What the heck is up with Bryce Harper?

bryce harperFor all the concern about whether the Washington Nationals will have a chance to retain Bryce Harper in the offseason, is it a given that the Nats will even miss him if he goes?

The question itself would have been unfathomable at the start of the 2018 season, but with Harper hitting just .224 on the season, and just .167 with a single home run and three lonely RBIs in the month of June, you have to wonder.

What the heck is up with Bryce Harper, then?

Fair question. Let’s go to the numbers.

Teams are overshifting their infields to the right side to defense Harper, who oddly hasn’t been a traditional dead-pull hitter his entire career, but this year has pulled the ball on 46.2 percent of his balls in play, up from a 35.5 percent pull rate in 2017, and his 38.8 percent career rate.

Everything else is about equal – his ground ball to flyball rate (1.06 GB/FB this year, 1.07 last year), his line drive rate (21.9 percent this year, 22.0 percent last year), his ground-ball percentage (40.2 percent this year, 40.4 percent last year), fly ball percentage (37.9 percent this year, 37.6 percent last year).

And actually, two inside baseball stats are much better for Harper in 2018 – his percentage of home runs on flyballs (29.7 percent in 2018, 24.0 percent in 2017), and the hard-hit ball percentage (43.8 percent in 2018, 34.3 percent in 2017).

Two numbers are glaringly down – infield-hit percentage (1.5 percent in 2018, 10.0 percent in 2017), and batting average on balls in play (.213 in 2018, .356 in 2017).

Another one that I’d have to call disturbingly down – doubles (six in 2018, projecting to 15, down from 27 in 2017).

You look at the other counting stats – 19 homers, 43 RBI, projecting to 47 homers and 107 RBI for the season – and you see production.

He’s also on pace to score 97 runs, which would outpace his 95-run total in 2017, but of course, he only played 111 games in 2017.

Maybe the better question to ask with regard to Harper is, which Bryce the Nats are going to get for the remainder of the 2018 season?

The 2015 MVP Harper, with a .330/.460/.649 slash line, 42 homers, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored in 153 games, or the 2016 Harper, with the .243/.373/.441 slash line, 24 homers, 86 RBIs and 84 runs in 147 games?

If he’s going to keep pulling the ball into shifts, it’s going to be the 2016 Bryce, clearly.

That Harper isn’t worth anywhere near $400 million over 10 years, incidentally. Not even close.

Column by Chris Graham

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