Washington Nationals 2017 Player Preview: Bryce Harper
Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper was unanimously named MVP after his monster 2015 campaign, but then struggled in 2016. Will he be able to return to MVP form in 2017?
Ever since he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year-old and dubbed “The Chosen One,” Bryce Harper has been a national figure. People were obsessed with this high school kid from Las Vegas who was hitting home runs into the back of Tropicana Field. Then the Washington Nationals made him the first overall pick of the 2010 draft.
Harper made it to the big leagues as a 19-year-old in 2012, but had his great breakout season in 2015. At 22, Harper hit .330 and had 42 home runs, en route to being named the unanimous MVP.
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In 2016, Harper struggled a bit. It wasn’t a bad season by any means, but it wasn’t up to his standards. He hit .243 and had 24 home runs. Harper had a phenomenal April, but then had an extreme decrease in production. It was even reported that Harper was playing through various injuries.
Now in 2017, Harper claims he knows what went wrong last season. From the looks of it, Harper has identified his issue and has more than fixed it. Harper is off to a tremendous start to Spring Training, homering in six out of 29 at bats, while hitting .310.
Harper has put on quite the power display this Spring, but what’s been even more impressive is his ability to hit balls hard to all fields. Even through his struggles in 2016, Harper was still able to get a hold of a pitch and hit a moonshot home run to right field. The thing he struggled most with was staying on a pitch and hitting it hard into left field.
He had a tendency to pull off of pitches last season, making it near impossible to hit the ball to the opposite field. The fact that he is hitting the ball hard into left field this Spring is a very good sign, and makes him a much more complete hitter.
Last year, the Nats offense was mostly led by Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos. Unfortunately, the Nats lost Ramos to the Tampa Bay Rays in free agency. If the Nationals wish to be successful again in 2017, Harper must rebound and fill the hole that Ramos’ departure leaves.
Harper’s defense also regressed quite a bit last season.
According to Fangraphs, he had nine defensive runs saved in 2015, but that went all the way down to -3 in 2016. Much of Harper’s defensive skills can be attributed to his great throwing arm, but his arm was nowhere to be found last season.
If the reports of his injuries were true, it certainly makes sense why he could not throw as well. Harper also played considerably shallower last season, possibly compensating for an arm injury.
Harper had a truly historic season in 2015, followed by an underwhelming 2016. There were reports all year that he was playing through various injuries, and Harper definitely showed a few signs backing up those reports.
If Harper is healthy, and it certainly appears that he is, he should be able to return to MVP form in 2017. When healthy, Harper is one of the best all-around players in the league and is capable of putting on a great show every night.
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Although Spring Training stats are meaningless, Harper’s performance has been awfully promising. He looks to be poised to have another MVP caliber season. The Nats are counting on him to rebound in 2017, and he will most likely deliver.