Injuries Derail Bryce Harper’s Season…Again

Bryce Harper was supposed to be the next superstar. And while 9.5 WAR over his first three seasons is nothing to sneeze at, it’s a bit of a disappointment. For the most part though, he has performed pretty well at the plate, posting a .355 wOBA during his career. Unfortunately, injuries have gotten the best of him in recent years. In 2013, he missed a month with a left knee injury that ultimately required offseason surgery. In 2014, he hurt his left thumb when he dove head-first into third base on a triple and missed about two months of action. So then it’s no surprise that a graph of his plate appearance totals over his first three seasons look like this:

Bryce Harper PA

Well that’s a nice and tidy trend. Who wants to play the Guess the Next Number in the Trend game? Is it 295? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? So yeah, staying on the field has been a problem for Harper. And that’s most of the reason why he finished just 81st in value among outfielders this year. 81st! Bryce Harper! He earned negative value! And despite the injuries and the non-elite performances, we apparently keep liking him more and more each year. Check this out:

Bryce Harper Ranking

That’s our RotoGraphs preseason consensus rank plotted against his end of season rank. The higher we rank him, the worse he performs! Do we dare rank him fifth this year and doom him to a ranking outside the top 100 outfielders?

But the thing is, even when he was on the field this year, his fantasy production was rather underwhelming. His wOBA slipped from .371 last year to just .338, primarily due to a sudden power outage. His ISO, which had sat just above .200 over his first two seasons, fell to just .151 this year. His batted ball distance confirmed the loss of power, as it dropped by about 13.5 feet. But that still put him above his 2012 mark and his HR/FB rate was normal. For some reason, his doubles rate fell off the map which is what led to his power disappearing.

Another issue cropped up, but it was almost hidden by an inflated .352 BABIP – a sudden inability to make contact. His SwStk% jumped from 10.9% to 13.7%, as he had more trouble than ever making contact on pitches both outside and inside the zone.

Having needed surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, one would imagine that would be a reasonable explanation for his struggles this season. Let’s check out the splits:

Pre-Injury 91 8.8% 23.1% 0.133 0.377 0.289 0.352 0.422 0.339
Post-Injury 304 9.9% 27.3% 0.156 0.343 0.268 0.342 0.424 0.338

Would you look at that, identical wOBA marks before and after the injury. He did strike out more after the injury, but hit for more power. Of course, his time before the injury amounted to just a month, which is a tiny sample. We would have assumed he would have rebounded over the rest of the way had he not gotten hurt. And since he didn’t rebound, it’s tempting to blame the thumb, which probably does deserve some of the blame, but perhaps not all of it.

Part of Harper’s fantasy appeal was his potential for all-around contributions. He stole 18 bases during his 2012 rookie campaign and another 11 in his sophomore year. But he swiped just two in four attempts this season. Should that have been a surprise? He was coming off knee surgery, so he may have wanted to remain cautious, believing the limited value his handful of steals provides the team wasn’t enough to offset the risk of reinjuring himself. He may have also just gotten slower, as his Spd scores have plummeted from 7.4 in 2012 to 5.1 last year to just 3.1 this season. And his triples have dried up, as he hit nine three-baggers in his rookie year, but just give since. Just like Anthony Rendon in the opposite situation, it’s going to be hard to determine the right number of steals to project next year. And those steals really allowed him to stand out as a potential top tier, five-category fantasy outfielder.

Heading into 2015, Harper comes with many question marks. Will the speed return? Will his contact skills rebound? WILL HE STAY HEALTHY?! There’s little doubt that fantasy owners are going to fall out of love with his upside anytime soon. So as usual, he represents big risk with a big reward. And since he’s likely to come cheaper than he has since 2012 drafts, I may actually own him for the first time!

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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dewon brazeltron


baltic wolf
baltic wolf

Maybe. But that bat speed is supernatural.

My younger brother attended Game One of the ALDS with the Giants. I watched on TV.

We both agreed we’ve never seen a baseball leave a park faster in a Washington D.C. stadium since Frank Howard left town in 1971.