Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Yes, Bryce Harper needs to change his game

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had surgery Tuesday to reconnect a torn ulnar ligament in his left thumb. The 21-year-old is expected to be out of the lineup until July, which is unfortunate news for the Nationals and unfortunate news for baseball as a whole.

Harper, a two-time All-Star at a very young age, is a five-tool talent and one of the most exciting players in the game. He's one of those guys who gets your attention when he comes to the plate. You aren't going to take a bathroom break when it's Harper's turn to hit.

But now fans won't see Harper for two months, and it's because of his own recklessness. He was hurt sliding headfirst into third base, stretching a double into a triple with his team already ahead 5-0. Were those extra 90 feet worth two months on the disabled list? I don't think so, and I think the Nationals would agree.

Last year, Harper injured himself crashing into a wall at Dodger Stadium, trying to make a catch while his team was leading 6-0. On Opening Day this season, Harper had to undergo tests for a concussion after an over-aggressive takeout slide at second base. This is a young man who needs to tone his game down a notch.

Some will say they love Harper's aggressive style, and that they don't want him to change. I like the way the guy plays, too, but you know what else I also like? Players who stay on the field.

I know "games played" isn't an advanced metric or even an interesting statistic to most, but I think it's a very important one. If I'm a GM or a manager, I like guys who I can count on for 140 or 150 games every single season. In particular, I want my star player on the field. In Washington's case, Harper is their best player.

Last season, injuries limited Harper to 118 games. Now, he's limited by an injury this year as well. That's not what you want. Someone needs to sit Harper down and tell him sometimes it just isn't worth it to crash into a wall, or to gamble to try to grab that extra 90 feet on the bases.

Sometimes, it pays to pull up at second base with a double. Sometimes, it pays to play the carom off the wall and concede a hit to the opposition. It's a long season, and a player is useless to his team if he's spending a lot of time on the DL.

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