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Have the Nats wasted Harper’s historic season?

Sep 11, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

USA Today Sports Images

Bryce Harper had a phenomenal game Wednesday night at a time when his team needed it most. He homered. He doubled. He homered again, this time with the Nationals trailing the Mets late, their season on the brink of collapse.

It was the kind of performance that should have carried the Nationals through a must-win game, but it didn’t. And that’s in part because of one key factor about Harper’s plate appearances during that game: They all came with nobody on base.

Not once did Harper step to the plate with a chance to drive in a run other than his own. Twice he hit with two outs and nobody on. Twice he led off an inning.

And this wasn’t a rare phenomenon. All season, it feels like, Harper has had fewer opportunities with teammates on base than he should have had, certainly with men in scoring position. And the stats back it up, to an extent.

Harper has 565 plate appearances overall, which ranks 38th in the majors this year. Of those, 262 have come with men on base, 16th-most in baseball. But only 138 of his plate appearances have come with runners in scoring position, and that puts him in a tie for 49th with Adam Lind.

So, only 24.4 percent of Harper’s plate appearances this season have come with runners in scoring position. But wait, it gets worse.

Consider how often opponents have pitched around Harper in those situations this year. A full 37 of his 138 plate appearances with runners in scoring position have ended in a walk or hit-by-pitch. So, really, Harper has had an opportunity to swing the bat with men on second and/or third only 101 times this season. That accounts for only 22.3 percent of all of his non-walk/HBP plate appearances in 2015.

Now, here’s the kicker to this entire exercise: Harper has been just as good hitting the ball out of the park with teammates on base as he has without: 22.2 percent of his home runs (8-of-36) have come with runners in scoring position, nearly identical to his percentage of plate appearances with men on second and/or third.

Harper has been the same kind of hitter this season, no matter the situation. He just hasn’t had enough opportunities to hit with the bases clogged up in front of him.

Which makes you wonder this: Have the Nationals wasted Harper’s MVP-caliber season? He currently leads the majors in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, WAR, wOBA and WRC+ while ranking second in batting average, runs, walks and home runs per at-bat. He’s on pace to become the only major-leaguer besides Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds with an OPS over 1.100 since 2002.

But you know where he ranks in RBI: 18th, behind Brian McCann, despite an OPS more than 300 points higher than the Yankees catcher.

How much more difference might Harper have been able to make this season had more members of the Nationals simply been able to get on base in front of him and take advantage of his prodigious production?

“You can cry over spilled milk,” manager Matt Williams said Wednesday night. “But having guys injured and out of the lineup, the guys that generally hit in front of him, puts him at a disadvantage in that regard. To his credit, he’s stayed the course and done really well, regardless of the situation.”

Harper has done exceptionally well for the Nationals this season. Well enough to warrant the NL MVP award.

It’s just too bad the Nationals haven’t been able to make the most of his performance.

  1. nats1924 - Sep 11, 2015 at 6:08 AM

    I love BHarp, but given the likely hood of us resigning him, especially w/out a tv contract, deal him. His stock is high, he’s on the cheap next year and controlled through 2018.

    Trade him to the LA Bums for a huge return.

    http://www.inquisitr.com/2170205/los-angeles-dodgers-trade-rumors-bryce-harper-deal-in-future-for-dodgers/

    • Guapo - Sep 11, 2015 at 8:54 AM

      Red Sox made a similar trade many years ago. Got $100,000 in return for the big lefty. Yankees got the better end of that deal.

  2. Another_Sam - Sep 11, 2015 at 6:36 AM

    IMHO his season isn’t wasted. As his walk up music indicates, the best is yet to come. He’s a once in a generation guy. I’m enjoying his season immensely.

    Regarding his performance a couple of days ago on the brink of collapse – this team crossed the brink weeks ago. There’ve been any number of elimination games and this group lost every on of them. I know it ain’t over until it’s over, but . . .

    Still, I’ll be on board and ready for each remaining game.

