The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Harper

This is the classic tale of good versus evil. Is the man in question truly the good natured doctor or the dreaded monster? There are clues along the way that must be examined but, no matter what the evidence suggests, it will be up to the man himself to prove who he really is. It is rare that the audience is rooting for the monster, but that in fact is the case.

In 2015, Bryce Harper was a monster. He hit .330/.460/.649 with a .319 ISO. His wRC+ was 197, which was 25 points higher than the next best hitter in Major League Baseball in 2015 and ranked 40 all-time, tied with Ross Barnes of the 1876 Chicago White Stockings. This does not even mention his traditional fantasy statistics.

Bryce Harper 2015 Statistics
Season Name Team G PA HR R RBI SB
2015 Bryce Harper Nationals 153 654 42 118 99 6

Mr. Harper posted career highs in a multitude of areas:

Bryce Harper 2012-2014 vs. 2015 Statistics
Season(s) Team BABIP HR/FB BB% BB/K FB% Pull% Hard%
2012-2014 Nationals 0.319 16.60% 10.40% 0.49 33.50% 35.90% 31.90%
2015 Nationals 0.369 27.30% 19.00% 0.95 39.30% 45.40% 40.90%

Harper’s approach at the plate in 2015 was more patient. He swung 6.3% less in 2015 than in his previous season, including a drastic improvement in swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. This new approach helped contribute to the huge jump in BB/K and BB%. While he has never shown this type of patience in the Major or Minor Leagues, it is not out of the question that it is legitimately due to his age and his growing control of the strike zone.

Harper’s new approach led him to pull the ball more to increase his power output. It jumped a full 9% in 2015. While this is great for his power numbers, if he continues to pull, the league will adjust accordingly. When they do, you could see a sharp decline in his BABIP. The growth in his pull percentage could also be partially responsible for the simultaneous growth in his hard contact. Harper has always maintained that he prefers to hit to all fields, especially left-center. If he reverts back to being less of a pull hitter, it would undoubtedly affect his power numbers.

His 27.3% HR/FB rate was an extreme jump from his career rate of 16.6% prior to last season. Only Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis had higher rates. His FB% jumped drastically as well, raising 6% from his prior career numbers. While Harper is a better pure hitter than Cruz and Davis, he had never shown their kind of fly ball tendency or power potential. While he could sustain some of the jump in HR/FB due to a large increase in HR + FB distance in 2015, it is unlikely that he will be able to maintain such a high percentage without some fluctuation in average.

There is also the fact that while his BB%, K%, pull percentage, and hard contact stayed steady in the second half of the season, we did see his groundball and fly ball percentages fall back in line with his career averages and an over 3% drop in his HR/FB rate during that period.

So, will Bryce Harper be the monster that he was in 2015, or will he revert back to being Dr. Jekyll?

If you believe that last year was completely legitimate or buy into the Zips projection comps of Ted Williams, then he would be the monster. It appears that the fantasy community at large completely agrees with that. He is universally being considered a top three pick in redraft leagues this season, and many industry experts have decided that he deserves to be number one.

I am much more skeptical, however. Despite the fact that I buy some of what we saw, the massive jumps in so many areas is a little too good to be true for me. I am more of a believer in his second half numbers, which would say that his HR/FB% will come down 3-4% and his average will regress into the .300 -.310 range. And while I am not ready to put the injury-prone tag on him, the fact that 2015 was his first year with at least 600 plate appearances in the Majors is a tad bit troublesome.

I have backed off of some of the comments about my distaste for the fantasy industry’s immense love for Harper, but I still feel like too many people believe that 2015 is the start of an epic beginning to greatness or some sort of new baseline for him. People are ignoring the real possibility that there is some level of imminent regression coming.

In redraft leagues, I will not be taking Harper in my top three, but I understand more why others will. There is some inherent risk in Mr. Harper, and in spite of my trepidation, I won’t forget that in the classic tale, the monster wins.





Justin is the co-host on The Sleeper and The Bust Podcast and writes for Rotographs covering the Roto Riteup as well as random topics that float into his juvenile brain. In addition to his work at Rotographs, Justin is the lead fantasy writer/analyst and co-owner for FriendswithFantasyBenefits.com, owner of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, and a fantasy football and baseball writer for Fantasy Alarm. He is also a certified addiction treatment counselor. Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinMasonFWFB.

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steve8818
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Member
steve8818

Just curious, what is your top three if no Harper?

Gavin
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Gavin

Probably Trout, Donaldson, Goldie in some order.

Just guessing.