Filtering by Tag: Bryce Harper

Average at their Worst

The 2014 Washington Nationals have a four game lead in the NL East. Ryan Zimmerman has barely played this season and all but three regulars (Desmond, Rendon, Werth) have spent time on the DL. To add even more onto the pile, both Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are in the midst of the worst seasons of their young careers. The amazing thing about them though is that they are both right around league average. Bryce Harper's .698 OPS doesn't look good and it isn't good and it especially isn't good for a player with the talents and abilities of Bryce Harper. It is worth pointing out that Harper has a .722 OPS since the All-Star Break, but that still isn't good for him, but it is better than the MLB average OPS of .704. So in the middle of this terrible, injury riddled season Bryce Harper has basically been a league average hitter. If this is the worst that it gets then that is pretty good.

What makes it so disappointing is that we've seen Bryce Harper at his best, and his best was amazing. In the first month of the 2013 season Bryce Harper was unstoppable. He put up a batting line of .344/.430/.720. It looked like Bryce Harper was on his way to an MVP caliber season, but then he bruised his ribs on the fence in Atlanta and not much later ran head and knee first into the right field wall of Dodgers Stadium. Since that time Bryce Harper hasn't been the same. Bryce Harper hit nine home runs in April 2013 and in the ten months since he's hit 15.

Both knee and hand injuries can sap power. Bryce Harper is only 21 years old and that comes with all the benefits of having the physical characteristics of a 21 year old. Bryce Harper is going to recover. He is going to get better and at some point in the future the terrible 2014 season will be a distant memory.

The same can be said for Stephen Strasburg, but Strasburg isn't having anywhere close to as bad a season as Bryce Harper. Putting advanced stats aside and just looking ERA Stephen Strasburg's 3.68 ERA is better than the MLB average ERA for a starting pitcher of 3.89. An MLB average pitcher is a solid number three in most rotations which makes Strasburg a solid number two. For a 25 year old pitcher making $3.975 million that is pretty good. If Stephen Strasburg didn't have the hype of Stephen Strasburg or the name Stephen Strasburg then people would be pleased with having a pitcher that good, that young, and for that little amount of money in the rotation.

But as with Bryce Harper there have been a ton of expectations placed on Stephen Strasburg and if you're looking for patience, sports fans are the wrong people to ask. Also like Harper we've seen Strasburg pitch better. We've seen him go out and completely shut down opposing offenses. He hasn't done that this season. Strasburg has allowed two or fewer runs in twelve starts, but only two of those have been shutouts. Looking back at 2012 Strasburg allowed two or fewer runs in 17 games and in six of those he threw at least six shutout innings.

Despite all this Stephen Strasburg is still better than average by ERA and by advanced stats Stephen Strasburg is having almost as good of a season as he had in 2012. A well above average BABIP can be credited with some of it and the perception that anything less than the best for Strasburg is a failure can be blamed for the rest. As a 25 year old starting pitcher making just under $4 million Stephen Strasburg has been very good, but for someone expected to be in contention for the Cy Young every single season Strasburg hasn't.

If 2014 ends up being the worst season of Strasburg's career and he was still better than average then Stephen Strasburg is going to be a great pitcher. Perhaps even everything he was expected to be. It is important to remember that neither this season nor Stephen Strasburg's career have reached their conclusion and a lot can change by the time they do.

Taking the Temperature of the Nats

At the break the Washington Nationals are 51-42, nine games over .500, and the biggest and most important news is that no one got hurt in their final game of the first half against the Phillies. The Nationals did suffer an injury in the first game of that series but as of right now that looks to be minor as the MRI on Jordan Zimmermann's bicep didn't reveal any structural damage. That doesn't mean that he is 100% healthy or that bigger issues won't pop-up when he throws or pitches again, but for now the Nationals DL is empty and they have the roster Mike Rizzo assembled in the off-season. As far as the Nationals record goes this is the second best record the Nationals have had at the break ahead of the 52-46 record of the 2005 Nationals and behind the 49-34 record of the 2012 Nationals. The statistics of the Nationals tell the story of a very balanced team as they have prevented the second most runs in the NL allowing 3.51 runs a game. The offense is better than most people realize but that is only because they are judging them on a universal scale and not against the current run environment. The Nationals offense has scored 4.16 runs a game tying them with the Dodgers for the fourth most productive offense in the NL.

This combination of run scoring and run prevention has given the Washington Nationals the best run differential in the NL and the third best in MLB. The expected record of the Washington Nationals is three games better than their actual record so if the Nationals luck evens out as the season heads into its second half then the Nationals could have an even better second half than first half. Which is supported by the Washington Nationals projected 75.8% chance of making the playoffs.

The biggest story for the Washington Nationals in the first half was Bryce Harper. Harper got off to a slow start with the power and was hitting .289/.352/.422 before heading to the DL and has really struggled since coming off the DL batting just .150/.244/.250. With a record nine games better than .500 in the first half with Bryce Harper hurt and struggling for most of it, it is hard to say that the Nationals need him to win, but having him at full strength and production will give the Nationals an edge they haven't had for most of the season.

