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Significant moment No. 1: Harper hits the wall

Dec 31, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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As we count down the final days of 2013, we are counting down the 10 most significant moments of the year for the Nationals. These aren’t necessarily positive (or negative) moments, and some didn’t even take place on the field. All, though, were significant in the big picture and defined the Nationals’ year. We conclude today with significant moment No. 1: Bryce Harper’s May 13 collision with the wall at Dodger Stadium…

Why did the Nationals underachieve in 2013? There are a dozen answers, all of them legit, each offering a piece of the puzzle that resulted in an 86-win season and an October spent watching other clubs on national TV.

But if told you could only pick one reason for the Nats’ performance this year, Bryce Harper’s banged-up body certainly seems a valid choice.

Harper absolutely tore up the National League in April, ending the month with a .344 batting average, nine homers, a .430 on-base percentage and 1.150 OPS. Maintain a pace even remotely resembling those numbers, and Harper would have run away with his first NL MVP award.

He didn’t maintain that pace, of course, and though simple regression may explain it to some extent, the fact Harper was significantly less than 100 percent healthy from May through September likely explains more.

First came an April 30 collision with the chain-link fence at Turner Field in Atlanta, one that left Harper’s left ribcage bruised. Two weeks later came an even scarier sight: Harper crumpled in a heap on the warning track at Dodger Stadium, blood oozing out of his chin and down his neck following a full-speed head-on with another chain-link fence.

The Nationals’ initial fear was that Harper had suffered a head injury, given the ferocious force in which his neck snapped back after he face-planted the wall. Turns out the most significant injury he sustained on the play was to his left knee.

Harper tried to play through the pain for another two weeks, but it became clear he couldn’t do it. He was placed on the disabled list May 27 with bursitis, an injury confirmed by noted orthopedist James Andrews, who said the 20-year-old outfielder could return to the field after rest and rehab, no surgery.

After a five-week stint on the DL, Harper was back in the Nationals lineup July 1. And aside from a couple of forced days off — plus a four-day break in September due to a hip injury — he remained in the lineup through season’s end.

But Harper never was the same. In 83 games played after the May 13 collision in L.A., Harper hit .262 with 10 homers, a .356 OBP and a .789 OPS. Not terrible numbers by any stretch, but nowhere close to the MVP numbers he put up prior to the injury.

He acknowledged late in September that he hadn’t been 100 percent since his initial encounter with the wall in Atlanta. And shortly after the season ended, he had arthroscopic surgery to repair the knee, a final admission of the severity of the bursitis.

Why was Harper’s injury more significant than anything else that happened to the Nationals in 2013? Consider his importance to the club, even at such a young age. In the 118 games he played this year, the Nats went 65-53. That’s a .551 winning percentage that over a full season would equate to 89 wins. One shy of a playoff berth in 2013.

In the 44 games Harper missed this year, the Nationals went 21-23, a .477 winning percentage that extrapolated out equals 77 wins over a full season.

Plain and simple, had Harper merely stayed in the lineup the full year, the Nats would’ve legitimately been in a pennant race. And if he not only stayed in the lineup but also stayed relatively close to 100 percent healthy, they might well have made it to October.

The Harper collision was significant in other ways, too. After hearing so many pundits question the reckless abandon with which he has always played, Harper seemed to dial his game back a bit the rest of the season. That may have helped him avoid another serious injury, but it also may have left him something less than himself on the field.

What kind of player will Harper be in 2014? Fully healed, will he produce a full season as he did for one month in 2013? Will his infectious playing style return, or will he remain cautious, not wanting to risk a repeat performance?

That is among the biggest questions facing the Nationals in the new year. And that’s why Harper’s scary tumble at Chavez Ravine rates as his team’s most significant moment of 2013.

  1. Another_Sam - Dec 31, 2013 at 6:55 AM

    He had such a drab season that it’s easy [for me] to overlook that start. I’m predicting a breakout complete season this year for BH.

