Our MLB writer analyzes how Bryce Harper's continued improvement can help the Nationals beat the MLB odds and if he has surpassed Mike Trout as the best player in the game right now.
Bryce Harper just hit his sixth home run in eight games. It wasn't enough, as the Nationals lost 5-1 against the Marlins, but even with the setback they're tied with the Cubs for the best record in MLB at 11-4.
The reigning National League MVP Harper now has eight home runs to just six strikeouts, to go along with 22 RBI. Harper is hitting .321, has a .406 on-base percentage and a .837 slugging percentage.
His eight home runs are more than what three teams have: the Pirates (seven), Angels (six) and Braves (three).
The Nationals are favored to win the NL East at -140 MLB odds and they're at +1400 to win the 2016 World Series at PaddyPower. The race to win the NL East will likely come down to the Nationals and Mets and if they reach the postseason they can make some noise.
Harper Keeps Getting Better
It was hard to see Harper improving after the kind of breakthrough year he had in 2015, when the then-22-year-old hit 42 home runs and drove in 99 runs while putting up a .330 batting average, a .460 on-base percentage and an .837 slugging percentage. Harper is projected to have an even better season, and he is currently at +200 to repeat as NL MVP at BetOnline. I like his chances to become the first NL player to win back-to-back MVP awards since Albert Pujols in 2008 and 2009, I would consider placing a small bet on Harper with your MLB picks
Need more evidence of his improvement? His contact rate when swinging went up from 73.1 percent last year to 81.1 percent, and his chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone has decreased.
How to explain why he has become such a dangerous hitter? Harper exploded last season because he hit more fly balls and pulled the ball more. His numbers are still climbing, as his fly ball rate has increased from 34 percent to 49 percent. Harper pulled 20 of his 42 home runs last year. This season he has pulled six of his eight home runs.
Harper vs. Trout
Comparisons are inevitable in sports. Mike Trout has become the best player in baseball and the face of MLB, but this year, while Harper terrorizes pitchers, Mike Trout is off to a slow start, hitting .286 with just two home runs and six runs batted in. Trout's numbers will improve, and an argument can be made against Harper, since his team has played weak opponents like the Marlins, Braves and Phillies.
Will Harper surpass Trout for good? Harper's control of the strike zone this season has been remarkable, while Trout has 16 strikeouts already. Harper had a .460 OBP last season while Trout had a .402, all because he had just seven more strikeouts than walks, while Trout had 66 more.
Trout plays center field, a premium defensive position while Harper's durability is still questionable. Still, Harper's current career value is better, but Trout might put up more impressive numbers over the course of the years because he is more durable. It will be interesting to see how their careers develop but as far as 2016, profit with Harper's play.