Skip to content

Roster review: Bryce Harper

Oct 7, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

USA Today Sports Images USA Today Sports Images

Age on Opening Day 2014: 21

How acquired: 1st round pick, 2010 draft

MLB service time: 1 year, 159 days

2013 salary+bonuses: $2 million

Contract status: Signed for $2.15 million in 2014, $2.25 million in 2015, arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019

2013 Stats: 118 G, 497 PA, 71 R, 116 H, 24 2B, 3 3B, 20 HR, 58 RBI, 11 SB, 61 BB, 94 SO, .274 AVG, .368 OBP, .486 SLG, .854 OPS, 6 E, 2.6 UZR, 3.8 WAR

Quotable: “I don’t think it was a very good year for me. I think I did terrible.” — Bryce Harper

2013 analysis: Harper may describe his season as “terrible,” but that’s really not a fair assessment. He posted a higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 2013 than he did as a rookie in 2012, and both his home run and walk rates went up while his strikeout rate went down. Oh, and he finished with the 12th-highest OPS ever by a major-league player 20 or younger.

That said, Harper has every right to be disappointed with his overall performance, because it was directly influenced by one ill-fated play on May 13 in which he ran into the wall at Dodger Stadium, cut up his chin and banged up his left knee. That knee injury (it was later diagnosed as bursitis) plagued Harper the rest of the season. Before the collision, he was hitting .303 with a 1.022 OPS, MVP-caliber numbers. After the collision, he hit .262 with a .789 OPS, slightly-above-average numbers.

Harper did make strides in left field this year, learning when to cut loose with a throw and when to just hit the cut-off man. He also made strides against left-handed pitching; his .214 batting average remains weak, but his .327 on-base percentage showed he became more patient against southpaws and didn’t chase as many pitches as he did as an over-aggressive rookie.

2014 outlook: Harper sets the bar exceedingly high for himself, and we all set the bar for him just as high. Perhaps an MVP-caliber season at 20 was too much to ask, but it won’t stop Harper (or us) from setting that goal again next year at 21.

For Harper to take that all-important next step in his development and truly become one of the best players in baseball, he needs to continue to improve against left-handed pitching. And he needs to keep himself on the field as close to 100 percent healthy as possible. Obviously, there’s only so much he can do to prevent injury. But Harper admitted by the end of this season he needs to play under more control and also understand when he needs a day or two off to let a nagging injury heal and not devolve into something worse.

If Harper can make those adjustments — and who are we to doubt his talent or desire? — there’s really no reason he can’t put together an MVP-worthy season in 2014.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 7, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    In comparison to his expectations and our outlook for 2013 season, this season can be described as terrible.

  2. Steady Eddie - Oct 7, 2013 at 8:13 AM

    Mark, one small but nontrivial correction: TWO ill-fated plays. As we all remember, he badly bruised his left side on April 30 running into the wall in his failed attempt to catch Tim Hudson’s homer at Atlanta.

    Coming into that April 30 game, Bryce was hitting .356 with an unbelievable 1.181 OPS. Between April 30 and May 13, he went 4/35 with 7 Ks and only 1 XBH, his 10th HR vs the Tigers on May 8, and he had missed the first two games of the Cubs series on May 10-11. So he was already among the walking wounded when he lost track of the wall in Chavez Ravine on the 13th.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 7, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Much as he learned to hit the cut-off man, Harper needs to learn to stop running into outs. I don’t know what the real no. was but it felt like at least a half-dozen. Any more than two is too many.

  4. JamesFan - Oct 7, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    He’s calmed down a lot as a outfielder and is quickly becoming very good. As he gains more experience, he should be fine in left.

    The wall banging is over-played in the media. Sure, it set him back for awhile, but the league also discovered several things about him. He is over-eager for a first pitch fastball. He has trouble with slow breaking stuff, especially from lefties. He seems to be trying too hard to jerk homers instead of hitting the ball where it is pitched and hitting for average. He’s over-eager with runners in scoring position, over-swinging instead of moving the runner…..

    He’ll mature and learn to handle all that stuff, although I did not think his statements about lifting and increasing his size were a good sign about maturity.

  5. Whack-A-Mule - Oct 7, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    On “Expectations” –

    Expectations have been the Nats’ nemesis throughout the season,
    as individuals (e.g. Mr. Harper) and as a team.

    Charlie Brown of “Peanuts” has told us that
    “. . . there is no greater burden than an unlimited potential.”
    Such potential duly gives rise to expectations, themselves often “unlimited”.
    And and another sage and philosopher teaches us, “Expectations are merely
    pre-meditated resentments.”

    Mr. JamesFan is correct in saying (about Mr. Harper) that:
    “He’s calmed down a lot as an outfielder . . .” and
    “He’ll mature and learn to handle all that stuff . . .” .

