Another Washington Nationals final report card gets handed out. This time, the straw that stirs the drink, Bryce Harper gets his grade.
From a fight with San Francisco Giants reliever Hunter Strickland to swatting 29 home runs in 111 games, Harper did it all. Including suffering a scary knee injury against those Giants in August following a long rain delay.
If he played the last quarter of the season after landing on first base wrong, Harper would be in line for his second MVP in three years. When the Nats needed him to carry the club on his back, he did in spades.
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After a down 2016, Harper’s slash line of .319/.413/.595 nearly matched his 2015 numbers. His 1.008 OPS adjusts to 157 or 57 percent above league average. His defense improved to neutral, and he saved four runs in right field, up from the minus-three from last year.
Harper continued to draw walks and score runs. Crossing home 95 times batting third, the injury surely stopped him from scoring a career high. He needed 23 more to do so.
On a team full of leaders, Harper pitched in. Whether it was a timely hit or a heads-up play in the field, he was the main reason Washington clinched the NL East three weeks early. Without him, run production fell nearly a full run per game while the team batting average dipped 17 points in his absence from .257 to .240.
In the standings, Washington continued in the win column, but Harper’s presence missed.
Although Harper homered during their ill-fated NL Divisional Series, his hyper-extended knee was not at full strength and neither was his hitting timing. At full strength, the season might have ended differently.
One of baseball’s great superstars, Harper elevated his 2017 back to top tier status. Sure, he chased pitches outside for strikeouts, but you could sense a growing maturity on and off the field.
Harper would probably give himself an incomplete grade. He missed 30-plus games with the knee and the Nats failed early in the playoffs. You get the sense individual numbers mean less.
When you factor the drop off in production with Harper out of the lineup, his value skyrockets. He rediscovered his old form.
For that, and his amazing hair, Harper merits an “A” for 2017.