Dodgers- Bryce Harper and the Numbers that Come With Him

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 02: Bryce Harper
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 02: Bryce Harper /

This has always been Bryce Harper’s offseason. Sure, Manny Machado is out there looking to sign a deal for roughly the same exorbitant cost that Harper is but, Machado’s spotlight has not felt quite the same as Harper’s has and for good reason. Harper brings the on-field dramatics that you either love or hate and has been a perennial MVP candidate since he was 19-years old. Now 26, the former MVP is looking to relocate and the league has been set on fire by it.

Something has to make the clock tick for Harper. He has always been at the top of the league statistically thus resulting in his roughly $300 million asking price. At a cost so high, the stats should back up the bargain and that is ultimately what I want to look at. How much bang would the Dodgers really get for their buck here?

Career-wise you know about Bryce Harper. Every big writer and news outlet has covered him to a certain extent and most predominantly in 2015 when he won the MVP.  But, for Harper, the fame and fortune have not always been backed up by his numbers and it is easily noticeable even in his surface-level statistics. And, I’ll start right there

In 2015 he won the MVP award. Do I want to look at the numbers from that season and make a huge deal about them? Yes, I truly do. Writing about Harper 2K15 would be easy because there is nothing from that season we can truly point to and complain about. But, in all honesty, as much as I want to write about that year, I can’t. 2015 was an outlier for Harper. His 1.109 OPS is the highest in his career by over .100 and his OPS+ from that campaign was 198, 42 points higher than his next best season. See what is happening here?

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Harper’s inconsistencies certainly do not occur at the hands of his ball placement on the field. He is one of the most successful pull hitters in the league with heat stats almost entirely isolated to the right side of the field.

His problems are not stemming from on-base percentage either, Harper has the fifth best OBP of all major league batters since 2012 when he entered the league.

In his seven-year career, he has not had a wRC+ below 111 and if you exclude the 111 from his 2016 campaign, his worst wRC+ jumps up to 115 which was set back in 2014. This basically confirms the obvious in that Harper is one of the best run-producing bats in the league and he shows it every time he comes up to the plate. Quite frankly, as valuable as that is, we don’t even need to be this complicated to prove his offensive dominance. If you put them side by side, Harper has hit more career home runs than Barry Bonds did in his first seven seasons.

So the inconsistencies in OPS+ are odd. The most glaring fluctuation in his numbers occurs in BABIP. One year it will be well above .300 and the next it will be below that mark completely. His volatile mark in BABIP essentially suggests that on balls in play, Harper struggles on a year-by-year basis to find consistency.

But, at the end of the day, the offense is inconsistently impressive. His exit velocity over the last two seasons is a conversation piece for sure. In 2017, Harper’s exit velo was an average 90.6 miles per hour, good for 17th in the league. In 2018, when the league hit the ball harder, Harper stayed pat at the exact same 90.6 mph from the season before however this time, it ranked 49th overall. Evolve as the league may, Harper has stayed at a comfortable average exit velocity for two straight seasons and that model of consistency, contrary to some of his other numbers, may serve as comfort for a potential suitor.

But, the high octane Bryce Harper does have a weakness and it has nothing to do with holding a bat, it is with a glove.

Last year, Harper’s best defensive comparison was a train wreck. It was a mess. Over the entire season, as a right fielder, Harper accumulated a DRS of -16 which looks great compared to his cumulative outfield DRS of -26. There is actually no way on the planet to sugarcoat this. Harper cannot play defense.

Sure, his numbers in 2015 were incredible but, as I mentioned earlier, 2015 is a horrible season to look at.

If the Dodgers were to invest in Harper it would be entirely for the pop, not the glove. You can’t service a -16 DRS with confidence unless the bat is going to change the game and, in Los Angeles, it very well could. Andrew Friedman would be buying into a .512 career slugging percentage and worrying about the defense later.

Next. Dodgers Sign World Series Hero Joe Kelly to Bolster Their Bullpen. dark

Harper is what the contract begs. Is it a little pricey? Yes. But what were you expecting with Scott Boras captaining this ship? Harper is the game changer almost any team could use and the numbers, for the most part, support that even if they are in a low season. Here, Harper put offensive makeup on the defensive pig.