    I’m already thinking spring training, too.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      Me, too, re. being on board for remaining games, even if they don’t mean much of anything as far as the season goes, or went. Eh, I have a baseball deficit anyway, seeing as how I’ve been away since the end of August and haven’t seen any games. I have some watching to do, still, and pointy-ball is just, meh.

      On topic, yeah, too bad about the dearth of runners on base in front of him, but imo one can still appreciate great individual performance for its own sake, and, for Bryce’s part, he’ll have his stats to keep him warm. (Yeah, I suspect he’d rather have, you know, his ring. Where is that again? Oh yeah, right. Le sigh.)

    • Ohplease - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:08 PM

      Great comment from a great fan. Thank you! It didn’t work out this year but I’m with you for spring training. I see lots of interesting possibilities for next year.

      I think what everyone’s forgetting is that the last two division titles came while Harper was at his worst either injured or getting beat. That’s a testament to the recently much criticized Mike Rizzo. With him as the GM the team will continue to be in the Pennant race (if everyone performs to their track record that is).

    • wvpastorphil - Sep 12, 2015 at 12:56 AM

      I agree on all points. I just wish we could keep Brice. If he stayed he would own Washington for the rest of his life. He would go down as a great instead of “one of” as he would in NY or LA. I’m thinking spring training. Bet there will be some changes!

  3. edshelton2013 - Sep 11, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    Zero coverage of the Nats in today’s WaPo.
    Did I miss something? Is the season over?

    • vannordens - Sep 11, 2015 at 8:11 AM

      Yes, it is over.

    • philipd763 - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:22 AM

      There’s an article on MW on page 1 of the sports section.

    • Hiram Hover - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:51 AM

      Have they wasted it? No.

      1. It’s been a ray of sunshine for the fans in an increasingly bleak season.

      2. It’s a big part of what kept them in contention as long as they were.

      3. Unless you think he can’t keep it up in 2016 and beyond, this isn’t a peak from which he will decline, but a step in his continuing progress and development.

      He will contribute and be great fun to watch in 2016 and beyond. Unless the Nats are in full on rebuild mode after this season–which they are not–no way they trade that away.

      • Hiram Hover - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:51 AM

        Oops – didn’t mean that as reply to edshelton.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:28 PM

      The NFL season has started. The Post is moving on.

  4. JayB - Sep 11, 2015 at 8:26 AM

    yup it is over….trading Harper now…..man that would be tough to take…..I would do it only if MW is going to be the Manager going forward….cause if that is the case….the whole roster is a waste….trade SS too.

  5. edshelton2013 - Sep 11, 2015 at 8:26 AM

    Re: no WaPo coverage, how about a player profile?
    Trea Turner’s fast rise to the majors? Clint Robinson’s emergence at age 30 after a career in the minors?
    Who should get a QO and is anyone likely to accept???

  6. veejh - Sep 11, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    Simple answer is yes. We should have stomped the competition this year with those gaudy numbers.

    Oh yeah, that’s right, i’ve checked out for the season.

  7. 3on2out - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    Not only that, the MVP usually goes to an individual on a play-off team. Bryce ain’t.

  8. philipd763 - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    36 homers and 37 doubles and only 85 RBIs certainly points out that the players hitting ahead of Harper aren’t getting on base. With Span leaving, Rizzo needs to come up with a good lead off hitter. Rendon can fill the two slot if he can stay healthy.

    • edgs3rd1978 - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:58 AM

      Any suggestions? That’s the difference with Nats fans and Mets fans…at least on the blogs. Doesn’t seem like there’s much creativity here. Who are the big ticket items coming up for free agency in the offseason? Upton? Heyward? Gordon? All great hitters but are you guys going to give up on the great strides that Taylor has made to make room for one of them? Werth? What about that big contract? Speaking of contracts, all these players will require huge deals to acquire them. Is ownership willing to take on additional payroll with all the lost revenue due to not playing relevant baseball in September and of course the playoffs?

