Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper: Rookie of the Year Award Is First Step in Future MVP's Career

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals rounds the bases and is congratulated by third base coach Bo Porter #6 after Harper hits a home run in the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 12, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2012

Bryce Harper isn't your average 19-year-old.

Harper cashed in on his preseason hype Monday night, winning the National League's Rookie of the Year award after his breakout rookie campaign.

The Nationals outfielder is the second-youngest player to ever collect ROY honors, trailing a barely younger Dwight Gooden in 1984. Collecting the honor doesn't immediately seal a Hall-of-Fame career, but the start couldn't get much better.

Harper finished the year with a .270 batting average, 22 home runs and 59 RBI, but it's his finish that put him where he wanted to be at season's end. Closing the year strong, with accolades and the postseason in sight, is the mark of a player that's destined to do big things.

According to ESPN, "Harper had the most Wins Above Replacement (5.0) of any player in his age 19-or younger season in baseball’s modern era (since 1900), surpassing the mark previously set by New York Giants outfielder Mel Ott (3.7) in 1928."

He also had the most extra-base hits than any player his age had ever had and the second-highest home run total.

Wait, there's more. ESPN states that his 1.053 OPS through the season's final 38 games was the highest in the NL and fourth-highest in the majors. He saved his best for last, and that cannot be overstated.

Expecting big things from Harper at the beginning of the season was easy, but it was also a bit unfair. Big ego, abrasive personality and grown-man physique aside, he was still a teenager competing in a man's game.

It took him awhile to adjust, but the reasons behind the hype were apparent by the end of the Nationals' postseason run.

Winning MVP trophies requires adjustments. Pitchers change their repertoires, tailoring them for specific batters and their strengths.

Teams will enter next season with a new scouting report for Harper, but his ability to adjust may be the most amazing part of this entire thing.

ESPN's report notes that "Harper hit .321 with a .957 OPS in at-bats ending with pitches in the lower half of the zone over his last 38 games. Prior to that, he hit just .210 with a .601 OPS against those pitches." That's called finding a strength.

It also notes that Harper was hitting just .145 on two-strike counts through August 23, missing that final pitch 26 percent of the time. After that though, he only missed 19 percent, raising his average to .250 in those situations.

Adapting like that is difficult for a veteran. Two-strike counts were one of Harper's biggest issues, but he got the monkey off his back when it mattered most.

It's not just about talent for this kid. He knows how to play the game, and he knows what it takes to be successful.

Sure, he's going to rub you the wrong way sometimes, but watching him play the game makes up for it.

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