Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
You can believe the hype, or you can live in reality with the rest of us.
When it comes to Bryce Harper, I'm choosing reality.
Harper's third season in the big leagues has been just like his first two: extremely average. Through 22 games, Harper has hit .289 with one homer and nine RBI. Those numbers would slip to .263 and five RBI if this article had been written two days earlier.
Go ahead, Harper diehards. Chalk it up to another slow start. Plenty of players have them. Take David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera, for example. Both of them are hitting under .270 right now.
But Miggy and Papi have delivered 16 seasons of 30-plus homers and 17 more with at least 100 runs batted in. Harper has never done either of those things. Heck, he's never even hit .300 (career-high is .274).
Financially, Harper is already a huge success. The 21-year-old earns $2.15 million a year in base salary with countless endorsement deals. And to top it off, his No. 34 is the 12th highest-selling jersey in MLB.
But in terms of his overall feel for the game, Harper is a work in progress. His career average to this point (.273) is lower than James Loney (.285), David Murphy (.275), Reed Johnson (.282) and Jeff Keppinger (.282). None of those four have been to an All-Star Game. Somehow, Harper has already been twice.
And don't blame it on bad luck either. If you look at Harper's batting average on balls in play, he's actually been extremely fortunate. Harper's BABIP this season (.377) is the league's 28th-highest out of 194 qualified hitters. Overall, he owns a .313 BABIP across 1,040 major league at bats.
Everything about Harper screams overrated. If he's truly a five-tool player, which tools are we talking about? Certainly not power. Harper has just one blast in 91 plate appearances this season. His career rate of 24.2 at bats per home run is lower than teammates Jayson Werth (22.7) and Adam LaRoche (21.5), two power hitters who would qualify under the "good but not great" distinction.
Harper supporters would point to his abbreviated 2013 campaign that saw him launch 20 homers in just 118 contests. Stretched out over a full 162-game slate, that total rises to 27, which would have tied him with Hunter Pence for second among National League outfielders.
But that set of hypotheticals is almost comical when you consider the rash of injuries Harper has dealt with throughout his career. In case you've forgotten or just weren't paying attention, here's a list of his ailments over the past three seasons.
- Quad tightness
- Swollen thumb
- Bruised shoulder
- Knee bursitis (required surgery)
- Facial lacerations
- Sore rib cage
- Hip inflammation
- Back spasms
- Bruised ankle
- Flu-like symptoms (multiple occasions)
- Ingrown toenail
Injuries come with the territory when you're a major league outfielder but many of Harper's wounds have been self-inflicted. If Harper doesn't tone down some of his wall-crashing, head-first diving heroics, he could be out of the league before he's 30.
Harper's recklessness isn't just causing him to miss games, it's sapping him of one of his greatest assets: speed. Harper logged 18 steals in his rookie season but never came close to that in 2013 (11 steals on 15 attempts). This year he's on pace for seven thefts, a figure that would have ranked 107th in the major leagues last season.
Maybe Harper's struggles stem from manager Matt Williams' constant lineup shuffling. A No. 3 hitter for most of 2013, Harper has seen at bats everywhere from second to seventh in the team's batting order this season. In a routine- oriented sport like baseball, a lack of continuity can be crippling to a hitter, especially one as young and impressionable as Harper.
If there's one positive we can take away from Harper's so-so April, it's that he's been much better against left-handed pitching. Harper entered the year with only a .229 career average versus southpaws but is hitting .476 against them in 2014 (10-for-21 with eight RBI).
It's not too late for Harper. In fact, his career is just beginning. But Harper isn't a superstar and he may not be for a few more seasons.