Heading into 2014 drafts, Bryce Harper was one of the more polarizing players in fantasy baseball. Many rankings had him coming off the board in the first round. CouchManagers had him as the 13th overall pick and the 5th OF off the board. Other “experts” were saying he would not finish in the top 10 for OF. Looking at the 4 projections for Harper on Fangraphs, they show a range from 126 to 142 games so each projection anticipates he could miss 10% or more of the season. Other variations across these projections include a HR range of 22-26 and runs in the range of 76 to 91. Besides his youth, injuries and a perception of Harper being “injury-prone” may have contributed to his divergent projections.
Flashback to his first full season in major league ball. Harper’s season ended when he injured his hamstring. In what would become typical Harper fashion, he was hustling from 1st to 3rd on an extra-base hit. Certainly not an injury to be upset by, but a pattern of hard-nosed play would ensue.
Harper started 2013 off with a bang blasting 2 homers on Opening Day. He ended April with 9 home runs. He added 3 home runs in May before being shutdown for the month of June, spending time on the DL dealing with various knee ailments. Playing his usual breakneck style, Harper had a run-in with an outfield wall on May 13. Harper returned on July 1 and promptly blasted his 13th HR of the season. He ended 2013 struggling through September with 1 HR and 9 RBIs. Offseason surgery was scheduled.
Harper entered 2014 rehabbing from offseason knee surgery. Only 2 games into the regular season and Harper slides hard into second base breaking up a double play. Mets second baseman Eric Young Jr leaps to avoid the slide and throw onto first base, his leg crashing into Harper’s face. Harper lies on the field for what seems like several minutes. Harper was taken back to the clubhouse where he passed a concussion test. He was able to finish the game, passed another concussion test, and appeared to have avoided further issues.
However, Harper’s comments after the game may indicate that post-concussion symptoms could cause him to miss some games in the coming weeks. Harper complained about a “pretty bad headache.” He also said “I didn’t see stars, and I’ve seen stars before.” Harper could still see post-concussion symptoms manifest in the coming days, and could be more likely to suffer concussions since he appears to have suffered concussions in the past. While Harper has not yet been tagged as “Injury Prone,” there are risks for fantasy owners who own the young power-hitting outfielder.
Already in his young career, Harper is showing the talent that makes him one of the highest targets in dynasty and keeper leagues. In 262 games, he has 42 HR and 29 steals. While his batting average may struggle to be higher than 0.275-0.280 (he is a career 0.269 hitter), the power is there, and for now, the speed is there to get double-digit steals. Can owners rely on Harper to produce during the season if he continues to destroy his body in the OF?
I own Harper in a keeper league with no salary or years kept limits, which means I can own him for his entire career if I so choose. The league is a weekly H2H points league, so my concern with Harper is not simply the potentially lengthy DL stints, but rather the random off day or two during a week to recover from a collision. Taking a few “0” nights during the week is tough to overcome.
Harper is not the only player who plays hard and thus suffers the “freak” injury. Dustin Pedroia hurls his body around at 2B, stopping balls that are ticketed for base hits and making tremendous defensive efforts for the Red Sox. He consistently swings out of his shoes, and runs the bases hard. Pedroia has had various injuries, mostly of the nagging kind, and has seen his HR totals fall from a career high 21 in 2011 to 9 in 2013.
Allen Craig finished 2013 hobbling around the infield. Perhaps the ultimate image was a hobbling Craig heading into 3B and Will Middlebrooks being called for interference allowing Craig to score the winning run. With the departure of Carlos Beltran from the St. Louis outfield, the Cardinals have moved Craig full-time to the OF. Coming back from a Lisfranc injury and a sprained foot, Craig has to prove that he can handle full-time work in a turf OF. Craig is no stranger to the outfield and outfield injuries. In 2011, Craig crashed into the wall in Minute Maid Park (Houston) fracturing his right kneecap. He was able to return after 2 months and showed his unquestionable ability to hit.
So what is an owner of an oft-injured player to do? The best medicine for an injury-prone player is to have a handcuff. Now, unlike a football handcuff where you draft the backup running back in case your stuff gets injured, you need to make sure you have a productive player on your bench who you are comfortable putting in to replace your injured star. For these players there is going to be a drop off, these guys are all first 3rd or 4th round talents. Leagues are not won in the first round, but you can certainly handicap your team if you draft someone who underachieves in the first few rounds. If you already own Harper, I think you should make sure you are tracking a few free agent OF and should consider adding an early season producer to your bench.
When do the injuries become too much and when should you consider moving the player? This is a personal question. I love Bryce Harper and it will be really tough to pull him away from my team. But, if you have a situation where your team is competing to win a title and your star gets hurt, if you can get a player in return who gives you a chance to win that title I think you have to make that move.