Bryce Harper sits above baseball, looking down at the rest of us. He occasionally looks up to fix his hair or disparage participation trophies, but for the most part, it is universally accepted that he and Mike Trout are the titans of the industry, and the rest of the league would do well not to incur their wrath.
Of course, this is baseball. Wrath is everywhere. Hunter Strickland clearly held onto some particular wrath for three years in order to seek revenge on Harper for besting him in the playoffs, or something. Strickland's wayward, hip-high heater struck Harper and sparked a brief riot that dominated baseball news Memorial Day, forcing the Phillies-Marlins series opener in Miami - a series that could see either team reach the 20-win mark! - to take a back seat to the fracas by the Bay.
But as Phillies fans, and perhaps the Phillies front office, watched the brawl ensue, did they perhaps see the first crack in the armor of the elite Harper - a player we have looked forward to signing with the team’s ludicrous money stores when he becomes a free agent? Because on Monday, we saw a side of Bryce Harper we rarely see: An inaccurate one.
A+ helmet throw from Bryce Harper here pic.twitter.com/tZYsrThyMR— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 29, 2017
Experts everywhere shook their heads. The form. The release point. The distance.
It was all wrong. First Mike Trout’s thumb falls apart, and now we have to wonder: Is this the beginning of the end for another young star?
Back in September 2013, watching Harper throw out runners was painfully routine.
"No, stop," third base coaches would say through a veil of tears, seeing a runner round a base as Harper fielded the ball. "Don’t you understand, he can’t be defeated." But it was too late. Harper’s laser would cut the emboldened base runner down in his prime and send him back to the dugout an utter failure.
Carlos Ruiz and Freddy Galvis were both smoked at second base that month in the same game, leading Harper to explain his passion for rifling the baseball with shocking accuracy; yet another form of insulation between him and the other team winning:
"I like throwing guys out, I get fired up," Harper said later. "It doesn’t happen very often. Homers don’t happen very often, but I get a little adrenaline rush when I throw guys out."
At the time, Nationals first base and outfield coach Tony Tarasco was giving the kid pointers, and they were paying off. Balls to the right field wall while Harper was on patrol were no longer sure-thing extra bases, something Ruiz and Galvis both figured out that afternoon - a lesson that made Harper second in the NL in outfield assists. The following February, as baseball primed itself for another year of Harper cutting base runners in half, Beyond the Box Score used the ARM (outfield arm runs) metric to inform the world that Harper had top-five skills, saving 6.2 runs with eight assists.
Harper entered 2015 still threatening runners, and even going so far as to plot their demise with a new menacing strategy.
"I came up slow on that on purpose, just to see if he’d round the bag or something like that," Harper said. "That’s something I want to play this year, something I really want to do this year. Coming up on the ball to try to take the extra bag, hopefully have a good throw to second base to get ‘em out."
He had nine assists that year - a five-way tie for seventh in the NL - but only five in 2016. In two months of 2017, he’s racked up three, but as evidenced by his misguided helmet-hurl at Hunter Strickland on Memorial Day, something is clearly off. Harper failed to adhere to any of the principles of throwing:
- Bring ball to chest
- Line up target for accuracy
- Position hand correctly to increase torque
- Bring chest to glove for further accuracy
- Make sure you are throwing ball, not helmet
- Recipient of throw should be person on your same team
- Throws should really only take place on defense
Perhaps now is the time when our glee and gigglepussery at the idea of signing Harper as an extravagantly priced free agent should be reexamined. We may be witnessing the start of his deterioration. A far better investment would be improving the Phillies faulty young bullpen with a veteran arm like Hunter Strickland’s, who has a 1.53 ERA in 21 games this season.