Whereas most players generally see their performance spike the year before hitting free agency, the opposite has been true of Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper.
Harper's agent, Scott Boras, though, denied the dip was connected to Harper's upcoming free agency and instead cited the way opposing hitters have approached the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player, per ESPN.com's Eddie Matz:
"There's no question that with the walk rates that Bryce Harper has, he's going to have less hits. No doubt about that. You keep having to ask the question, why don't they do this to other players if it's so effective? The answer is that teams feel the benefit of pitching to those players, there's much less of a consequence than there is to pitch to Harp. I would assume that has to do with his extraordinary power."
Boras also called attention to the increased prevalences of defensive shifts and called them "grandly discriminatory" for left-handed hitters.
Harper has basically epitomized baseball's three true outcomes in 2018. He's second in the National League in home runs (21), first in walks (68) and seventh in strikeouts (87).
After a return to form in 2017, Harper has seen his weighted on-base average fall from .416 to .355, while his weighted runs created plus drop from 156 to 122, per FanGraphs.
Even taking Harper's .217 batting average into account, his performance wouldn't be that bad in most contexts were it not for how well he played in his MVP season, when he posted a 9.3 WAR at 22 years old.
As Bleacher Report's Jacob Shafer argued, there's no getting round Harper's underwhelming production, and that's a big problem for a player who could be the biggest free agent on the market this winter.
Harper still has time to turn things around and play himself into what might be the richest contract in baseball history. Should his numbers fail to improve, though, Boras may have a hard time convincing teams Harper's issues are solely down to pitcher tendencies and defensive shifts.