For the Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper, 2016 asked more questions than it answered. How did the superstar grade this year?
In context, our 23-year-old hero had a good season for his age. But, as if Einstein ever got bored in his class and stared out the window, we know Harper is a better player than we saw.
Compared to the rest of the league, Harper played well. A slash line of .243/.373/.441 translates to an Adjusted OPS+ of 116. Any way you slice it that is above average. He slugged 24 homers while driving in 86. Again, numbers we take in a heartbeat from most players.
The strikeouts fell from 131 to 117 and Harper walked 108 times. So feared, his 20 intentional passes led the National League. Except the batting average, his numbers match well with his first three seasons, ending in 2014.
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The fourth season is the outlier.
In Harper’s incredible 2015 MVP season, he led the league in homers with 42, OBP at .460 and slugged 1.109. That Adjusted OPS+ totals 198 or twice as good as any average player. When you post a wins above replacement mark at 9.9, you touch on history, not just greatness.
This year’s WAR fell to 1.6. In the Baseball Reference explanation on how their WAR works, a score under 2.0 does not merit status as an everyday player. Although BBRef can be extreme with their definition, the drop-off between seasons is astounding.
The lost weekend series at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs is well known. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon refused to give Harper anything to hit and Harper slumped the rest of the way. The lack of batting average and refusal to protect the outside of the strike zone does not say everything.
Harper’s defense, strictly a right fielder, fell sharply. His defensive WAR dropped from a neutral 0.4 to a -1.0. He played so shallow in a late season series against the Atlanta Braves, not only did it cost the Nats a win, but caused the press to speculate if he had injured a shoulder. An answer never given.
Still, you cannot grade him compared to his potential, or we would need to give every scrub who had a great week an “A+.” One of the greatest talents of his, or any, generation, Harper left the Washington Nationals and fans scratching their heads asking what was wrong?
For him, 2017 is a huge year.