It's been a polarizing three years for Bryce Harper. Hell it's been polarizing career for this kid ever since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated (when he was 16)! So what makes the past three years so special? Three years ago was the 2015 season, which is when Harper became HARPER. Something clicked for him that year. He matured and he understood the strike zone better. The result? A 22-year-old Harper became the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of Major League Baseball.
Harper began 2016 even hotter, posting a 212 (!!!!) wRC+ through the season's first 18 games. During that time he hit 9 home runs and was slashing .323/.405/.855. It's one of the hottest stretches at the plate I've ever seen in my life. Obviously, he was bound to regress from that pace, which he did. But - BUT - he shouldn't have regressed as much as he did, because Harper is good at baseball. All of a sudden, though, the production...just stopped. In the second half that year Bryce hit a measly .226/.336/.373 with 5 homers.
Sigh. This is what the haters point to whenever they're trying (repeat: trying) to make an anti-Harper argument. Was it a slump? Did Harper suddenly become...bad? It's impossible to know for sure what happened. What we DO know is that there were rumors he was playing hurt and for some reason the Nationals aggressively denied this. Maybe they didn't want opposing teams to know he was hurt. Maybe Scott Boras didn't want people thinking Harper was more injury prone than he's already shown. Who knows, but it's interesting that his production fell off a cliff the same time the injury supposedly occurred. Hmmmm.
The good news is it doesn't matter, because in 2017 Harper proved the haters and losers wrong (of which there were many). They tried to say he was overrated because of 2016. Again, maybe he was that year. But he bounced back in a huge way last season. In 111 games Harper hit .319/.413/.595. If he had enough at-bats to qualify his 1.008 OPS would've ranked fifth in baseball, just ahead of Giancarlo Stanton. It's also easy to forget now but Harper was widely considered the MVP favorite before going down awkwardly running to first base.
That's the thing with Harper. Even though he played ridiculously well when healthy last year the negative Nancys can still point to the fact that he got hurt again. I believe to my core that most of Harper's injuries throughout the years have been freak accidents, but the more of these he has the harder it gets to defend that take.
Which brings us to the question of why does Harper even have many haters? I hear people complain all the time that baseball has no personalities, and that Mike Trout is too boring. Fine, but then shouldn't Bryce be celebrated for being fun? That isn't the case for whatever reason. Is it because he was in the spotlight at such a young age? Maybe it's because he pimped a homer when he was in the minor leagues (LOL imagine still caring about that). Somewhere along the way Harper basically became a villain. It's a shame.
So yeah, pretty polarizing dude. And we are going to be hearing a lot about him this season, since, you know, 8-9 months from now he might sign the largest contract in the history of professional sports. If Harper hits like he did in 2015 he's going to sign for $300 (gulp), maybe even $400 million. If he gets hurt again the overrated talk will heat up. If he plays his ass off and Washington goes on a deep playoff run he will be a hero. If he looks at someone the wrong way he'll be a villain.
At this point it's whatever. I'm excited to see what he has in store for us, and I'll be rooting for him. Bryce Harper playing well is good for baseball. He's entering an unprecedented contract year where his free agency could literally change the future of the sport. He shows raw emotion. He's a quote machine. You should root for him too.