  2. nats128 - Dec 31, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    “In the 44 games Harper missed this year, the Nationals went 21-23, a .477 winning percentage that extrapolated out equals 77 wins over a full season.”

    There were games Harp played that he was probably hurt so bad that he was hurting the team. His replacements off the bench in the lineup were not playing well which only magnified the situation.

  3. Joe Seamhead - Dec 31, 2013 at 7:54 AM

    There’s no question that this was the most significant on the field moment. I have the one hope that Bryce will fully recover both physically, and just as importantly, mentally from 2013. We all want his swagger back tempered by only being a little more aware. I’ve watched his collision too many times, but I didn’t see it as much as recklessness as it happening from inexperience in not even knowing where the wall was exactly. He never glanced at the warning track, just stayed looking up focused on the ball, never saw the wall coming. But he’s a smart kid and will learn from this. Between Harper going down and Werth being hobbled, the outfield that looked so promising in April was marching out the likes of Moore, Lombo, and Kobernus. And then Hairston. Add in the seriousness of RZimm’s throwing problems and it’s hard to fathom how many more games the Nats would’ve won if those two had been healthy. Some say that Atlanta dealt with as many, if not more, injuries and did a better job of overcoming them. The fact is, though the Nats are closing the gap, Atlanta’s overall system is still deeper then the Nats. That said, if the Nats stay healthy their potential 25 man is now as good, or better, than the Braves is.
    Happy New Year, everybody! And Mark? Thanks for all you do.

    • nats128 - Dec 31, 2013 at 8:14 AM

      You forgot Bernadina as the main replacement and he was hitting around .100 in May.

      • Joe Seamhead - Dec 31, 2013 at 8:18 AM

        I knew I was forgetting somebody,128! Thanks.

  4. Faraz Shaikh - Dec 31, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    he has gotta improve against lefties also. and of course no more walls.

  5. JayB - Dec 31, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    Happy New Year to you all and as always thank you Mark.

    This was indeed the number one reason for the team to under-perform as they did. All the other stuff…(agree with me or not) would have been over come and they would have at least made the playoffs if Harper plays 150 or more games.

    ATL does not have a better system in my view but they do have a more experienced GM who would not be willing to let Danny or HROD types create repeated losses in April and May. Those count the same as in Sept. Rizzo is also very very stubborn and has a overactive ego. It takes him a very long time to admit his mistakes. See Chadd Tracey for two years or the Lefty in the BPen issues. ATL was much more practical about solutions needed than Rizzo was before and during the season.

    This year I see a more experienced GM in Rizzo who is not going to sit on his hands if changes clearly are needed.

    • nats128 - Dec 31, 2013 at 8:19 AM

      I think the Danny situation you mention is that Rizzo had no solution to back him up except Lombo as Rendon was the insurance at 3rd if Ryan Z’s shoulder wasnt healed. The RZ and the Danny situation in the infield and the Harp situation in the OF spelled trouble.

      HROD is the 3 season WTF. To many on here kept singing his praises. I never understood it. If you cant throw strikes you are of no use.

    • mjhoya - Dec 31, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      Tracy was the best pinch hitter in baseball his first season here. Not sure what mistake was made there.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 31, 2013 at 7:16 PM

      And to you, Jaybee, and all. May our wikdest dreams look conservative by next October.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 31, 2013 at 7:18 PM

        *wildest

        wikdest dreams are for later

      • natsfan1a - Dec 31, 2013 at 8:47 PM

        I second that emotion.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Dec 31, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    Yeah, right. Frank Wren did a helluva a job cutting his losses with BJ and Uggla.[sic]. JayB, if I agreed with you on most issues then we’d both be wrong.

    • JayB - Dec 31, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      Results speak for themselves….Wren had a 10-15 game lead and killed the Nats every time they played…why would he worry too much about BJ…..Uggla was not on the Playoff roster….Danny was….tells you who is smarter there……

  7. knoxvillenat - Dec 31, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    Hopefully this season Harper plays left field and left field only. With McLouth on the bench I don’t see any reason to move Harper out of one outfield position for another. I often thought his inexperience in the outfield in general contributed in part to the injuries sustained last year as both occurred when he was playing right field if I remember correctly.