    Mr. Puig, the rookie star for the Dodgers, exemplifies this well in his more-composed
    style exhibited in the playoffs. He bats and defends more “within himself” ;
    he has seemingly learned that the timely clutch (R.B.I.) single is more important, more valuable,
    than a heedless and unbridled effort at the long ball.

    This mule is hopeful for the Nats in 2014.
    Not expectations, but hope.

  6. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 7, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    I think we should do roster review by position, instead of players. no?

    • therealjohnc - Oct 7, 2013 at 10:39 AM

      It’s a long offseason. By player is fine :-)

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 7, 2013 at 10:46 AM

        Haha I see what you mean.

    • Jw - Oct 7, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      Washington Post is doing reviews by position. Mark needs to be different to avoid plagiarism charges.

  7. Section 222 - Oct 7, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    At the beginning of the season, 10 of the 11 beat writers in Mark’s preseason prediction survey had Harper in the top 5 for MVP this year. Four of them, including Mark, Amanda, and Kilgore, picked him to win it. Next year, it probably won’t even be on the survey. That’s how disappointing this season was. I agree with Steady that the Atlanta wall incident was significant, and the fact that Harper didn’t learn a little respect for walls from it was very significant. Davey’s failure to keep him out of the lineup for a few days was probably a factor in his long slide toward the DL as well.

    Hopefully, not only has Harper learned he needs to rest when he gets injured but the next manager will take preserving the health of his young superstar more seriously as well.

    • therealjohnc - Oct 7, 2013 at 2:19 PM

      10 of 11 beat writers had Harper finishing in the Top 5 for MVP, with four having him win it. He didn’t. His season is therefore disappointing!

      That’s just silly. At the age of 20 Harper continued his development from his age 19 season, significantly improving several of his peripherals while battling injury. His 2013 season is one of the best ever from a 20 year old, and he remains on the short list of “most promising young players in baseball.” To essentially say that Harper’s season was disappointing because he didn’t finish with an MVP-type season says more about the disappointed and how unreasonable their expectations were than it does about Harper. Of course he’s disappointed; he probably expects to hit .400 with 60 HRs. He can use that as fuel for his fire. Fans shouldn’t fall into that trap. Neither should beat writers, but I understand they need to write about something. And its more fun to write about waltzing to glory than it is to be the quiet voice of reason. So we get this cycle:

      (1) Ludicrous, well-nigh impossible expectations are established;
      (2) Player performance is merely very good;
      (3) Cue the lamentations and disappointment chorus.

      Harper is doing fine. You have to go way, WAY down the list of Nationals’ problems before you get to Harper. And compared to most other teams, the Nationals don’t have a very long list of problems.

  8. Section 222 - Oct 7, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    First of all, based on last season, the expectations were hardly ludicrous. Indeed, three of our best beat writers predicted he’d win the MVP. They didn’t do that just to “write about something.” If you knew his season would turn out the way it did, good for you, but you would have been laughed out of town at the beginning of the year, just as you would have been laughed out of town had you predicted that only with a blistering last six weeks would the Nats finish over .500.

    Second, in light of that, there’s no shame, or silliness, in being disappointed in how the season turned out for Harper. You can feel superior if you want to, but we had good reason to hope for more.

    Third, no way was he doing fine this year. Only his MVP-caliber April allows you to say that he significantly improved his peripherals. He was injury plagued this year. He needs to stay healthy to reach his huge potential.

    • therealjohnc - Oct 7, 2013 at 5:16 PM

      Meh. If you think that someone would have been laughed out of town for predicting that Harper would NOT be an MVP candidate, then you have never heard the time-honored baseball phrase “sophomore slump.” Sure, it’s fine to hope for an MVP season out of Harper, or Zimmerman (and then be astonished when the MVP-type season came from Werth – who knew?). But to expect it, and be upset when it doesn’t happen? That’s where hope veers into irrational exuberance.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that. “Irrational exuberance” is pretty much what fandom is all about. But if you constantly base your expectation on the top 5% of plausible outcomes, then you are setting yourself up for a lot of bitterness and heartache. I’ve seen it in nouveau Yankee fans (those that don’t remember the 1980’s): their expectations are so high that anything less than winning winning the WS is a disappointment. Which makes the regular season a joyless trudge for them. I would counsel you not to adopt that mindset. Hope for the best, brace for the worst, and enjoy the game. Not only will your blood pressure thank you, but when your ship does come in it will be that much the sweeter :-)

      PS: FWIW, it’s not feeling superior, it’s perspective learned from several decades of baseball. And even with that, I was in the “sign Adam Dunn” and “keep Michael Morse” camps – so I certainly don’t claim infallibility!





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 Click here for past audio clips.

Follow us on Twitter