His ability to harness that drive, though, is what worries.
It’s not a coincidence that Harper’s batting average has dipped nearly 100 points since he first hit a wall in Atlanta on April 29. He still leads the Nationals in on-base percentage, but it has dropped from .437 to .371 since his first collision with an inanimate object in the outfield. He was hitting .287 when he went on the disabled list. In the 14 games since he returned, his average has fallen to .264.
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His injuries have forced him to miss 31 games and essentially killed any chance for his MVP candidacy, which looked good that first month. More important, they left the Nats’ anemic offense without one of its biggest bats at a time it was thirsting for runs. Davey Johnson has been cutting-and-pasting mostly unsuccessfully since Harper first went down.
The truth is, everyone in baseball and beyond wants to embrace Harper and will discard almost any flaw to do so; that’s how infectious his energy and talent are.
Look, getting thrown out twice in junior college games at 17 can be chalked up to youthful transgressions. Blowing a kiss toward the pitcher he homered off in Class A ball is, well, minor league, just like taking 10 sutures for throwing the bat off the dugout wall last May. Pointing the bat at Ozzie Guillen actually should be commended because Ozzie has done more to embarrass himself and baseball than anyone could cram into a career.
But when the St. Louis Cardinals give you grief for a crotch-grab after going down on strikes in the ninth inning of the deciding Game 5 of last year’s playoff series, when games are missed because of injuries that didn’t need to happen and innings are missed because of balls and strikes that didn’t need to be argued, it’s not merely the learning curve of a young player anymore.
Taken together, a pattern is forming: Every memorable stretch of play has a worrisome downside attached. And as good and wonderful as Bryce Harper is in so many facets three months before his 21st birthday, he might want to take a look at some of it before he’s a jaded veteran at, like, 25.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.