Editor’s Note: In his ongoing “Zimm’s Corner” monthly report on the hometown Washington Nationals, HTTD writer Patrick Rice discusses the season-long slump — and recent re-awakening? — of superstar Bryce Harper.
The reigning National League MVP came out of the gate in 2016 like he was ready to make a repeat run at his crown. Bryce Harper hit .286 in the month of April, with a 1.120 OPS (On Base % + Slugging %), and seemed absolutely locked in at the dish.
Then, almost in the blink of an eye, the right fielder became a shell of his MVP self.
Harper’s batting average dropped to .200 in the month of May, marking the start of a three-month slump which re-opened the door for the question that baseball pundits seem to ask every year:
“Is Bryce Harper Overrated?”
Taking a deeper look at #34’s three-month slump and the numbers are staggering. From May until Harper’s ‘break’ in the beginning of August, his OPS was .688. The Major League average is .736.
He might’ve had the worst month of his professional career this past July, hitting only .176 with just five extra-base hits (four of those were home runs), and an on-base percentage of .303. At one point, he was on an 0-for-19 drought
Hold on, it gets worse.
From the All Star Break until August 6th, Harper’s hit .134 with an OPS of .468. That’s not bad… it’s downright awful. The game no longer looked fun to the player who desperately wants to “make baseball fun again.”
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that the Nationals have still kept on their winning ways, even with the drastic dip in production from Harper. Even amidst the reigning MVP’s miserable slump, Washington has extended their lead over the Miami Marlins to eight games. According to ESPN, no team in the Wild Card Era (1994) has blown that large a lead after 120 games.
As the trade deadline came and passed, Washington chose to bolster their bullpen and not their offense. Many fans clamored for another bat and wondered aloud if they did enough to make a run in October.
The reason the Nationals chose not to pursue a bat? Because they have Bryce Harper. Washington is betting, with good reason, their MVP regains his mojo with just a month and change left.
And right on cue, the right fielder began to show signs of life again.
Heading into last night’s game against Baltimore, Harper has hit over .400 with five extra base hits, 11 RBI, and eight runs scored, since he returned to the lineup on August 14th. His home run in Colorado was a 471 foot moon shot and the longest of his young career. He crushed another 411 foot homer against Atlanta on Tuesday, in the Nationals 7-6 loss.
The Nationals did as much as they could to keep things going as a team, and to rally around Harper, even while he was he was underperforming. Now, as playoff baseball nears, it is time for Harper to pick up his teammates.
The Chicago Cubs have been considered the best team in baseball all season. But, a locked-in Bryce Harper makes Washington a very dangerous one, too.
This October could be fun.