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Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Nationals Don’t Need Bryce Harper

The best thing to happen to the Washington Nationals this offseason might be Bryce Harper turning down the $300 million contract offered by the club at the end of the season. Rather than allocating vast resources to one free agent superstar, the Nationals made smaller moves to shore up their weak spots, signing starting pitcher Patrick Corbin on Tuesday to bolster their rotation and adding two catchers earlier in the offseason.

It wasn’t clear if the Nationals would be able to compete without Harper. But according to some forecasts, they are already better without him. They have improved themselves in a National League East where every team — save for the Miami Marlins — seems intent on trying to dramatically improve this offseason.

After the Nationals finished 82-80 last season, FanGraphs projects them as the sixth-best team in the majors at the moment — the best team in the division — with a 91-71 forecasted record. While it’s unclear whether the Nationals still want to compete for Harper, they don’t need him to improve over last season.

I must admit that this analysis has me torn- on the one hand, I’m inclined to regard Harper as highly overrated, but, on the other, I can’t say that I buy these claims. What say the rest of you?

QLE Posted: December 06, 2018 at 08:04 AM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bryce harper, contrarians on parade, nationals, patrick corbin

Reader Comments and Retorts

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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. charityslave is thinking about baseball Posted: December 06, 2018 at 01:36 PM (#5794673)
He has had 1 year with a (fangraphs) WAR over 5. I think the Nats did the smart thing- offer a serious contract that they knew he would turn down. St. Louis did the same thing with Pujols and it worked out just fine for them.
I think if 60 yr old Bryce Harper could talk to 26 yr old Bryce he might tell him to take the lesser offer in Washington. He would be the all time face of the franchise and would never have to pay for a (nonalcholic) drink there again. He would be beloved in a way that few other sports icons are (especially if he wins a championship or two, and the Nats will be serious contenders for the next few years at least). But I guess it's easy for me to rationalize away 50 to 100 million dollars of someone elses money.
   2. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: December 06, 2018 at 01:51 PM (#5794678)
I'm torn on Harper. Even if you accept he's not Mike Trout he's still a very good player. That dWAR of -3.2 last year just seems unrealistic to me. To be THAT bad defensively I feel like an outfielder needs to be intentionally dropping fly balls, I'm just skeptical of that number while still acknowledging that he's pretty weak defensively. He's only going to be 26 so whatever performance he's going to put up is likely to be in place for several years. A team signing him should be confident of 6-8 years of high level performance.

Of course the big catch with Harper is an injury history that isn't great. He's missed considerable time in 3 of his 7 seasons. That's a bit scary.

If I had big money to spend I think I'd rather spend it on Machado this year than Harper (if he'd shut up about shortstop). I don't think Harper will be a massive bust but I think he's likely to have a deal that winds up the way the Giancarlo Stanton deal looks at the moment, very good to great production for superstar money.
   3. Bourbon Samurai, what price fettucine? Posted: December 06, 2018 at 02:02 PM (#5794685)
Bryce Harper, Matt Weiters, and Gio Gonzalez for Patrick Corbin, Yan Gomes, and Kurt Suzuki looks like a net positive trade for the team. Outfield is a major position of strength, so I agree they don't NEED him. But, as mentioned, the sentimental attachment to him here is strong.

I agree he wasn't THAT bad in the outfield last year, and was forced to play center a lot, but on a 10 year deal he's going to be playing first sooner rather than later.
   4. Sunday silence Posted: December 06, 2018 at 04:13 PM (#5794763)
That dWAR of -3.2 last year just seems unrealistic to me. To be THAT bad defensively I feel like an outfielder needs to be intentionally dropping fly balls, I'm just skeptical of that number while still acknowledging that he's pretty weak defensively.


He doesnt have to be that bad to hurt him significantly. What if he's -2 WAR on defense? What's he on offense, 4 or 5? That leaves him as a 2 or 3 WAR player, at this point in his career. I dont see paying him 300M and I dont see ten years either. Maybe 8/200?

Did I see the latest rumour says the Nats are offering 400M? I dont believe it.

Maybe a better question Which team is most likely to end up with him? I guess:

PHI
LAD
WAS
   5. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: December 06, 2018 at 04:41 PM (#5794782)
He doesnt have to be that bad to hurt him significantly. What if he's -2 WAR on defense? What's he on offense, 4 or 5? That leaves him as a 2 or 3 WAR player, at this point in his career. I dont see paying him 300M and I dont see ten years either. Maybe 8/200?


