Bryce Harper lead the Washington Nationals to a commanding 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds tonight, smashing a towering 434-foot homerun en route to a 2 for 3 night with a walk. Just a typical night for the slugger. After setting the bar high with two multi-homer games and an astounding 11 multi-hit performances in just twice that number of games, Harper has made it difficult for himself to excite fans with stellar nights anymore; they just expect it. But in a season where the Nats, predicted by many to win the World Series, have already been labeled choke-artists after an 11-11 start, what Harper is truly doing is being overlooked.
Apr 23, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper (34) breaks his bat on a single in the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
A .364 batting average, 3rd in the National League. 8 home runs, 2nd. 16 RBI’s, 8th. A .443 on-base percentage. An On-Base-Plus-Slugging percentage of 1.118, 2nd in the NL. True, it isn’t even a month through the year. 22 games out of 162 is less than one-seventh of the lengthy Major League Baseball season. Yet, in baseball 22 games is a pretty telling sample size. Players don’t go on fluke month-long tears. If Harper’s numbers stay steady, he will finish the season with 59 homeruns, 118 RBI, and 206 hits. To put that in perspective, the Major League single-season homerun record was 61 until 1998. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera was the 2012 triple-crown and the American League MVP with 44 home runs, 139 RBI, and 205 hits. San Francisco’s Buster Posey posted 24 home runs, 103 RBI, and 178 hits on the way to his NL MVP award last season.
Last year bleacherreport.com ran a story on the 10-greatest seasons by 20-year-olds in MLB history. The list included Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Mel Ott, and Alex Rodriguez. Harper is on pace to hit 17 more home runs than the next player on the list (Ott) and have the highest OPS to boot. His hits total would beat everyone but Ty Cobb, the man who is second on the the all-time hits list.
Youth is almost irrelevant at this point. Only when considering that the Nationals have him for the next 3 years for a mere $6,400,000 and potentially decades longer than that does the figure 20 years-old matter. But are the numbers enough if Washington isn’t performing to its potential? This is the question that will continue to downplay Harper’s season.
He will certainly go through slumps; he may very well fall short of his current predicted numbers. But whether he is playing at the top of the league or going through a rough patch, Harper will always be pushing himself to do more for the Nationals. This is the guy who, immediately after hitting home runs in his first two at-bats of the 2013 season, told reporters: “I think a World Series win would be the perfect formula. That’d be pretty cool.”
A Harper let-up or a tanking Nationals team may not seem so likely, after all.