When the Washington Nationals called up Bryce Harper on April 28th, only 20 games into the regular season, expectations for the 19 year old were high despite Washington’s latest success. They had won 14 of their first 20 games mainly attributed to spectacular pitching performances from the whole rotation. Offense production though, was about as low as the past losing seasons. Of those 14 wins, the Nationals had won seven by only two runs or less. Injuries were the main culprit. Last year’s star Michael Morse had been on the disabled list from an injury in spring training, while the face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman had just suffered a shoulder injury forcing him to join Michael Morse.
Harper’s debuted the day he was called up, but Matt Kemp stole his spotlight hitting a walkoff homerun in the 10th inning. He did get his first major league hit though, a double in the top of the 7th to end his night one for three. From that point to the All-Star break he was a burst of energy that the Nationals needed. Most importantly, he helped cover right field when Jayson Werth seriously injured his wrist. Going into the break, he was the best offensive rookie in the National League batting .282 with a .354 on base percentage and eight homeruns in 62 games. Although he wasn’t selected for the All-Star game initially, he made it as a reserve after coming in 3rd during the final vote.
The only other rookie to make the National League team and a top candidate for the Rookie of the Year award was Diamondbacks’ starting pitcher Wade Miley. At the break, he had won nine of his first 14 starts with a 3.04 ERA and 1.093 WHIP. Since that time he has only gotten better. In his seven starts since the break, he has a 2.76 ERA lowering his season ERA to the 10th best in the National League at 2.96. Harper on the other hand, has fallen into a large slump. In his 31 games since the break, he has hit .181 with a .269 on base percentage. This has led to a season batting percentage of .248, tied with Zack Cozart for the lowest among rookies in the National League. If it weren’t for his recent small success this past week with two homeruns, .961 OPS, and .273 batting average, he would definitely look like the worst NL position player rookie stat-wise.
This has left room for another emerging rookie position player, outfielder Norichika Aoki. With the Brewers, Aoki has quietly put together a good season for the Brewers, despite not being selected for the All-Star game. Currently he has the best batting average of all National League rookies at .279 with 17 stolen bases.
While the gap isn’t completely impossible for Harper to make up, he has a long way to get close to winning the Rookie of the Year award. Hopefully this past week is a sign of things to come. Even if is successful he still has to hope that Wade Miley collapses under the end of the season pressure or exhaustion. Harper does have a huge advantage over both these candidates though. He is highly favored in the national media because of the hype that surrounds him. Whenever he makes a good play or snide “Clown Question” comment, he is featured in headlines across the nation. Miley and Aoki on the other hand need to do something crazy to be featured. This has created a huge bias towards Harper among baseball fans across the nation. With that, Rookie of the Year isn’t fully out of the question yet. Harper needs to turn his season around soon or else it will be.