There were few larger disappointments, if any, in 2013 than the Washington Nationals. A team expected to advance deep into the playoffs failed to even qualify for the postseason, needing a brilliant run at the tail end of the regular season to even get close to nabbing a playoff spot. Ultimately, they failed short and have made improvements this winter that should ensure that doesn’t happen again. If they’re able to get clicking like they were in the latter portion of the season, reaching the playoffs shouldn’t be a problem.
What would make their lives even easier is if Bryce Harper were able to come up with a completely healthy 2014 season as a followup to a solid sophomore campaign. Though it was shortened by injury, limiting Harper to just 118 games on the year, Harper’s 2013 season featured plenty of improvement, with several of his final numbers on the season actually looking better than when he was named National League Rookie of the Year in 2012.
Harper’s batting average rose by four points (.274), his on-base percentage jumped up by 28 (up to .368), and he OPS’d .854, a 37 point improvement off of his first season. Despite playing in more than 20 less games than he did as a rookie, Harper failed to reach his previous home run total by only two, and his rookie RBI total by only one. His strikeout rate was down and his walks were up. Again, the disappointment of the Nats and his injury problems overshadowed what was quietly a very good second year for Bryce Harper.
The question here is what the Nationals should be expecting to get out of him in his third year. Is Harper an MVP candidate out of the National League, or will his numbers remain in line with what he has done in the first two years of his career? For what it’s worth, Steamer projections have him almost identical to what he’s done in his first two years, going for a slash line of .271/.356/.480/.836, with 22 home runs and a slight bump in runs knocked in, up to 68, across 125 games.
If that’s the game total that we can expect from Harper, then those numbers aren’t at all far-fetched. The averages seem to be right about what we should expect from Bryce Harper, but he’s also spent a great deal of time this winter bulking up, which means he could be in line for an increased number of home runs. While he may not be up around 20 swipes like he was in his first year, he should continue to impress. Whether or not he can be an MVP candidate in 2014 depends on the amount of games he makes his way into, but he certainly has the potential to have that kind of year for a very strong contender in the Washington Nationals.