Scott Boras acknowledged that Bryce Harper played through some injury issues in 2016 when Harper’s agent spoke to reporters about Washington’s right fielder at the Winter Meetings in early December.
Coming off an NL MVP-worthy, 9.5 fWAR 2015 campaign which saw him put up a gaudy .330/.460/.649 line, 38 doubles, 42 HRs and +197 wRC+ in 153 games and 654 plate appearances, Harper posted a .243/.373/.441 line, 24 doubles, 24 HRs and 112 wRC+ over 147 games and 627 PAs in a 3.5 fWAR follow-up in 2016.
Though the Nationals, as ESPN.com’s Buster Olney noted this winter, “... vehemently denied reports that Harper was dealing with shoulder trouble,” Boras in talking to reporters about what led to the drop in the now-24-year-old’s numbers, said that, “... certainly Bryce played through some nagging injuries,” last season.
“Not anything that was of permanence. And a lot of time, when ... you have a strained muscle, it affects your neck and what you're doing and things. But I don't think Bryce is the kind who wants to come out and talk about excuses."
Harper, SI.com’s Tom Verducci wrote this winter, “never acknowledged being physically compromised,” though, as Verducci noted, he “... could not hit velocity at the belt and above, and opposing teams kept pounding at that weakness.”:
“Harper hit .178 on four-seam fastballs at the belt and above. The previous year he hit .371 off those same pitches. Something was clearly wrong.”
Boras elaborated slightly on Harper’s physical issues in 2016 and talked about what other factors he believes played a part in his clients’ struggles in an MLB Network Radio interview this afternoon:
“You always have to remember that, when you see — I have the privilege of watching Mike Trout every day, so, because I’m at the ballpark every day in Anaheim, and this guy is an extraordinary hitter — but remember that Mike Trout has Albert Pujols hitting behind him every day, and you probably don’t understand how good of a baseball player or how good of a hitter Albert Pujols is until you see a man that was probably struggling with a malady in his foot, yet he was able to produce at levels — and frankly Albert Pujols scares pitchers — so you have to deal with Mike Trout knowing that a player of that caliber is behind him and I think that in Bryce Harper’s case, as he’s gone through his career and he’s going through it, this guy has, again — extraordinary talent, probably power — has the greatest young power I’ve ever seen in the game, and I’ve seen many great young ones including A-Rod and Griffey and all the others, it’s remarkable.
Boras says Harper "has the greatest young power I've ever seen". Mentions Harper had bit of an uncomfortable issue he played thru #Nationals— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) February 8, 2017
“And I think that there is a learning curve after success, there is a way that pitchers throw you, I think Harp had an issue that he played through with, that he battled with — that was certainly uncomfortable but still allowed him to play, but I think there is a learning curve that goes on with a great young hitter and there’s a learning curve that goes on with the league about what they have to do in dealing with the massive amount of walks and in key situations, the pitches that you’re going to get and learning how to extend the strike zone in situations which great hitters know how to do and young hitters have to learn how to do, so I think a lot of it has to do with a learning curve and the fact that in the Nationals’ lineup, there is a potential for a manager to do more, to pitch around Bryce Harper, than I would say in a situation when you have a Albert Pujols hitting behind Mike Trout.”
Though he doesn’t have a Pujols to pencil in behind Harper, Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker told reporters this winter he expected his right fielder to bounce back from his down year.
“Harper will rebound,” Baker said at the Winter Meetings. “He’s young enough where we’re not real worried about Harp. And soon the pride factor will come into it.
“You don’t like seeing those down years on your bubble gum cards, but everybody is capable of a down year and in modern baseball it’s like you’re never supposed to have a down year. There are years where all balls fall in and there are some years where every line drive is caught.
“I don’t anticipate him struggling like that, probably ever again. Because once you’ve struggled and once you know the signs of struggling, then once you’ve done it, then you’ll know how to kind of combat it.”