Harper’s role in 2019
Harper’s role on the team is pretty obvious: he is the new star player of the team. His record-setting contract made sure of that. As Harper goes, so will the team. When the club is doing well, Harper will likely be at the center of it. However, if they are struggling, Harper and his nine-figure contract will receive heavy scrutiny.
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An interesting decision will be where Harper slots in the lineup. When he has played so far in spring training, he has batted in the third spot. This is to be expected; he is the team’s best hitter, so standard baseball convention would lead to him hitting there. However, that is not the only place he could hit.
A new wave of thinking in baseball lineup construction puts your best hitter in the second spot instead of third. Manager Gabe Kapler did this last year with Rhys Hoskins, and he could do it with Harper. However, that may not be the best idea as Harper has a career .770 OPS in 178 games in that spot, the worst of any spot in the lineup for him.
Harper could also bat cleanup with his power. His best OPS in any lineup spot in more than 10 games during his career has been hitting fourth at .983. In 145 starts in this position, he has a .296 batting average, 32 home runs, and 103 runs batted in.
An interesting option would be to have Harper bat leadoff. The Nationals used him in that spot to try to jump-start him early on last year. In 12 games hitting leadoff last year, Harper hit four home runs, including two to open up a game. He only hit .217 from this spot, but seven of his 10 hits went for extra bases.
Kapler will be playing with house money making lineups with two former MVPs (Harper and Andrew McCutchen), three more All-Stars (Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, and Odubel Herrera) and Rhys Hoskins. Wherever Harper hits, he will do damage.