Harper: Looking for the 5th Tool
Bryce Harper is really good at baseball. He’s proven this over the years and critics are hard-pressed to find evidence to the contrary. Harper has already proven to be a catalyst for the offense with his bat in 2016, and plenty of experts think he could very well repeat as the National League MVP. Early in 2016, however, Harper is looking to round out his skill set and establish himself as one of the league’s premier 5-tool players.
So, what exactly does it mean to be a 5-tool player? It’s a term that is tossed around a lot when it comes to looking at young recruits as they make their way up to the Bigs, but rarely do we see players exhibit all five when they’re competing against the best players in the nation. The 5-tool player basically is a player that has an impact on the game in all 5 major aspects of the game (excluding pitching, because after college most guys don’t pitch and play a position).
Harper has already shown over the past couple of years that he has the tools at the plate: Contact hitting and power hitting. Harper hit .330 last year and is currently sitting at .300 in 2016. Along with that he had 42 home runs in 2015 and has 2 so far after 6 2016 games. Harper is currently at 99 career homers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if number 100 came in one of the two remaining games against the Braves this week.
Harper has also shown his mastery of the two defensive tools in his arsenal as well: A strong arm and a solid glove. Harper has a career fielding percentage of .978 over a span of 552 games, the majority of them coming in right field. Harper also has 8 outfield assists in 2015, tying for 11th among National League outfielders last year.
The one tool Harper hasn’t flaunted too much in career is his speed on the base paths. This isn’t to say that Harper is slow by any stretch of the mind, merely that he is not generating as much threat on the base paths as he potentially could be. Harper stole just 6 bases in 2015, ranking tied for 57th in the NL. Harper already has achieved half of last season’s total just 6 games into the 2016 season. Now I’m no math whiz, but Harper is on pace to break his stolen base total from 2014 and 2015 combined (8) by the end of April at this rate.
With that said, there may be some factors that could be the cause of this increase in stolen base total in 2016. First off, the Nationals new manager, Dusty Baker, is a much more avid fan of aggressive base running and stolen base attempts than Matt Williams. Baker brought in support on both the coaching end and the player’s end this offseason with the acquisitions of Davey Lopes and Ben Revere. Revere came into the year with the third most stolen bases over the past 5 years (176) and Davey Lopes is not only thought of as one of the best first base coaches in all of baseball, but also stole 557 bases over his pro career.
Baker’s mindset change did yield results this spring. Washington ranked 27th in the Majors in stolen bases for 2015, with 57. They ranked 4th this spring and are currently tied for 2nd in the MLB with 6. The caveat to all of these numbers, of course, is that it is very early in the year. But these trends show that the Nationals could be on the up-and-up on the base paths, and we may see more guys looking to swipe an extra base here and there. Now that Revere is on the DL, other guys at the top of the lineup like Michael Taylor, and Bryce Harper may have more pressure to put themselves in scoring position and pressure opposition’s pitching via the stolen base.
I’m not saying Bryce Harper is going to suddenly be a 40 homer-40 stolen base player in 2016. What I am saying is that he stole 18 bases on 24 attempts in 2012 and then only attempted to steal 29 bases in 2013, 2014, and 2015 combined. There seems to be a change in mentality in the Nationals bullpen that says “If you think you can get the extra base, go for it,” and Harper is one of those guys who has enough speed to demand some attention on the base paths.