Oct 12, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2016: 23
How acquired: 1st round pick, 2010 draft
MLB service time: 3 years, 159 days
2015 salary+bonuses: $2.5 million
Contract status: Signed for $5 million in 2016, arbitration-eligible in 2017, free agent in 2019
2015 stats: 153 G, 654 PA, 118 R, 172 H, 38 2B, 1 3B, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 6 SB, 124 BB, 131 SO, .330 AVG, .460 OBP, .649 SLG, 1.109 OPS, 7 E, -2.4 UZR, 9.9 WAR
Quotable: “He has the world in the palm of his hand. It’s just fun to see him play. And the sky’s the limit. I think he’s got more in him than that.” — Gio Gonzalez on Bryce Harper
2015 analysis: It’s funny now to think about how many questions there were surrounding Bryce Harper at the start of the season. Could he stay healthy over a full year? Could he tone down his reckless playing style? Would he ever live up to the hype?
The answer to all of those questions, of course, was a resounding yes. Harper put together not only a season that lived up to the hype but one that stacks up against just about any season in baseball history. He became only the ninth player ever to hit .330 with at least 42 homers and a .460 on-base percentage, joining an elite group including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Jason Giambi, Todd Helton and Barry Bonds.
The biggest key to Harper’s success was remarkable patience at the plate. That allowed him not only to draw a club-record 124 walks but also to make the most of whatever pitches he did get a chance to hit. His ability to take a breaking ball on the outside corner from a left-hander — his Achilles’ heel throughout his career — and line base hit after base hit to left field spoke volumes about his maturation as a hitter.
Though he cooled off down the stretch, going 6 for his last 37 to lose the NL batting title to Dee Gordon, Harper still posted numbers that make him the runaway favorite to win MVP honors in November. The only question remaining now is whether he’ll be a unanimous choice.
2016 outlook: Let’s make this clear right up front: This season was no fluke. Harper, provided he keeps himself healthy and on the field, has every reason to believe he can do this again.
Can he be even better? Several teammates believe so, from Gio Gonzalez to Max Scherzer to Jayson Werth, who likes to say that “when he’s 30 years old, he’s going to be a hell of a player.” Harper still will be only 23 when he reports for spring training, so there truly is more for him to learn and perfect.
The biggest question facing Harper now has less to do with his playing ability but with his earning ability. He has three more seasons before becoming eligible for free agency, but the time may be now for the Nationals to start seriously discussing a long-term extension. The more they wait, the higher his price becomes and the harder he is to sign.
It would take an historic contract (likely one that eclipses Giancarlo Stanton’s record 13-year, $325 million deal with Miami) to lock up Harper right now. Given what he did on the field this season, can anyone really doubt he’s worth it?
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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