Heading into the 2018 MLB season, some analysts selected Bryce Harper as their favorite to win the Most Valuable Player award in the National League. Through the first month of the season, this seemed to be the case as Harper continued his streak of dominance in April. At the two week mark, Harper was hitting .304 with eight home runs. As the month continued Harper’s numbers began to drop. Going into May he was only batting .241 with no additional home runs.
One reason for Harper’s decline is his reduced discipline at the plate. Known for having a keen eye, Harper has been striking out at an alarming rate. Last year in 420 at-bats he had 99 strikeouts. This year in 314 at-bats he already has 97 strikeouts. To put it in perspective, Harper’s strikeout rate has increased from 24% in 2017 to 31% in 2018.
While Harper ranks ninth in the majors in home runs, his home run efficiency has decreased as the season has gone on. As of May 4, Harper hit 12 home runs in 100 at-bats which equates to a home run 12% of the time. By July 11, Harper hit 22 home runs in 314 at-bats which equates to a home run in 7% of his at-bats.
Although he is on track to set a career high in walks, pitchers have found a way to negate him offensively. Harper has been known for his plate discipline but it has seemed to disappear. In 2017 Harper hit .319 and this year his average is down to .213. Harper has become very impatient compared to years past. Instead, he is swinging at pitches he used to be able to lay off which has led to his absurd number of strikeouts and lower batting average.
This is the final year of Bryce Harper’s contract, also known as a walk year, and some have predicted that he will become the first player to sign a 400-500 million dollar contract. Harper’s looming free agency has seemed to have a negative effect on his play. In his walk year, Harper is not showing the league why he should be paid all of this money. Instead, the media has been ridiculing the projected money Harper could earn due to the fact that he is having a down year. Speculation is that the new contract, the potential money from free agency and the medias remarks have become a distraction.
Harper is not the only one on the team who is not playing up to expectations. Some key contributors are on or already served stints on the disabled list such as second baseman Daniel Murphy, outfielder Adam Eaton, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, pitcher Stephen Strasburg and catcher Matt Wieters. Due to the many key starters being out for stretches at a time, Harper has been leaned on to pick up their slack. The added expectations have seemed to take its toll. Instead, Harper has been folding at the plate. Known for being able to come up in the clutch, this year Bryce Harper seems like a completely different player. Hopefully, the all-star break will give him the needed rest to come back to form for the second half of the season.
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