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Should Harper return to play this season?

Sep 9, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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At this point, the question isn’t whether Bryce Harper is injured. It’s how seriously he’s injured.

Which leads to the inevitable quandary: Should he play anymore this season for the Nationals?

Harper, of course, wouldn’t even dignify that question with a response if presented the opportunity. He always believes he can — and should — play, no matter how banged up he might be at any given moment.

He’s also the biggest believer inside the Nationals clubhouse that this team still has a chance to play in October, despite what the standings suggest. Even though the Nats did their part last week, going 4-2 against the Phillies and Marlins, the Reds most certainly didn’t do their part to help the cause, going a staggering 6-1 against the Cardinals and Dodgers, thus extending their lead for the NL’s final Wild Card berth to 8 games with only 20 to play.

Yes, the Pirates (losers of four straight since snapping their 20-year streak of losing seasons and winding up on the cover of Sports Illustrated) now need to be included in this conversation, since they’re tied with Cincinnati. But even if the Nationals go 14-6 to finish the season, Pittsburgh would only need to go 7-13 to keep D.C. out of the playoffs.

So, while mathematically still alive, the Nationals realistically have run out of time in 2013. And while he may not like it, Harper probably should take that into consideration when deciding his best course of action.

First and foremost, team medical director Wiemi Douoguih must diagnose Harper. We still don’t know what exactly is going on his left hip.

But if Harper is suffering from anything that could get worse if he continues to play, or if he’s suffering from anything that is going to need surgical attention at some point (and this includes his still-ailing left knee), the decision should be simple:

Shut him down.

There’s nothing for Harper to prove over the season’s final three weeks. He may not have produced the kind of dominant season we thought he would produce back in April, but he hasn’t exactly been a disappointment, either. Harper falls just a few plate appearances short of qualifying for the league leaderboard, but his .882 OPS would rank 10th in the NL, ahead of Freddie Freeman, Carlos Beltran, Buster Posey and Giancarlo Stanton, to name a few.

By the way, Harper has put up better numbers this season than he did during his historic rookie campaign. And even if he doesn’t get another at-bat this year, he’d still own the 11th-best OPS ever recorded by a big leaguer age 20 or younger.

If Harper is deemed healthy enough to play and not at risk to cause more damage to himself, then by all means, finish out the season.

But for a Nationals organization that has exhibited so much caution with the health of other young players, the safer move certainly would be to tell Harper to hang up his spikes for 2013 and start getting himself 100 percent for 2014.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Sep 9, 2013 at 6:37 AM

    nope.

  2. sjm308 - Sep 9, 2013 at 7:07 AM

    If you want him here past his first contract and he is not going to risk further injury, this is a moot point. He plays.

  3. TimDz - Sep 9, 2013 at 7:09 AM

    ….First and foremost, team medical director Wiemi Douoguih must diagnose Harper……

    That in itself is scary……

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 9, 2013 at 8:07 AM

      Yes, are we sure Dr. Douoguih truly is a top orthopedic surgeon? His diagnosis over the years seem often wrong and the players too often are seeking 2nd opinions and as we know with Bryce’s knee a better treatment plan with Dr. Andrews.

      • Sec 309 - Sep 9, 2013 at 9:11 AM

        Dr Weimi is like a primary care physician. Refers to specialists and gets second opinions as appropriate. No problem here. Repeat, no problem.

  4. scnatsfan - Sep 9, 2013 at 8:17 AM

    No. Perfect opportunity to rest Harper and see if Brown is a major league 4th outfielder.

    • nats128 - Sep 9, 2013 at 8:34 AM

      Only if Davey will play CBrown.

  5. bowdenball - Sep 9, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    Time for my least favorite make-believe game: Fans who think they’re doctors and have examined the athlete.

    Mark does it right, couching his analysis in hypotheticals. “If” this, than that. But already on twitter and elsewhere there are fans who don’t need the facts before they make a call.

    Even if you think the Nationals’ playoff hopes are completely dead, that doesn’t mean Harper has no reason to play. There’s the team’s pride- I’m sure that with all the hype they’d feel a lot better about winning 85+ games then if they finished at or below .500. And then there’s Harper’s status both financially and historically. Higher cumulative stats will eventually mean more money from him, and you can be sure he wants to move up all those season and career statistical lists too.

    Obviously you don’t want him to play IF doing so risks further issues in 2014 and beyond. But unless you’re a trained orthopedist who has examined Harper, you don’t know that’s the case.

    • Hiram Hover - Sep 9, 2013 at 9:08 AM

      Completely agree with your point about internet commenters pretending their medical professionals. We’re not medical doctors (I’m not, anyway), we haven’t examined Harper, we can’t possibly know.