  8. jd - Dec 31, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    knoxvillenat,

    I agree about Harp playing one position all year but it should be right field. That arm is wasted in left and with Werth’s defense declining slowly this is as good at a time as any to place Harp in what should be his position for the remainder of his career.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 31, 2013 at 10:32 AM

      more than the arm, werth’s defense may be declining due to range. does moving werth to left field gives him less room to cover and harper (speedy of the two) can cover more?

    • knoxvillenat - Dec 31, 2013 at 10:57 AM

      jd,

      I only say left field because that is where Harper has most of his experience and Werth is going to be in RF for another year or so it seems anyway. Now if Werth should ever move to first base, and that may be more likely than him moving to LF, than by all means I would consider moving Harper to right on a permanent basis. I would hope however that the move would be made only when Harper can get as much instruction, practice and repetition as possible like in spring training and not an in season move.

      • jd - Dec 31, 2013 at 11:20 AM

        Don’t be shocked if Williams moves Werth to left and Harper to right immediately. I think Davey should have done that last year. It makes too much sense.

        Just reading the comments by Rizzo and Williams I think it’s more likely that Zim ends up at 1st in 2015 and not Werth with Rendon moving to 3rd.

      • unkyd59 - Dec 31, 2013 at 11:38 AM

        We’ll see about the 1st base issues… Werth makes the most sense to me. ’15&’16 are the last two years in his contract, no? If Zim puts it all back together, this year, he could still be potentially GG&SS, for a couple of years, and then move over in ’17. Werth is so tall, he could really be a plus defender at first. And then you’re only looking to find a LF….

      • Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 11:56 AM

        jd, I’ll be very happy if Williams makes that move. But I’ll also be shocked.

        unky, I don’t think Zim will ever be a GG 3B again. Even if his arm recovers, his range and reactions are just not what they used to be. But I’ll take league average defense from him if he can get there because he still has a powerful bat. What we simply can’t have is the error waiting to happen that we had over there for the first 3/4 of last year.

  9. mlblogsnatsboy - Dec 31, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    Harper hitting the wall was the direct result of moving him to a corner OF spot for Span. The team was stronger in ’12 with Morse in left and Harper in center. If Harper had been in center he would have never crashed into that wall. I wish that Rizzo would get a power corner outfielder and move Harper back to center, where the walls aren’t quite so close. It would also allow the Nats to improve the offense and take advantage of Harper’s arm, which is a completely wasted asset in left field.

  10. Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Just call me Carnac the Magnificent.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnac_the_Magnificent

    • Sonny G 10 - Dec 31, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      kudos Deuces on getting the number 1 correctly.

      Happy New Year everyone and thank you Mark and Chase for the nice posts all year.

  11. Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Just call me Carnac the Magnificent.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnac_the_Magnificent

  12. Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    Ladson’s top 5 storylines is worth a quick read, and has a nice video montage as well.
    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article/was/jayson-werth-jordan-zimmermann-denard-span-were-highlights-of-nationals-2013-season?ymd=20131230&content_id=66191724&vkey=news_was

    As usual for him, it’san upbeat assessment. Personally, I like Mark’s more balanced approach, and I definitely appreciate his No. 1 and No. 10 as bookends featuring the key player on this team. But Ladson highlights Werth’s season as his No. 1 and I think there’s much to that. I think we all expect that he will not have much value in the last two years of the contract, but the overall value of the signing depends on the key middle years 3-5. And Year 3 was pretty freakin’ good. (Year 2, which was really just a half a year because of injury, capped by Game 4, wasn’t bad either.)

    Thanks to Mark and Chase for giving us something to think about and comment on during these cold dark baseball-less days. And Happy New Year to all.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 31, 2013 at 11:18 AM

      I am not going to complain about that deal. Werth has had a serious impact in that clubhouse. I always hear about how clubhouse leadership is important and what not, I only believed that after seeing Werth in a Nats uniform.

