Suppose a rookie brought up from the minors early in the season and starting every day was hitting .211/.277/.322 since the middle of June. It’s now the third week of August. As the manager, would you sit him down? (It’s too late in the season to send him back to Triple A.)
Nobody’s really squawked much about Harper’s struggles, perhaps because the Nationals have just kept on winning. But they haven’t been winning because of Harper. They’ve been winning because of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and all that fantastic pitching (the Nationals lead the majors with a 3.23 staff ERA).
Eventually, though, shouldn’t Davey Johnson’s patience give out? It’s nice that Harper was an All-Star and everything, but shouldn’t Johnson go into the postseason with the best players he’s got? They’re already going to lose one of their best starting pitchers; should they also go with their fourth- or fifth-best outfielder in center field against the National League’s best teams? . . .
Which doesn’t mean Harper should be playing center field every day. I don’t know a lot about it, but doesn’t it seem possible that Harper’s wearing down, between the physical and mental pressures of playing almost every day as a 19-year-old rookie? Harper bats left-handed. Bernadina bats left-handed. Wouldn’t it make sense to bench Harper once or twice a week, in favor of a Bernadina? Or, with a left-hander on the mound, shift Werth to center field and get Tyler Moore into the lineup?
On balance, yes: Bryce Harper probably is one one of the Nationals’ three best outfielders. Even with the fifth-best OPS+. But if the Nationals want Harper at his best in October, maybe a little more rest would help. They’ve got a big lead, and they’ve got the bodies. So why not?