Bryce Harper: For What it's Worth...
Headlining this offseason’s free agent class is former 16-year-old Sports Illustrated cover athlete, Bryce Harper. Harper has had many ups and downs throughout his young career, living up to the expectations that once got him on the cover of the most read magazine in the sports world. From winning Rookie of the Year in 2012, to an injury shortened 2014, rebounding to win the National League MVP award in 2015, to his 7 All Star Game appearances in 8 seasons, Harper is ready to cash in on what could be the wealthiest contract ever seen in professional sports. Is he worth it?
By just looking at his batting average, the argument could be made that hitting .249 does not constitute a mega payday or a good season. However, there is more to Harper than meets the eye. Despite the low batting average, Harper’s success this season can be brought to light through underlying metrics as well as standard ones. He led all of baseball with 130 walks and his .393 OBP was ranked 9th. He got on base for his team and we all know that means a higher probability of runs being scored. Thus, his 103 runs scored was the 11th most in the MLB and his 100 RBI total was the first time he eclipsed the century mark in his career. Shocking considering he won the MVP award in 2015, a year in which he had 99 RBI. He’s also sneaky fast too, averaging 27.5 ft/sec when he’s running. That speed is tied with guys like Jose Reyes and Jose Ramirez. He launched 34 home runs this season, his second most in his career only behind the 42 he hit during his MVP season.
Diving deeper into the numbers, Harper was pitched out of the zone (58.5%) more often than in the zone (41.5%). He only chased those pitches 25% of the time but when he did, he missed 46.3% of the time, a career high. His in-zone swings and misses were also a career high this season, 24.6%. All of this led to a career high in strikeouts, 169. Despite this, he was still productive at getting on base with a walk rate of 16.8%, only .3% behind his MVP season. He saw 2,877 pitches in 2018, the most of his career. He has become more patient at the plate and pitchers are also afraid to make a mistake in the zone, with the fear he’ll do damage. He only put the ball on the ground 41% of the time which was the 3rd lowest of his career and put the ball in the air 27.4% of the time, the highest of his career. His average exit velocity on fly balls/line drives is 96.3mph, which is in the top 25 of all major league players. His goal is always to do damage and it shows via the vigorous hacks he takes.
Sure, his strikeout rate was the second highest of his career (24.9%), but he was able to combat that with the highest OBP of his career, second most runs scored, second most home runs hit, and highest RBI total. Even in a “down” year, Bryce Harper was remarkably productive. We’ve seen what he’s capable of doing at his peak, but even during the struggles he’s also found ways to help his team win. This game is all about adjustments and while he may have swung and missed more often than usual, he adjusted to it by becoming patient at the plate, seeing more pitches, and getting on base. Couple all that with a 110% hustle level, a will to win at all costs, and a huge heart for the game of baseball, and you get the top free agent on the market, Bryce Harper.