      That said, I do think there’s a questions here about risk that the docs can’t answer either. If they find a significant injury, then Harper needs surgery or long-term rest and rehab. That’s bad news, but an easy call to make.

      But if the docs find a minor injury, then what?

      There’s a risk of injury every time a player steps on the field, and it’s got to be at least a little greater for an injured athlete–even if the injury is minor, non-structural, etc. etc. Because that area of the body is already compromised, because he changes his routine to compensate and may unduly stress other parts of the body.

      I don’t think the docs can quantify those risks very precisely, and even if they could, the team still has a judgment call to make – are those increased risks worth the reward of continuing to play him?

      • bowdenball - Sep 9, 2013 at 9:35 AM

        Good analysis, you’re right the risk can’t be quantified. I can’t say how much greater of a risk would make it OK for Harper to play, but my point is that (1) there are reasons for Harper to play this season- if there weren’t then you’d say there’s no reason for any valuable asset on all but 13 or so teams to be playing right now, and (2) anyone who doesn’t even access to ANY of the information on one side of the equation should not be passing judgment.

  6. Sec 309 - Sep 9, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    The Nats need two things to happen in order to make the playoffs. They need to win, and the team ahead of them needs to collapse. But when the team ahead of them has had 20 straight losing seasons and has folded in the stretch the past two years, the odds of that collapse have suddenly improved.

  7. Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 9, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    Simply put – No.

  8. Sonny G 10 - Sep 9, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    As far as I am concerned, its in the doctors’ hands.

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Sep 9, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    I think the two scariest issues for a baseball player involve the hips and back, either of which may be in play here. Consider Bo Jackson (necrosis) and Albert Belle (osteoarthritis) (not that everybody would consider Belle a great loss). Sciatic nerve pain could (or not) mean surgery, which would be serious though not necessarily devastating.

    Whether to shut Harper down requires knowing with certitude what ails him. I doubt that the Nats medical staff has the creds to resolve the question. Best short term outcome is he gets a second opinion and, with rest, is available Thursday.

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 9, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    Some positive developments in infield defense is that both RZim and LaRoche have improved in defensive range. Both RZim and ALR rate higher in the last month. ALR is 3rd from last in UZR which is an improvement and RZim has moved ahead of David Freese in range metrics.

    If RZim finishes the season strong in defense he could move ahead of Miguel Cabrera in UZR as they are only separated by 0.2 in UZR.

    RZim on Saturday probably made his best defensive play of the year.

    LaRoche is probably the bigger concern given his poor defense and his horrid offense he is a +0.3 WAR as of now which is last in the NL for 1st baseman.

    • Sec 309 - Sep 9, 2013 at 11:51 AM

      Youzer crazy if you think a bogus stat like UZR makes any difference. Of all the useless saber metrics, it’s the worst. WAR what is it good for? Keeping people from realizing that UZR is even worse.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:56 PM

        Normally I would agree with you as it is very subjective but it gives you good insight to compare with your own observations. Keep in mind that UZR gives LaRoche no ratings for his ability to scoop rather it saves the other defenders errors which helps their UZRs.

    • letswin3 - Sep 9, 2013 at 1:48 PM

      Ghost, Zim’s UZR is unimportant to me. My eyes say that he can’t be depended upon to always find the first basemans glove on routine groundballs. And (I may be mistaken here), the frequency of his throwing errors seem to be pretty much spread over the entire season. If someone has the errors by month figures, that might be helpful here, but many predicted that his throwing errors would decrease over the season as his shoulder improved, and it doesn’t look to me like that’s what happened. I guess we have all winter to play manager and decide whether to move him to first base next spring, but you can bet that it will be a topic of conversation again this off-season. And, if we were to move him across the diamond, which team would likely entertain a trade for an aging first baseman that hits 235, dropped all his numbers from the previous year and is even having a problem maintaining his weight?

      The makeup of the 2014 infield can be managed internally, or by trade, if Zim is moved to first, but that’s a hefty salary that ALR will be getting to serve as a bench lefty……we ought to take almost any trade offered to clear that payroll space. And there are still those that would argue that Zim’s numbers aren’t what should be expected of a first baseman. On the other hand, it was only a few years ago that we were discussing how to engineer a team that could creep into the picture of even being a “spoiler”……….so this is pure joy, by comparrison.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        I agree with most of what you said except in RZim’s defense he’s slowly decreased his throwing errors.

      • Sonny G 10 - Sep 9, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        In my opinion, Zim will not be playing first next year. He is still not 100% from his shoulder injury, but getting close. Zim said he had developed some bad habits in throwing trying to avoid pain, so he’ll need to work those out. I expect him to be playing a robust third base next season.

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