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Many fans of baseball have been excited not for just what this season will bring, but what the off-season will bring after. It is one of the best seasons in free agency. The likes of Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Josh Donaldson, etc. are all available this off-season. But until recently, the major one has been Bryce Harper.
For the last year, baseball analysts believe Harper would be baseball’s first $400 million man. And Harper himself while not saying it outright has said he believes he should be paid what he is worth (meaning, “yes, I am worth $400 million). It probably meant that three teams were possibly involved that could give that kind of contract: the Yankees, Cubs, and Nationals.
And then this season happened. And right now, Harper may be lucky to get half of that from somebody. He’s hitting .209 on an average and an OPS of .810 and has 19 HR. The 19 HR still leads the NL and the OPS is still higher than the league average, but that is dropping as fast as is his average (it was .917 on June 1, despite a .234 average then; since then a 107-point drop). Currently as of June 20th, Harper has gone 2 for 32 with no home runs, 1 RBI, 5 BB (1 IBB), and 9 K’s.
So what is happening with Bryce Harper?
The oddity of it was, I read that his exit velocity and his launch angles are actually better than it was before this season. So his swing cannot be the issue. So it is back to square one: it is where pitchers are pitching Bryce Harper.
Harper’s major decline can be attributed to pitchers painting the outside corner on Bryce. He has struggled dealing with the outside pitch. And Bryce is one of those guys that loves to pull the ball too. When that happens, you get disastrous results.
A MENTAL BLOCK?
I felt a couple of years ago that when Harper was in a slump in 2016 it was in part that an early season tilt vs. the Cubs where Joe Maddon did nothing but walked Harper every time almost took a negative effect on him. Harper is one of those guys that WANTS to swing at the ball, and who can blame him? But what it did was somewhat give him this mentality that he has to swing at a pitch to do damage. And when he wasn’t doing that, it sunk him for most of the season. Yes he still took walks, but there were times were he was so jumpy to hit a pitch, it cost him. He wasn’t Barry Bonds where Bonds didn’t care he walked. He would still smile and say “okay, but the minute you mess up I will make you pay.” Harper’s mentality I think has been “you’re a chicken for walking me and the next time I get up, you will pay and I don’t care if you give me your best pitch.”
Last year Harper had an MVP year going until he injured his knee and missed pretty much the final month of the season. He took the walks in stride and really was cool, calm, and collected. This year it seems like he’s regressed back to 2016.
This year it isn’t really happening where pitchers are afraid to the point of walking him. They paint the outside corner, frustrating Harper from hitting it as well as being frustrated by the umpires where they are calling those pitches strikes as maybe opposed to when he had his MVP year in 2015 or his MVP caliber year in 2017 when they may have been called balls. To his credit, Harper hasn’t lost his cool on the pitches like we are accustomed to him doing so at times.
The one thing we still have to remind ourselves about Harper is that he is still young in the baseball world at 25 years old. That’s good and in a way bad with a guy in a slump who really hasn’t been in a horrible prolonged slump before like Harper. He has always been a polarizing figure where you have people who love his cocky, arrogant attitude and you rally behind him or you have people who hate that cocky, arrogant attitude and wish he continues this prolonged slump. I’m somewhat in that rare minority of being in the middle. I think when he’s on his game, he is fun to watch, but I also think that some of the stuff he does isn’t necessary, but that’s just me. But I think for Harper, he has grown up with a god-given talent and people around him see that and just feed Bryce this constant garbage over & over and it has carried with him throughout his MLB career. If you listen to MLB Network or ESPN or any major media outlet, they can’t get enough of this guy and the controversial actions or comments (such as shouting at the umpire after a walk-off win after he was tossed) they defended the guy through and through. Had that been Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, or even some of today’s players such as Machado, Puig, or Judge, they would be ridiculed by doing that. And I do think that plays into Bryce’s psyche of an invincibility, which I think is very bad for him right now.
Somebody, whether it is within the Nationals organization or wherever, needs to set him down and tell him like it is. What I see it is not as much of a mechanical issue as I see it more of a between-the-ears issue. Again, I think too many people are saying stuff Bryce WANTS to hear and not needs to hear. Somebody has to say “hey look man, don’t listen to MLB Network saying that you will be okay and you deserve a huge contract still; don’t listen to your pals saying that everything is good. Don’t be worried about your next contract because you can forget that dream of being the first $400 million man right now. You need to focus on what you need to improve yourself now or else that $400 million contract will be given to somebody else.”
I don’t see Bryce Harper continue to hit .200 and unable to find first base on four balls for long. It is a slump, but he will have to find a way of getting back to his MVP caliber yeas of 2015 and 2017. But the first thing he needs to do is just tune out what the media is saying and what the future holds and think what he needs to do in 2018 or else his perhaps final year in Washington will be another year of a failed season amid high hopes.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat