Bonds would not be hyperbole (Bonds had 25 games with four walks). When Harper got a pitch to hit in the second inning, he punished it. If not, he simply watched the ball go by and took his base.
Gif: Harper Walk
Harper's patience at the plate is a huge reason why he is off to another fast start. The season is only four games old and small sample size caveats certainly apply. But so far, he is seeing fewer good pitches in the strike zone and swinging at them more often when he does.
Pitchers have thrown Harper pitches in the strike zone just 35.7 percent of the time, way down from 42.7 percent in 2017 and 40.4 percent in '16. But he is swinging at pitches in the strike zone 86.7 percent of the time and chasing pitches out of the zone just 18.5 percent of the time, compared to 72.7 and 31.1 percent, respectively, in '17. Of 186 batters who'd seen at least 25 pitches in the strike zone through Tuesday, Harper's in-zone swing rate was fourth highest. Meanwhile, of the 73 batters who had seen at least 40 pitches outside of the strike zone, his chase rate was 15th lowest.
Even when Harper won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in '15, his in-zone swing rate was 71.3 percent and out-of-zone chase rate was 25.6 percent.
And when Harper gets a pitch to hit, he's still capable of doing this:
Gif: Harper Homer Swing
All of this is a way to say, Harper is locked in at the plate. Whether he can continue this is to be determined. Traditionally, the first month of the season has been Harper's best month before he has ran into injury troubles that have slowed him down. However, this start is a positive trend to start the year after he chased more pitches outside of the zone last season, and his swinging strike rate also increased (13 percent in '17 compared to 9.7 percent in '16 and 11.9 percent in '15). And Harper has yet to strike out in his first 20 plate appearances.
This 2018 season will be important for Harper for a myriad of reasons, and he could not have asked for a better start. Washington is 4-0 for the first time in team history, with perhaps its deepest lineup ever and the rotation is off to a hot start as well.
And Harper is getting back to the basics that have made him so successful. He's waiting for his pitch, and when he gets it, he's crushing it.