  13. Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    I agree with those who think Harper should move full time to RF. I doubt it will happen this year because Werth probably won’t want to do it and I doubt Williams/Rizzo will insist. Plus, thought Werth’s range may be decreasing, his experience will make up for that for another year I would think. But Harper’s future is in RF where his arm and his speed can be much more valuable. He ought to start learning the angles in the different NL parks as soon as possible.

    • jd - Dec 31, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      I don’t understand why he won’t want to do it. If he really wants to win he has to realize that Harper is the better athlete at this point in his career. He’s not going to the bench, just moving to an easier position.

  14. sjm308 - Dec 31, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    Happy New Year to all!!

    Will be downtown tonight, playing tourist tomorrow. Tonight, nice Jazz show at the Kennedy Center with Ramsey Lewis and dinner at Blue Duck Tavern after. Life is good!!

    I also want Harper in RF sooner than later but agree with most here that Werth will get this final year. The caveat to that is how Williams decides to handle things. He has already made a public statement about Zimm learning to play first so I think those wishing it was Werth will be disappointed. Rendon is our 3rd baseman of the future and while its doubtful that Espinosa will ever return to what we saw early in his career I am betting they will give that a lot of play. Werth will not be the worst LF in the majors, even as he ages. He always has good reads, he is a total professional and will adapt well to LF.

    Go Nats!!

  15. #4 - Dec 31, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    Harper and Werth should be left in LF and RF respectively. This is mostly for Harper’s benefit. BH is still only 21 years old, and the team is counting on middle of the order production from him. He still needs to 1) hit lefties consistently 2) learn the difference between reckless and aggressive. both in the field and on the base paths, and 3) hit the cut off man and throw to the right base. That’s a lot for a guy who we also hope will hit something like .290/30/100. Let’s see him be healthy and dominate at the plate before giving him one more thing to learn at the big league level.

  16. NatsLady - Dec 31, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    • Stephen Strasburg was a Strange But True phenomenon unto himself this year. Let’s start with his Aug. 18 outing against the Braves, when he threw three wild pitches in one at-bat against Andrelton Simmons. How weird (and possibly intentional) was that? The guy threw four wild pitches to the other 730 hitters he faced this year.

    • Two weeks after that bizarre episode in Strange But Trueness, Strasburg committed two run-scoring balks in the same inning. So how many balks do you think he committed in the other 182 innings he pitched this year? That would be one.

    • And, finally, guess which pitcher made more starts of six outs or fewer than any other starter in the big leagues this year? Right you are. That, too, would be Stephen Strasburg, with four. The Strange But True research department would like to thank him for his contributions to this year’s column.

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10210242/mlb-strange-true-2013

    • Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:44 PM

      Thanks for that link NL. It led me to the following unique play. Always liked that Jonny Gomes.

      http://wapc.mlb.com/play/?content_id=29321457&c_id=mlb

      • Joe Seamhead - Dec 31, 2013 at 3:23 PM

        Was at the game when Gomes was here and got the base loaded walk-off HBP from Brad Lidge to beat the Phillies. That was the last really overwhelmingly large Phillies crowd at Nats Stadium. It was like the air letting out of a balloon. Gomes didn’t move a millimeter to avoid the pitch. One of my favorite memories of the new Nats. “Dirt Bag Baseball” was Jonny’s descriptive quote afterwards.

      • Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 5:18 PM

        I was at that game too. An absolute classic, especially the look he gave Lidge after the ball bounced off his forearm — kind of like “you stupid such and such.” Unforgettable.

    • Section 222 - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      There were very few Nats mentions in that long strange but true column. Other than the Strasburg mentions that NL quoted, I found two. This, although it doesn’t actually note that the first no-hit bid was against the Nats:

      • If you go back to his last start of the regular season, Cardinals phenom Michael Wacha became the first pitcher since Dave Stieb to take a no-hitter into the eighth inning in two straight starts. The first was broken up by an infield chopper that traveled about 95 feet. The second was broken up by a Pedro Alvarez home run that went, in Wacha’s words, “about 18,000 feet.”

