I don't want anyone to get confused here. Bryce Harper is still a generational talent and will be an absolute stud for years and years and years. If you have him in a keeper (or especially a dynasty) format, try not to pop your arm out of your socket patting yourself on the back. But if you have him in a shallow redraft league (12 teams or less), let's get realistic for about 700 words or so. We're going to look at this based off three major Harper facts, starting with this first one.
FACT: Bryce Harper has now played in more games this season than all of 2011 (and by extension, any year of his life).
So far in 2012, Harper has played 92 games for the Nationals (with barely a handful of days off), after playing 21 to start the year with Triple-A Syracuse. That makes 113 games. Last year, between Low-A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg, he played 109 games. And that's not including being a part of the All-Star Game festivities this year. Also, in case you haven't noticed, Harper likes to play a very high energy style of baseball - which makes for great theater, but also makes him susceptible to a drag in performance during the dog days of summer. We know that Harper struggled a bit after being promoted to AA last season, but what we don't know is how much of that was due to adjusting to a higher level of performance and how much was due to him slowing down over the course of the summer.
FACT: Since his combo meal (HR/SB in the same game - term courtesy of the Fantasy Focus) on July 23rd against the Mets, Bryce Harper has 1 HR and 0 SB in 17 games.
Those are the lead facts, but there are a few others which are interesting to note. In this span of 17 games, Harper has 2 XBH total - including the 1 HR mentioned earlier. In slightly greater context, this helps explain why Harper has posted an ISO (isolated power) under .100 in both July (.091) and August (.077). To put THAT in further context, both of those numbers are lower than Ichiro's ISO on the season (.094). Finally, during this stretch, he's also been struck out by the terrifying trio of Livan Hernandez, Dallas Keuchel and Jordan Lyles. That last one doesn't really mean anything, but I thought it was at least amusing.
FACT: Bryce Harper has not hit a line drive since July 25th - a streak of 15 games.
This may not seem so strange right off the bat, but Harper (even with this streak included) has a line drive rate of over 20% on the season. His second longest streak of this kind? 5 games. And in this same vein, Harper's ground ball rate has jumped to 63.3% in August, which makes getting extra base hits a lot more difficult.
At this point, you're probably saying "fine, I've seen the three facts -- what does this mean?" And to that I first say, thank you for reading the entirety of the post. But more importantly, I say that if there's a reasonable replacement option on the wire (or on your bench), don't be afraid to drop him. ZIPS has Harper projected for a .239/.319/.408 line for the rest of the season with 5 HR and 6 SB, but based on what we've seen out of him recently, I'd say that's more his upside than a solid predictive line for him. Even if the power starts to come back, I don't expect him to steal that many bases the rest of the way.
Right now Harper is owned in 98% of ESPN leagues and 78% of Yahoo! Leagues. A few guys I'd consider to be reasonable replacements in the OF that are out there in more than half of leagues would be Garrett Jones (48% owned) or David Murphy (12% owned) for all-around performance, Coco Crisp (45% owned) if you need speed, or Carlos Quentin (37% owned) if you need power. Of course, if you already have an OF replacement on your roster, you could always grab a pitcher like Jake Westbrook (38% owned) instead.
All stats as of Sunday August 12th. Follow me on Twitter at @dynastyguru.