After last season everyone thought Bryce Harper was finally going to battle Mike Trout for the crown of baseball’s best player. And people were making the argument that Harper had passed Trout after his hot April in which he hit 9 home runs. But from that point on Harper’s season went downhill. He currently has a slash line of .246/.380/.453. Harper does also have an fWAR of 3.7, which is by no means horrible, but for a player that some considered the best in the game, it’s not good either. This leads us all to wonder why though? What happened? What happened to Bryce Harper?
Well one of the biggest issues plaguing Harper this season is his inability to square the ball up. Last season, when Harper put the ball in play, it was hit hard 40.9% of the time. This season that number is down to 33.6%. But what’s even more concerning is that of all the balls he puts in play 21.1% are hit soft. In 2016 only 11.9% of those balls were classified as such. This would also explain the massive drop in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 2015 Harper’s BABIP was a staggering .369. As of September 15th at 5 PM, it’s .260, well below .300 mark which is about the league average.
All of this also makes sense when we look at how his line drive numbers are down. It’s no secret that the best hitters hit the ball hard and they look to hit line drives. Since Harper is only hitting line drives on 15.8% of the balls he puts in play, it makes sense that his BABIP is so low.
So it’s incredibly clear that Harper has not been the same player, but what’s unclear is why? What changed? Well, one possible cause could be that he’s been injured. A few weeks ago reports emerged that Harper has been battling a shoulder injury for much of the season. This would definitely affect his ability at the plate, limiting the power he can generate. But it could also be the team trying to make excuses to get people to leave their star player alone.
Another explanation could be a mechanical issue. For hitters it’s all about repeating the same swing. If something goes wrong with that process it can wreak havoc for a batter. This could be the case with Harper. But this issue also could have evolved. What started as a mechanical issue, could have turned into a mental issue. Every player wants to do well and when things aren’t going right, they often try to force it. Rather than help, this can just make things worse. It’s completely plausible that this is what happened to Harper. Unable to relax at the plate, he’s been trying to do too much and consequently can’t do anything.
Ultimately, I think it’s a combination of all of these things. A shoulder issue could definitely hinder his ability, and then Harper could just be trying to do too much. But in the end the only thing we can say is that Harper has not performed up to expectations this season. Does this mean last year was a fluke? I don’t think so. Harper still has 24 home runs and 81 RBIs. He also has a .380 OBP, with the best BB% in baseball. We should all expect Harper to rebound in 2017.
Stats courtesy of fangraphs.com