Something is off this season with Bryce Harper, last year’s NL MVP. An injury would explain why his batting numbers have taken such a nosedive, but the Washington Nationals insist it has nothing to do with that sort of issue.
Sports Illustrated are reporting that Harper is playing through a shoulder injury, and in the Washington Post the Nationals are denying it. Tom Verducci on SI reported the same thing last month but there’s no change in the Nationals stance.
That’s totally inaccurate. I don’t know where they got that from. … Bryce said it didn’t come from him. Nobody really knows where it comes from because it’s not on the injury report. The trainer said no. We treated that shoulder already in the past. If I did make a mistake it was because it’s in his neck, which is connected to his shoulder.
Both manager Dusty Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo have denied it, saying that Harper himself denies it, and except for a 4-5 day neck thing, there’s nothing wrong with him physically.
An injury would explain Harper’s hitting problems. From leading the National League in OBP (.460), slugging (.649) and OPS (1.109), Harper is down to a .240/.374/.441 batting line, with a .815 OPS. He had a .330 batting average last season.
He had a strong start to the season, but then struggled in both May and July. He batted pretty well in August, bringing his numbers up, but September has been rough. He has only one hit in his last 32 plate appearances, although his OBP in that span is .313, drawing 11 walks. Overall he’s batting only .167 through September with a .567 OPS. He’s getting walks, but he’s been unable to connect with his bat, keeping him at 24 home runs this season after having a NL-best 42 last season.
In short, it seems like his power is gone for some reason. Patience? He still has it, but he’s been unable to generate anything to pound the ball far and away like we’ve gotten used to seeing from him. According to MLBtraderumors, since the All-Star break, just 8.5 percent of Harper’s fly balls have left the yard. That’s a significant drop-off from the 18.6 percent mark he posted in the first half, and it’s a precipitous drop from the staggering 27.3 percent HR/FB rate he posted in 2015.
During the offseason, there were talks about Harper’s big contract that’ll be coming up, and whether or not he’ll breach the $400 million value in total. No one is talking about these kind of numbers anymore, although Harper doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season.