Did you know Bryce Harper‘s 9.9 WAR in 2015 is the tied for third highest all time single season WAR for someone in their age 22 season or younger? Only Mike Trout and Ted Williams have been better and Roger Hornsby matched him.
Was this Harper’s career season or will see him get there again?
His biggest challenge is his ability to stay on the field. He plays with passion and has been more prone to injuries, playing in more than 150 games in only one season. He’s got to stay on the field.
There are also some other outliers that need visited to see why 2015 stood out.
#1. Hard Hit Rate
Harper had a 40.9% hard hit rate in 2015, 6th best that year, which is his career best by over 5%. His previous career high was back in 2013, and he has hovered around 34% the past two seasons. The one thing he did better in 2017 compared to 2016 was lowering his soft hit percentage back down from 19.8 to 13.3. This reduction most certainly led to the increase in his ISO back up to .267, his second highest only to 2015 (.319).
#2. Pull Percentage
In his career year Harper pulled 45.4% of batted balls, by far the highest mark of his career. This pull rate allowed him to take advantage of the short side of the field and hit the ball with authority more often. He does a nice job of spreading the ball around to all sides of the field, which is a great skill, but this may make it hard for him to match the 42 home runs. In 2015 he only hit 20.8% of batted balls to opposite field.
#3. Home Run To Fly Ball Ratio
Harper actually came close to matching this number in 2017, which was a short season due to injury. His fly ball to home run ratio was 24.0% compared to 27.3% back in 2015. Harper also had a higher fly ball percentage in 2015 helping him exceed the 40 home run mark. He did actually have a higher fly ball rate in 2016 at 42.4%, but with the lower hard hit rate they didn’t equate to home runs.
#4 Counting Stats
The one area Harper really wasn’t elite in 2015 was RBI and Runs. With 42 home runs and 38 doubles he ended 2015 with only 99 RBI. While his runs scored was very high, 118 seems a little low for the type of season he produced individually. This is the impact of having a poor lineup around you.
He was actually on pace to shatter these numbers in 2017, and should have no problem matching these moving forward.
Comparing 2015 VS 2017 Full Season Projection
2017 was actually a really good season for Harper until he got hurt. Some numbers were a little different as I mentioned, but the full season projection would have led to a very similar season.
As you can see above Harper was on pace to having a similar season before he got hurt. The big outliers here are the counting stats of 130 RBI and 119 Runs, but his doubles and home run pace were nearly on par. His walks were really the only number significantly off negatively.
There is also one key factor that has yet to be mentioned. Bryce Harper is still only 25 years old, and may not have even reached his prime yet. But even if he has, the fact that his counting stats were so low in 2015, he could easily match or exceed his career best season thus far. He proved last year he can repeat the extra base hit totals even with a slightly lower hard hit rate. I’d bet that 2015 will not be the best season of his career, and I’d bet we’ll see it in 2018 – right before he hits free agency.