Completely agree with that but if you start from the position of he was only a 1.5 WAR player last year that's a big difference from 2.5 or 3.0. 8/200 looks feasible to me.
   6. TDF, trained monkey Posted: December 06, 2018 at 04:55 PM (#5794788)
That dWAR of -3.2 last year just seems unrealistic to me. To be THAT bad defensively I feel like an outfielder needs to be intentionally dropping fly balls, I'm just skeptical of that number while still acknowledging that he's pretty weak defensively.
Statcast has him at -12 Outs Above Average last year, #83 out of 86 OFs (but, only half of Nick Castellanos's -25).

Now it could be a one year fluke (the two previous seasons he was -5 and -4; by Rfield, he was slightly above average before last season), but last year was definitely awful.
   7. Kiko Sakata Posted: December 06, 2018 at 05:09 PM (#5794798)
Statcast has him at -12 Outs Above Average last year ... Now it could be a one year fluke (the two previous seasons he was -5 and -4; by Rfield, he was slightly above average before last season), but last year was definitely awful.


Those numbers are reasonably consistent with each other. He played 63 games in CF in 2018, 0 in 2016 and 2017. I tend to agree that a dWAR of -3.2 is probably not accurate, but I also think the lesson we can take away from Harper's 2018 performance is that he's not a very good center fielder and teams would be better served by planning to play him in a corner.
   8. Kiko Sakata Posted: December 06, 2018 at 05:22 PM (#5794804)
So, I just noticed something weird about Bryce Harper's 2018 fielding. In 2018, he played 860.2 innings in RF and had ZERO assists. He did have one assist in his 477.1 innings in CF. But prior to 2018, Harper had 52 assists in 6,510.2 innings in the outfield (mostly RF). That seems very odd. You'd think you'd luck into at least one assist in 100 games in RF just by accident (hit-and-run gone bad; baserunner falls down rounding first base; something).
   9. Fancy Crazy Town Banana Pants Handle Posted: December 06, 2018 at 05:35 PM (#5794814)
He doesnt have to be that bad to hurt him significantly. What if he's -2 WAR on defense? What's he on offense, 4 or 5? That leaves him as a 2 or 3 WAR player, at this point in his career. I dont see paying him 300M and I dont see ten years either. Maybe 8/200?

FTR, you can't just add oWAR and dWAR together to get WAR. It double counts the positional adjustment.

That said, I think there is basically zero chance Harper will be worth whatever deal he signs.
   10. The Yankee Clapper Posted: December 06, 2018 at 06:21 PM (#5794826)
I don't think there's any doubt that the Nationals would be better next year with Harper than without him. The only issue is money.

That said, the team could be better even without Harper due to better pitching and an upgrade at catcher, along with most of the regulars coming through. Juan Soto, and a healthy Victor Robles & Adam Easton might be a pretty good outfield, although there may be some uncertainty.

Some context on Harper's defense. The National were plagued by early-season outfield injuries last year. So much so that out of desperation they called up the 19-year old Soto after only 35 PAs above Class A. That not only caused Harper to play a lot of CF - not his best position - but it may have also lead to a conscious (or unconscious) decision to avoid risking injury on defense. It's also possible his looming free agency increased his risk avoidance. My bet is that last season was an aberration, and Harper's defense will be more than acceptable wherever he signs.
   11. Sunday silence Posted: December 06, 2018 at 07:35 PM (#5794853)
FTR, you can't just add oWAR and dWAR together to get WAR. It double counts the positional adjustment.


your obviously correct here; but in my defense I never even try to factor in the positional adjustment. I am simply speaking in terms of his value vs an avg player at his position. I say he's 22 runs worse than an average OFer (the so called Schlebler Line) Walt and I had this discussion the other day and that's what i came up with:

http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/newsstand/discussion/tangotiger_blog_stacast_lab_the_good_the_bad_and_the_relevant_of_outfield_f


He did have one assist in his 477.1 innings in CF. But prior to 2018, Harper had 52 assists in 6,510.2 innings in the outfield (mostly RF). That seems very odd


He seems to have a very bad arm. In addition to the assists, did you check out his hold numbers? He seems Ok in RF but in CF runners were advancing at an alarming rate. I was thinking he might be giving up 2 runs a season just on throwing to the wrong base or whatever he's doing to not stop runners. I was afraid to bring it up on the discussion with walt, and maybe he wont play CF anymore so it doesnt matter.
   12. Kiko Sakata Posted: December 06, 2018 at 07:52 PM (#5794861)
He seems to have a very bad arm. In addition to the assists, did you check out his hold numbers? He seems Ok in RF but in CF runners were advancing at an alarming rate. I was thinking he might be giving up 2 runs a season just on throwing to the wrong base or whatever he's doing to not stop runners. I was afraid to bring it up on the discussion with walt, and maybe he wont play CF anymore so it doesnt matter.


