Predictable Inconsistency: The Bryce Harper Story

Bryce Harper turned down a 10-year $300 million contract offer from the Washington Nationals. To put that into perspective for you, if it’s even possible to comprehend that kind of money, $300 million over 10 years shakes out to roughly:

  • $30 million per year
  • $2.5 million per month
  • $576,923 per week
  • $82,191 per day
  • $3,424 per hour
  • $57 per minute
  • $0.95 per second

Harper just declined a contract where it would only be slight exaggeration that someone would be handing him a dollar every second for the next 10 years of his life – before taxes of course.

As Harper enters his 8th season it’s likely that many owners will be paying the fantasy equivalent of this sort of massive contract whether it be a draft pick or auction dollars. Even with conservative increases in price (dollar or draft-pick elevators) someone who was lucky enough to get a cost-controlled Harper in 2012 is now paying something near market value and probably more. While Major League GMs contemplate making a massive investment in Harper, we might want to do the same.

There are plenty of points in favor of staying the course with Bryce. He will be just 26 years old all the way up to the playoffs of 2019 – more or less the early stages of his physical prime depending on who you listen to. His OPS has only dipped below .800 in one season (an injury shortened 2014). Then of course Harper’s 2015 showed us all what can happen when everything clicks for him. If Bryce hit 50 HRs and drove in 130 runs with a .330 batting average next year it would be much closer to a pleasant surprise than total shock.

The problem that I have with Harper is his unpredictability. Even forgiving some down periods due to injury, Harper’s range of outcomes is huge. Could he be the MVP and win the Triple-Crown next year? Sure. Could he hit .200 with 20 HR? Yeah.

After the first few weeks of the 2018 season it looked like Harper was headed toward a career year, but by the end of the first half his batting average was hovering around the Mendoza Line and it looked like his contract year was going to be a complete bust.

At that time, I started looking into Harper’s numbers on a month-to-month basis to see if there was a pattern that would explain the inconsistencies we see from Harper year after year. Let’s take a look.

A couple of things standout when looking at this first group of numbers. First, Harper rakes in March and April. When I pulled these numbers during the season I didn’t add the career numbers for each month, and that addition confirms that early in the season is when Harper is at his most dangerous.

Harper would be far less annoying to have on a fantasy roster if he was simply a guy who jumps out to a hot start and then is just average throughout the rest of the season. But he has dramatic peaks and valleys throughout the season. How is it possible for someone as talented as Harper to slug .714 in April and then just .362 in May? I’m not quite sure, but it’s probably the same reason he can hit .176 in July then .310 in August.

Speaking of July, what in the world is Harper’s problem with the seventh month of the year? Are there just too many distractions – Fireworks, Men’s Fashion Week (Harper is a big fashion aficionado), the All-Star game?

This group of numbers provides some insight into Harper’s strong starts. When Bryce is at his best, he is taking walks, limiting his strikeouts and crushing the ball when someone mistakenly gives him something to hit.

Finally, looking at some batted-ball metrics we can see that Harper consistently hits the ball harder in the early months of the season, followed by a big drop-off in June – which strangely coincides with an uptick in live-drive percentage. With Harper’s swing geared toward elevating the ball we can infer that an increase in line-drives actually means he is “miss-hitting” the ball based on his swing-path.

What I see from doing this exercise is that Harper is a risky investment as a top-tier fantasy player. For someone who you are going to have to continue to pay big auction dollars for or forfeit a high draft-pick you would ideally want someone you can count on for more than the first month of the season.

It’s tough to consider moving on from Bryce because of the fear of missing out on his next amazing season. After an underwhelming 2018, now probably isn’t the best time to consider divesting in your shares. But, when he is leading the league in home runs in late April next season you might be able to get a nice return for him.

Jake Blodgett

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Like most of you I am addicted to fantasy baseball. Since I spend most of my time talking about it, I figured I would write some of my thoughts down. I am a shameless promoter of Mike Trout and an even more shameless Shohei Ohtani apologist.