Matt Klentak was in his first months working in the Angels front office when the off-season’s marquee pickup fell into a wicked slump. Albert Pujols, who signed a $240-million deal before that 2012 season, had just a .510 OPS on May 14, after his first 35 games.
That memory -- a star player struggling in the first stages of a mega contract -- entered Klentak’s mind on Tuesday afternoon, when he discussed the struggles that Bryce Harper -- this off-season’s marquee pickup -- has faced in his month-and-a-half.
“I can’t help but think back to 2012,” Klentak said.
But then the Phillies general manager pointed out the differences in the slumps. Pujols was 32 years old and in his 12th season. His slow start was less of a slump than a precursor that his prime years were over. Harper is six years younger than Pujols was and in his eighth season. And Harper’s slump still comes with an OPS better than .800.
“This is not what we went through with Albert Pujols in 2012,” Klentak said.
It is that high OPS -- a sign that Harper is reaching base at a high rate and hitting for power despite a low average and high strikeout numbers -- that allows the Phillies to live through his slump. He leads the National League with 33 walks, but leads the majors with 56 strikeouts and is on pace to be the first Phillies batter to strike out 200 times in a season.
Harper struck out twice on Tuesday night, which gives him multiple strikeouts in 20 of the team’s first 41 games. He has struck out 18 times in the last 10 games, and his strikeout rate -- 30.9 percent of his plate appearances -- is 10 points higher than it was two years ago.