Liz Barr: Bryce Harper finishing season on a strong note

Bryce Harper’s 2018 season has been a roller coaster, to say the least. In a year many predicted to be off the charts due to his upcoming free agency, Harper has underperformed in the eyes of many. His numbers are not fantastic; they’re nowhere near what he hit last season (.319/.413/.595) or what he hit in his 2015 MVP campaign (.330/.460/.649). But his season has not been all bad, and it’s actually come around quite nicely, especially on the production end.

Harper started the year miserably, and nothing he did seemed to be working. In the first half, his slash line was .214/.365/.468. His production was OK, driving in 54 runs and hitting 23 home runs, but he just couldn’t get himself in a groove.

But then he won the Home Run Derby on his home turf, and something clicked. Harper of old returned, and he has been on fire since the second half of the season began. Overall, Harper is hitting .247/.394/.501. The average still isn’t as good as you would want it to be, even though it’s significantly better than how he started, and the slugging percentage is great. But in the second half, Harper is hitting a torrid .304/.432 /.560, which is phenomenal. Harper’s tear and the Nationals’ good play may be too little too late, Harper still has something to play for. There are numerous milestones within striking distance for Harper that would not only provide personal vindication, but also look good when searching for extra cash from a potential suitor this offseason.

Let’s start with the big one: RBIs. Harper has never reached the 100-RBI milestone (he had 99 in 2015), but he is so close to getting there for the first time. He is currently at 97 RBIs, and only needs to drive in three more over the final 10 games to reach it. Harper has also scored 97 runs this season; he’s not anywhere near his career high of 118 runs (2015), but like with RBIs, he is just three runs away from an even 100. Harper also has 28 doubles, two away from an even 30. Additionally, Harper has amassed 123 walks this season - this seems like a huge amount, but it’s not even his career high in walks. He had 124 walks in 2015, and he could equal that career high with one more walk, and set a new one with two more. All of these milestones are very much within reach.

So are a couple of milestones that aren’t as flashy, but are also important to someone like Harper: He only needs 22 more at-bats to equal his career high from his 2012 rookie season (533) and six more plate appearances to equal his career high from his 2015 MVP season (654). He also needs just four more games to equal his career high, also set in 2015 (153). All of these are easily achievable if Harper simply continues to play. These may not seem important, but longevity and staying healthy can go a long way in negotiations. Harper has been healthy and free of injury all season long, which is not something that can always be said for him. Those numbers look very impressive on the resume, and setting career highs in those categories can be a personal victory for Harper.

Some have talked endlessly about Harper’s free agency and some have avoided the topic entirely. Regardless, it’s happening, and I don’t know what the result of it is going to be. I genuinely have no idea whether he’ll stay or go, where he might go or how much he might get. It’s a mystery. But no matter what happens, Harper looks to be sitting pretty going into free agency this winter. He might not get as much money as people originally thought coming into the season, but his second-half production means he won’t be hurting for anything.

Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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