The Washington Nationals were eliminated from the postseason by the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday night, losing 4-3.
Suffice to say, having Bryce Harper in his 2015 NL MVP form would have helped a Nationals offence that scored 24 runs this postseason and still didn’t make it out of the first round.
The 23-year-old Harper was mired in a season-long slump in 2016, seeing a drastic dip in his numbers just one year after looking poised to take over MLB.
In 2016, Harper saw his batting average fall from .330 to .243, his slugging percentage fell from .649 to .441, and his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) fell drastically from 1.109 (best in the majors last year) to .814. He also saw his WAR drop from 9.9 to 1.1, suggesting he was barely above replacement-level in 2016. While Harper missed time with injuries, it’s been suggested that he played through them and some had lingered all the way through the playoffs.
During Game 5 of the NLDS, during an at-bat in the fifth inning, former MLB first baseman Harold Reynolds explained why Harper’s slump lasted all season.
“One of the reasons you’re seeing Harper’s swing the way it is,” Reynold began, “you know, he was injured the beginning of the year, the shoulder, and then you start to compensate. Before you know it, you lose your swing that you had a groove in.”
Reynolds acknowledged that Harper still hit 24 home runs and had 21 stolen bases, but said Harper didn’t “drive the ball like he’s capable of doing, and it’s allowed holes in his swing.”
Just then, Harper hit a foul ball to the third baseline that barely escaped the grasp of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. Reynolds remarked, “That ball last year was driven in the seats. Not those seats — the seats in left field.”
In the NLDS, Harper struggled hitting the ball, though he did draw six walks. His batting average dipped to .235 and he came up with just four hits and no home runs. Though Harper remains a force at the plate, simply for his reputation and ability, the Nationals could have been an even more dangerous offensive team if they had been able to pair the 2105 Harper next to Daniel Murphy, who hit batted .458 and with an OBP of .545 in the postseason.
Harper now has the offseason to rehab, but after a year-long slump, his swing is going to need some fixing to get back to his 2015 levels.
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