In 2015, Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper broke through in a huge way and put together one of the best hitting lines we have seen since Barry Bonds. He batted 330/460/649 with 42HR, and a 9.9 WAR (baseball-reference) to capture his first MVP award at only 23 years old.
The following year in 2016 started off well too as Harper batted 286/406/714 with 9 HR in April. Unfortunately, that is where the good times ended as Harper went into a slump for the rest of the season to finish with a 243/373/441 batting line with just 24 HR, and only a 1.1 WAR.
The question for collectors is all about how to value Bryce Harper moving forward.
Overall, it appears that the market is still very high on Harper despite the disappointing year. His 2011 Bowman Chrome auto prospect card (BGS 9.5) still sells for over $700. The reason for the high optimism seems to be that his down year can be explained by attributing it to the injury to his right shoulder.
The nature of the injury made it difficult to generate power, and even may have forced Harper to adjust his swing. As a result Harper’s percentage of soft hit balls increased, and his BABIP decreased. What this means is that hits that might have been homeruns in 2015 turned into doubles, and what would have been a line drive turned into an out. If you are interested in advanced reports here is a recommended read.
The good news is that despite these struggles, Harper actually decreased his strikeout rate in 2016, and drew a ton of walks and physically he is still the same player he was in 2015. At 24, he has all the skill in the world to repeat his production from 2015 and there is also no reason he shouldn’t enter the 2017 season completely healthy.
When Harper is on, there simply isn’t another player in the game that will match the production he offers at the plate.
But here is the problem. Harper seems to always find a way to get bit by the injury bug. Besides 2015, We have not yet seen him put together a completely healthy season, and each of these seasons his per game numbers have also suffered in comparison to 2015. This is something that would-be investors can’t ignore.
Therefore, when asking if Harper will have a bounce back season, it really comes down on what the odds are that he will have a completely healthy season. Since most of the injuries Harper has experienced thus far come from within the play of the game as opposed to wear and tear, there is reason to be optimistic that he can make an adjustment in his game to be more careful as he matures as a player.
If you are holder of a prized Bryce Harper rookie, or interested in adding one to your collection, our recommendation is to watch closely throughout spring training and the beginning of the season. This is a player who after all has shown he is a generational talent.