      What about the infield? I think Chris Davis will be on the move this offseason. What about trades? This is the fun part about blogging. Of course you’ll get all kinds of crazy ideas…usually crazy lop-sided ideas like Michael Taylor, DenDecker, and Storen for Trout. Nats window is getting smaller. Mets are here for a while and soon Philly will be too (big tv contract and baseball market will have them spending and bouncing back sooner than later) Make a trade now so you can challenge the Mets. What are your trade ideas. Are you willing to go two years of development for Turner, or should you trade him now and get major league ready players? What about that pitcher Colito or Nicolito?

      • jfmii - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:16 AM

        For me that is a discussion that begins after the World Series.

      • Dave - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:24 PM

        Yeah, well, another difference between the Mets fans and the Nats fans is that the Mets are rolling toward the post-season, and the Nats (as so many have said) are hanging on by fingernails, having really collapsed some weeks ago.

        So please go enjoy your creative Mets commenters on the blogs where everybody is in a hopeful and triumphant mood. But please allow us depressed Nats fans a little while to feel bad before we go suggesting and predicting how the team should be blown up.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:30 PM

        at least on the blogs. Doesn’t seem like there’s much creativity here

        To be fair, the comments section here ain’t what it used to be. The creative non-whack posters are still around.

      • edgs3rd1978 - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:50 PM

        fair enough guys. Keep your heads up

    • senators5 - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:37 PM

      That’s a huge IF and most certainly not to be expected based on his injury profile from Rice U. to the present.

  9. nats106 - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    Harper is a winner who wants to win. Keep him until the bitter end and try to re-sign him. If we had more players like him that are competitive, learned, adjusted and grew as players we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in right now.

    Trading him would be a disaster.

  10. Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    I dont know that waste is the right word but it is a shame that while he is having this beast of a season, the team/management around him failed on so many levels.

    • Hiram Hover - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:57 AM

      +1.

      “Waste,” no. “Shame,” yes.

  11. NatsLady - Sep 11, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    I’ll be watching every game, and attending every game that I can. I wish our boys were home so I could go today.

  12. JayB - Sep 11, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    NL….what is the point of that post…..we all watch or go to the games each day…….are you saying that because you feel the only fans that give unconditional support matter?

    • natsfan1a - Sep 11, 2015 at 10:50 AM

      I know that NL can speak for herself but similar game-related viewing intentions were voiced by Another Sam above, and later by me. Speaking for myself, because I’m neither a mind reader nor a mouthpiece for others, I’m not here to judge other fans or their individual levels of support. I’m just here to hang out with others who share my Nats-related interest. I also sometimes voice my personal opinion, as do others. Your mileage may vary, and, as Stuart Smalley would say, that’s okay. 🙂

    • edgs3rd1978 - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:46 AM

      I think NatsLady works for Nats PR…haven’t you seen a patten in her posts yet?

      • Dave - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:27 PM

        Do you have any idea who any of the commenters are here? NatsLady is one of the most knowledgable, and often critical, commenters I have read on any Nats blogs. She has been on this one since the beginning, and was a regular and insightful commenter on the Washington Post’s Nats Journal many years ago before many of us came over here.

        On the other hand, I didn’t see the screen name edgs3rd1978 until just a couple weeks ago, once the Mets had pretty much buried the Nats. If you’re going to simply troll long-time posters here, you probably have long since worn out your welcome.

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 11, 2015 at 1:08 PM

        Ridicules comment … As Tony Soprano said “Don’t be stupid, even in the short term!”

        [audio src="http://www.rosswalker.co.uk/tv_sounds/sounds_files_20150201_8133092/sopranos/stupid_not.wav" /]

        NatsLady is the best!

