Hey, Is That the 2015 Bryce Harper?

So I don’t want to make too much of a couple swings early in spring training but…

Here’s Bryce Harper’s first at-bat of the spring from last week.

And here’s his second homer in nine spring at-bats, an event having taken place on Thursday.

In Harper’s first four spring games, he’s gone 4-of-9 with two homers and three walks against two strikeouts. It’s really early. This might not mean anything. But after last season’s dramatic decline from his 10-win, MVP-earning 2015 campaign, maybe it’s something. There were whispers about Harper playing through a shoulder injury last season, and his agent Scott Boras said last month that there was “an issue” with which Harper dealt. There sure seemed to be something not quite right.

His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives fell from 94.5 mph in 2015 to 92.7 last season. Here’s his rolling 2015 exit velocity compared to the league average from Baseball Savant

And his 2016 average exit velocity…

Or maybe the Cubs just got in Harper’s head in early May, walking him 13 times in a four-game series, three times intentionally. After a 19% walk rate during the first half of last season, that mark slipped to 14.7% in the second half. At the same time, his strikeout rate rose from 15.8% to 22.8%. But this is a player who posted a 20% walk rate in 2015. He’s used to being pitched around. So maybe Harper was playing through injury, though he or the Nationals never acknowledged that. Maybe he fell out of a good approach and comfort level at the plate. Maybe it was a combination of factors.

Whatever the reason, his very different 2015 and 2016 seasons make him one of the more interesting players to watch early this season. And if you believe he was hurting after an outstanding April last season, he sure looks healthy right now.

The expectations for 2017 are tempered surrounding a player who is considered to be a generational talent. PECOTA is projecting a four-win season, a .270/.375/.501 slash line, and 27 homers in 575 plate appearances. ZiPS forecasts 4.4 WAR, 29 homers, and a .280/.406/.521 slash line over 600 plate appearances. The Fans projections have Harper being about equal in value to Gary Sanchez.

While Harper’s 2015 was fueled by to some extent by an overperformance on fly balls, pulling a Tyler Naquin, it was still an all-time great season.

And while it’s dangerous to make something of a few spring at bats, sometimes they can mean something. And if these two swings indicate Harper is healthier than he was a year ago, then perhaps he’s a good bet to exceed his projections, and do some in dramatically.





A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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v2micca
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v2micca

I hope 2015 Harper is back. I want him to kill it this year and next year. I want the Nationals to go all in in 2017 and 2018 and strip their farm system bare. Then I want to watch them weep bitter tears when Harper walks during his free agency year and the team implodes due to a barren farm system and deferred payments that prevent them from signing quality free agents.

Shfifty Five
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Shfifty Five

Who hurt you

v2micca
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v2micca

I’m a Braves fan. 2015 and 2016 hurt me.

Jason G
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Jason G

I like the dumpster fire avatar.

mr.met89
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Sounds good to me.