That was just the on-field issues with Bryce Harper and the far bigger issue as far as the media was concerned was Bryce Harper off the field. Matt Williams made an example of Bryce Harper by benching him for not running out a ground out back to the pitcher and then it leaked to the media that veterans on the team had issues with Bryce Harper and that they felt he was too cocky and hadn't proven himself yet. When Bryce Harper returned from the DL the drama was even greater as Harper echoed the thoughts of teammate Ryan Zimmerman that Zimmerman belongs in left and Rendon at third. This caused an even bigger storm in the media and every major baseball writer in the country got at least one story out of it.

With Bryce Harper struggling with the bat and being demonized in the media a strong second half from him is important. Getting Bryce Harper's bat going is going to be the most important development of the second half. The other way the Nationals can continue to build upon their first half success is for the pitching to do nothing different.

The Washington Nationals team ERA of 3.08 ranks first in all of baseball with their starting pitchers' ERA of 3.28 ranking third and bullpen ERA of 2.67 ranking third as well. The Nationals have a balanced pitching staff where the game is in just as good hands when the starting pitchers turn it over to the bullpen and there is no worry about the starting pitchers surviving five innings to get it to the bullpen. The Washington Nationals were built around pitching and in the first half of the season that has shown. The pitching is what helped the Nationals tread water when as many as three regular position players were out of the line-up at a time.

If Bryce Harper's bat can get going and the starting pitching can keep doing what they've done in the first half of the season then the Nationals could be the best team in baseball over the second half. If those things don't happen then they can still be pretty good. That is what makes this such an exciting team to watch and why they project to be a contender up until the end. The Washington Nationals have had a successful first half, but finally healthy the second half could be even better.

The Harper and Zimmerman Effect

The Nationals are currently sitting at 34-34, something that seemedunfathomable at the beginning of what seemed to be a promising season. Much has been written about what some perceives the Nationals problems to be: errors, Danny Espinosa, Zach Duke and offensive ineptitude to name a few. Something that has been mentioned, but not truly quantified or comprehended, is how much the time missed by Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper due to injuries has affected their fortunes this season.

The Nationals' longest losing streak this season is four games. They have accomplished this twice. The first time after Zimmerman went on the DL, the second time after Harper injured himself in Los Angeles. The Nationals longest winning streak is five games. This occurred the day after Zimmerman returned from the DL, one of the few times both were in the lineup together this year. Just from a general perspective we can already see what these two mean to the team.


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The Numbers Behind Bryce Harper's Hot Start

In 1929 Mel Ott of the New York Giants hit .328/.449/.635 with 42 homers, 113 walks, and a measly 38 strikeouts. Ott's 1.084 OPS is the best for a 20 year old. With April numbers of .364/.443/.740 with 8 homers, 11 walks, and 13 strikeouts Harper could best those numbers. Now I highlighted the strikeouts for two reasons. There is zero chance Harper strikes out less than 38 times this season. At his current pace he will get there sometime around June, but Harper had a 14.8% K rate. If he were to get the same 675 plate appearances that Ott got in 1929 Harper would strikeout exactly 100 times.  ​

A K rate that low puts Bryce Harper in a special class. That is around the K rate of hitters like Robinson Cano and Paul Konerko. It is rare that a power hitter has that low of a K rate. Joey Votto, who may be the best left handed hitter over the past several seasons, has a career K rate of 18.5%. The low K rate for Harper is approaching Pujols level, who has a career K rate of 9.6%, which is absolutely amazing for a player with that type of power. Harper is still young and developing. His ceiling has yet to be reached, but what he is doing now is special.  ​

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Thoughts on Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon on a Sunday Morning Coming Down

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will forever be linked. They got called up on the same day last April, both made the All-Star team, and both won rookie of the year. The only issue is that everyone forgets that Trout had a disappointing age 19 season and so the comparison was always age 20 Trout to age 19 Harper. Through the magic of stats we can track how Mike Trout was doing through his first 16 games as a 20 year old to how Harper is doing so far this season. Instead of comparing the age 21 Trout to the age 20 Harper we'll compare apples to apples. Through his first 16 games last season Mike Trout hit an impressive .333/.391/.567 with 3 homeruns. Through his first 16 games as a 20 year old Bryce Harper is hitting .371/.426/.758 with 7 homeruns.   ​

It should be noted that not one of those stats leads the majors and it is very early in the 2013 season. It is also impossible to say that Harper will regress to the mean because as a second year player he has no defined mean. What can be said is that while it is unlikely for Harper to keep it up it isn't impossible for him to do just that. The best OPS ever for a 20 year old was Mel Ott's 1.084 in 1929 and so far in 2013 Harper is at 1.185. Harper's numbers could drop, but they also could not. It is a long season and a lot is going to happen between now and October. By the way Mel Ott also holds the record for most homers hit by a 20 year old with 42. At 7 through 16 games Harper is on pace to hit 65 if he played in 150 games. While 65 homers is extremely unlikely more than 42 is well within reach.  

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