In my Player won-lost records, I break outfield fielding down into four components: Component 5 is turning balls-in-play into outs, Component 6 is holding hits to singles instead of doubles or triples, Component 8 is baserunner outs, Component 9 is baserunner advancements (note: there are also components 1, 2, 3, and 7, they just don't get credited to outfielders).

Here's Harper in RF for his career. That table is what prompted me to look up his assists, because I was worried his Component 8 winning percentage of 0.000 might have been a mistake - but no, you can't get a "baserunner out" win if you never throw a baserunner out. In Component 5, his 2018 was very similar to 2017 (win percentages of .489 and .485 in 2017 and 2018, respectively). But he was much worse in the other three components. Here's his CF numbers, where the story is similar, although his "baserunner advancement" (Component 9) numbers were actually pretty good (but his Component 8 numbers were terrible so that the combination was below average). And having looked at the numbers, I might take back my #8 a little bit: he was basically uniformly bad in both CF (overall fielding winning percentage of .464) and RF (.455) (after being above average at all 3 outfield positions in 5 of his first 6 seasons).

I suspect that Yankee Clapper has it right in #10: Harper played much more conservatively in 2018, not wanting to risk injury in his walk year, which, per my numbers, probably wasn't a great decision on his part.
   13. The Yankee Clapper Posted: December 06, 2018 at 08:17 PM (#5794867)
I suspect that Yankee Clapper has it right in #10: Harper played much more conservatively in 2018, not wanting to risk injury in his walk year, which, per my numbers, probably wasn't a great decision on his part.

Just to clarify, I think it's also possible that the Nationals told their few remaining healthy outfielders not to take any chances out there, although it's possible Harper came to that conclusion on his own or was influenced by his impending free agency.
   14. Sunday silence Posted: December 06, 2018 at 08:18 PM (#5794868)
Kiko how you figure component 9? Last year he held 35% of runners from CF vs 44% league avg. Extrapolated to a whole year would have resulted in quite a few extra bases.
   15. Kiko Sakata Posted: December 06, 2018 at 08:37 PM (#5794873)
Kiko how you figure component 9? Last year he held 35% of runners from CF vs 44% league avg. Extrapolated to a whole year would have resulted in quite a few extra bases.


For every play, there's a probability of baserunners advancing based on where the baserunners are, what the play is (fly out, single, double), and, for hits, whether there are two outs or fewer than two outs. I guess he faced a distribution of events with higher-than-average advancement rates - maybe he fielded a lot of base hits with runners on base with two outs?

It looks like BB-Ref is debiting him -2 Rof (Total Zone Outfield Arm runs) in CF and -3 in RF. Those would presumably include his terrible assist numbers as well which ends up matching pretty well with my numbers (he's -0.3 wins in RF, -0.1 in CF in my Components 8 and 9 combined).
   16. Sunday silence Posted: December 06, 2018 at 10:20 PM (#5794879)
I think it's also possible that the Nationals told their few remaining healthy outfielders not to take any chances out there, although it's possible Harper came to that conclusion on his own or was influenced by his impending free agency.


the highlite reel shows him making bad plays in Aug and I think Sept as well, it doesnt seem like his problems were confined to any one part of the season. At least nobody seemed to make not of that.

He could bounce back, its interesting.
   17. Bote Man Posted: December 07, 2018 at 07:30 AM (#5794907)
He seems to have a very bad arm.

Assuming I'm not misunderstanding your meaning, Bryce Harper has a friggin cannon for an arm. His problem is between the ears, throwing to the wrong base on occasion or trying to be a hero with hopeless throws home that sail right over the catcher's mitt, allowing not only the runner to score but other runners to advance an extra base. It can be infuriating. To be fair, in his career he has made some remarkable throws to 3B and even home that put out runners by a gnat's eyelash, but maybe he needs new contact lenses to be that accurate these days?

Maybe they should sign him as a relief pitcher??
   18. Fancy Crazy Town Banana Pants Handle Posted: December 07, 2018 at 08:57 AM (#5794923)
I suspect that Yankee Clapper has it right in #10: Harper played much more conservatively in 2018, not wanting to risk injury in his walk year, which, per my numbers, probably wasn't a great decision on his part.

I mean the only number that really matters, in deciding whether or not it was a good decisions is 400,000,000. Or whatever the number ends up at.

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