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Bryce Harper, The War Hammer, 2016 Outlook

What will the reigning NL MVP do next?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off the best season of his career, what can we reasonably expect from Bryce Harper in 2016?  Last year, I wrote that we can expect a major breakout from Harper in 2015.  The article was focused on his production during every moment of extended health he had previously had.  Last year, he was healthy for the season, and we saw Harper go full Harper.

Frankly, he's a player who is constantly evolving.  He has a knack for hitting that few have ever had in the history of baseball.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

He strikes the ball hard in all directions, nobody else does this.  For example, take a look at his primary competition for the #1 pick in 2015.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Even the mighty Mike Trout pulls all his hard hit ground balls, leaving him open to shifts.

But this isn't a Trout hate piece, it's all about how unbelievable Harper is.  If you owned Harper last season, you know what it was like.  Minus steals, which Harper addressed this offseason, he was providing a counting stat every single night.  August was his worst month, he was limited to only 2 homers in the home stretch for his fantasy owners.  During that month, he scored 24 runs, had 9 RBI (mostly due to the lack of healthy teammates), stole 2 bags, and slashed .327/.460/.449 (.909 OPS, 156 wRC+).  For perspective, the worst month of Harper, 156 wRC+, is better than the season of AL MVP Josh Donaldson, 154 wRC+.

So should we expect the same thing from Harper in 2016?

Courtesy of ESPN

Well when a players hardest hit line drives look like this, the expectations should be sky high

This is a 115 mph line drive to right center.  Don't worry, the fan who caught this survived.

His 453 foot homer off Julio Teheran was the longest of the season.

But Harper drilling bombs isn't something that's unknown, or even unusal.  Something that is less frequently spoken about is his unbelievable plate discipline.

Stat

Bryce Harper

League Standing

BB%

19.00%

2nd

Zone %

38.50%

1st

F-Strike %

54.60%

12th

Z Swing %

72.50%

32nd

O-Swing%

28.20%

43rd

So Harper was getting strikes thrown to him at the lowest rate in baseball, which very reasonably, resulted in the second best walk rate in baseball, Votto 1st.  Harper had the 12th lowest number of first pitch strikes thrown.  So with him being pitched around more than anyone else, you'd expect an extremely passive approach, but he was actually the 32nd most aggressive hitter in baseball against balls in the strikezone, out of 141 qualified hitters, and the 43nd most patient against balls.  His approach was elite.

So Harper was one of the best in baseball at swinging at strikes, and taking balls.  This selectivity will obviously will lead to good results, so here is his batted ball info.

Stat

Bryce Harper

League Rank

Hard hit %

40.90%

T-5th

LD%

22.20%

49th

HR/FB%

27.30%

3rd

Babip

0.369

9th

So being a league leader in hard hit rate, being in the top third of all hitters in line drives, and mauling baseballs to become the 3rd most efficient home run hitter on fly balls resulted in 42 bombs, and a .330 average which was 3rd best in baseball.  I wanted to show off his babip, as many site babip as a reason to anticipate regression.  His babip was actually the 9th best in baseball, so his average outperformed his babip, which is likely due to 42 of his hits not landing in play.  His batting average was deserved, he was creaming balls in all directions, defenses were not able to anticipate what he would do next.  Frankly, a monster season should be expected when you put these peripherals together.

Now, many seem perplexed when looking at Harpers 99 RBI last season.  A player who almost lead the NL in homers, and was second in batting average typically has a better RBI total than 14th most in baseball.

Like many last year I pumped the Nationals, saying they were the best team in baseball going into 2015.  The problem is that they were not bit by the injury bug, they were chomped on by the plague.  Their most frequently used lineup was only used 7 times.

1)    Span

2)    Escobar

3)    Werth

4)    Harper

5)    Zimmerman

6)    Ramos

7)    Desmond

8)    Espinosa

9)    Pitcher

Their games played by their original group of starters is startling:

2015

Games Played

Denard Span

61

Anthony Rendon

80

Yunel Escobar

139

Bryce Harper

153

Ryan Zimmerman

95

Jayson Werth

88

Wilson Ramos

128

Ian Desmond

156

Players getting hurt is part of baseball, but this was clearly a disaster.  In 2016, they're bringing out a younger package, and moving Anthony Rendon back to 3B where they hope he can be healthier.

2016 Projected

Anthony Rendon

Daniel Murphy

Bryce Harper

Ryan Zimmerman

Jayson Werth

Wilson Ramos

Trea Turner

Michael Taylor

This lineup is the projected lineup for 2016.  Desmond was awful, and hopefully Trea Turner can play well in his first season as a full time Nat.  Replacing last years version of Yunel Escobar won't be easy, but Rendon is capable of filling those shoes, and Daniel Murphy should be a reliable 2B to slot into their lineup.  Span was a quality leadoff man, and hopefully Michael Taylor can improve his free swinging ways, he has talent, but as of today, he's failed to do that so far, and its looking like this is Victor Robles future spot.

A healthier season from the 2016 group would most definitely result in a higher non Harper team on base percentage, which seems ideal for a higher RBI total next year.  All information combined, i'd project his first 100 RBI season in 2016, similar to Steamers 102 RBI projection.

Now, Harpers health is definitely something worth questioning.  He's ran into walls,

He's hit himself in the face with his bat

He seems to get hit by Julio Teheran annually.

And he's had sliding issues.

But last year, he finally stayed healthy.  The major change was that he seemed to tone down his signature balls to the wall play, and that allowed him to be healthy, and see his offense flourish.  If a players biggest problem is that he puts in too much effort, you have a very good problem on your hands.  With health, Harper has decided to take what was already phenomenal and make it better.

Asked if he'd like to steal more, Harper replied: "I mean, if I'm allowed to.

While this doesn't spell a 20 steal season, it shows that concerns with his previously troublesome knee are behind him, and we can reasonably hope for more.  I wish I was more familiar with Dusty Baker's base running philosophies, but I'd expect roughly 10 steals from Harper this year if he enters the season healthy.

All of this combined equals another phenomenal season from Harper.  His plate discipline has developed into one of the best in baseball.  His hard hit rate supports a high extra base hit total, and a high average.  He sprays the ball from line to line, allowing him to be a player who doesn't face shifts.  When he is shifted, he is willing to lay down bunts, or naturally hit around them.  He's looking to steal more bases, and his team is looking like a better on base percentage team than they were in 2015, leading to more RBIs.  If I was as confident in Harper's health as I was in Trout's, I would have Harper #1 overall, since I am not he'll be my 2nd ranked player for 2016.  Yet again, draft with confidence, enjoy the War Hammer.

All video courtesy of MLB.com