- Harry How/Getty
The Washington Nationals were eliminated from the postseason by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night, losing by 4-3.
Suffice to say, having Bryce Harper in his 2015 National League MVP form would have helped a Nationals offense that scored 24 runs this postseason and still didn’t make it out of the first round.
The 23-year-old Harper was mired in a season-long slump in 2016, seeing a drastic dip in his numbers just one year after looking poised to take over MLB.
In 2016, Harper saw his batting average fall to .243 from .330, his slugging percentage fall to .441 from .649, and his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) fell dramatically to .814 from a majors-best 1.109. He also saw his WAR drop to 1.1 from 9.9, suggesting he was barely above an average-level player in 2016. While Harper missed time with injuries, it has been suggested that he played through them as well and that some had lingered through the playoffs.
During Thursday night’s broadcast, former MLB second baseman Harold Reynolds suggested why Harper’s slump lasted all season.
“One of the reasons you’re seeing Harper’s swing the way it is,” Reynold began, “you know, he was injured the beginning of the year, the shoulder, and then you start to compensate. Before you know it, you lose your swing that you had a groove in.”
Reynolds acknowledged that Harper still hit 24 home runs and had 21 stolen bases but said Harper didn’t “drive the ball like he’s capable of doing, and it’s allowed holes in his swing.”
Just then, Harper, batting in the fifth inning, hit a foul ball to the third-base line that barely escaped the grasp of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. Reynolds remarked: “That ball last year was driven in the seats. Not those seats – the seats in left field.”
Harper struggled with hitting during the NLDS, though he did draw six walks. His batting average dipped to .235, and he came up with just four hits and no home runs. Though Harper remains a force at the plate, simply for his reputation and ability, the Nationals could have been an even more dangerous offensive team if they had been able to pair the 2015 Harper next to Daniel Murphy, who batted .458 with an on-base percentage of .545 in the postseason.
Harper now has the offseason to rehab, but after a yearlong slump his swing will need some fixing to get back to his 2015 levels.