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 11, 2015 at 1:09 PM

        Try that link again

        [audio src="http://www.rosswalker.co.uk/tv_sounds/sounds_files_20150201_8133092/sopranos/stupid_not.wav" /]

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 11, 2015 at 1:14 PM

        Ugh … link not wanting to cooperate

        [audio src="http://www.wavsource.com/snds_2015-09-06_6378095460179137/tv/sopranos/stupid_not.wav" /]

        Try cut and paste

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 11, 2015 at 1:15 PM

        [audio src="http://www.wavsource.com/snds_2015-09-06_6378095460179137/tv/sopranos/stupid_not.wav" /]

      • Dave - Sep 11, 2015 at 1:36 PM

        LOL, Zee! Cut-and-paste worked just fine.

        I second your and Tony’s comment.

  13. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 11, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    Wasted is a strong word and probably doesn’t apply here — unless this turns out to be Bryce Harper’s career-best year, which I doubt it will be. It’s unfortunate, of course, that some of his colleagues didn’t even have their career-average years this season.

    • Section 222 - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      This probably isn’t Bryce’s career year. Just think about that for a moment….

      Ok, now back to the gnashing of teeth over this disappointing season.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:39 AM

        *like*

        “This probably isn’t Bryce’s career year.”

      • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:40 AM

        Agreed (on both points).

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:35 PM

        +34

  14. zmunchkin - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    I think Hiram said it best:

         “Waste,” no. “Shame,” yes.

    He has provided some great moments to cheer. While I wish the team did better, watching Harper at this level is great.

    And I am also happy that this season has apparently forced the talking heads to stop talking about how Harper and Trout should never be mentioned in the same sentence or compared to each other.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:40 AM

      Now, if they could only stop talking about the SS shutdown…baby steps

      “And I am also happy that this season has apparently forced the talking heads to stop talking about how Harper and Trout should never be mentioned in the same sentence or compared to each other.”

  15. JamesFan - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:25 AM

    Assuming he continues on pace, Bryce will be named NL MVP at age 22. He has the toughness the team needs, but at 22, it’s hard to be a team leader. The Nats needs a tougher attitude. Who has it? Harp, Robinson, JZim, Werth, Taylor, Papelbon. Then there are some uncertain guys like Rendon, Ramos, Espinoza, Desmond, Zimmerman–after Wednesday Stras. Maybe Scherzer, we’ll see. Then there are the crumblers.

  16. edshelton2013 - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:01 PM

    Eugene:
    I read recently that only three Nats are beating their career averages this year:
    Harper, Scherzer and Escobar. That says it all.

    • jfmii - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:44 PM

      No longer Scherzer

      • Hiram Hover - Sep 11, 2015 at 1:45 PM

        Scherzer is still beating his career averages:

        2015 vs Career

        ERA – 3.03 vs 3.51

        K/9 – 10.66 vs. 9.73

        BB/9 – 1.23 vs. 2.61

        WHIP – 0.96 vs 1.19

        Only place where I saw he was worse is HR/9 – 1.14 vs 0.99

        No, he hasn’t been good lately (and yes, that’s an understatement). And the fact that his season #s are still good, due to his earlier exceptional performance, is not that much consolation when his swoon has coincided with (and helped cause) the team’s swoon. But the #s still are what they are.

  17. cumberlanddan - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:14 PM

    I am actually surprised that Harper ranks as high as 49th in the number of plate appearance in the majors this year and think that this goes against Mark’s analysis, even if the percentages would no doubt have been much higher with a healthy Denard Span and Anthony Rendon batting ahead of him in the lineup. Part of the reason for Harper’s historic season has been his willingness to take a walk with runners on base, something that benefits the team and has helped to transform his into a much more fearsome hitter, even if it comes at the cost of RBIs. Is Harper’s year so strong that he logically should be the centerpiece of a championship team? Of course. Am I happy to see him lower his chances of winning a triple crown by sacrificing RBIs to take his OBP to astronomical levels? Yes. This more disciplined approach also, of course, leads to a higher BA and OPS.

    • cumberlanddan - Sep 11, 2015 at 1:30 PM

      *”as high as 49th in the number of plate appearances in the majors this year with runners in scoring position” [typo]

  18. tcostant - Sep 11, 2015 at 3:27 PM

    It is a waste. We’ll see if he holds onto the MVP, I have my doubts.

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