      And this:

      • And here comes the Strange But True rehab-option note of the year: During Bryce Harper’s June injury-rehab tour of Class A Potomac, the youngest player on the team was — who else? — HIM.

  17. David Proctor - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    Harper can hit lefty starters at a passable rate. What he can’t do is hit lefty relievers. Against left-handed starters, Bryce has a .246/.352/.427 slash line. Yet his overall slash against lefties is .229/.312/.376. Those LOOGYs just crush him.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:23 PM

      That’s their goal, right? I doubt there are many LH hitters who hit well against LOOGYs. Btw what’s the difference between his line against RHP and LHP? I am sure it is significant on all stats.

      • David Proctor - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:38 PM

        Against righties, Harper has a career .292/.373/.532 slashline for a .902 OPS. In 2013, it was .300/.388/.580 for a ridiculous .947 OPS.

        Lefties? Career .229/.312/.376 for a .688 OPS. In 2013, it was .214/.327/.321 for a .648 OPS.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 31, 2013 at 3:00 PM

        Thanks, that looks significantly different to me. If you only look at his numbers against LH starting pitchers, even then that is a significant gap.

      • David Proctor - Dec 31, 2013 at 3:02 PM

        The good news is that this isn’t rare for young left-handed hitters. It typically takes a few years. Just remember Bryce is still only 21 years old.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 31, 2013 at 4:12 PM

        Griffey had picked up well against lefties by age 20. I know, not fair standards. Then again, Harper has been considered a generational talent, like Griffey.

      • David Proctor - Dec 31, 2013 at 5:46 PM

        And Tony Gwynn was even worse than Harper (.559 OPS). No one-size-fits-all method for development of a young player.

  18. Joe Seamhead - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    Bryce has said even before crashing into the walls last year that he doesn’t feel like he gets good reads in RF. Werth has stated even before Bryce’s crashes that Bryce has a lot to learn as far as playing RF. Both statements seemed accurate after last year. But I think Harper will ultimately be a right fielder. Maybe even this year. I seriously doubt that he will ever be an everyday CF, though he certainly could be..Brian Goodwin, who I’m not sold on, is heir apparent in CF. I also seriously doubt Jayson will move to 1B though I always thought it a possibility given the length of his guaranteed contract. I thought that last year he wasn’t covering the same ground as he had previously, and he was reluctant to risk injury to his wrist again on the short fly balls and tended to play some of them on one hops that he would’ve caught in years past. Granted he was dealing with a tender hammy all year and was still not at 100% with his wrist. Add in that he had a couple of throws to 3rd that came up short that he would have probably have nailed guys in the past. His time in RF is nearing an end.

  19. veejh - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Pretty sure Harper hit the wall in LA, not ATL? Maybe Im foggy?

    • David Proctor - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      He hit two walls. One in ATL, one in LA.

      • Joe Seamhead - Dec 31, 2013 at 2:23 PM

        That’s correct.

    • Steady Eddie - Dec 31, 2013 at 6:33 PM

      And his hitting performance more or less fell off the cliff after Atlanta — he went something like 3 or 4 for 29 (with only one XBH, a dinger, and 3 BB) between the two wall games.

  20. ArVAFan - Dec 31, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    I overlooked one New Years’ resolution: Jerry Blevins: acquire some regular Nats gear before Spring Training. Those stick-on Curly W’s will not hold up in the Florida humidity.

  21. ArVAFan - Jan 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM

    Since I’m still up, let me be the first to wish the Nats, and all the Nats Insiders, a very happy 2014.

    The best thing about it being January? Pitchers and Catchers report next month.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 73 53 --
ATLANTA 67 61 7.0
MIAMI 63 63 10.0
NEW YORK 60 68 14.0
PHILADELPHIA 56 71 17.5
Through Thursday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
FRI: Giants at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Giants at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Giants at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
THU: OFF
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