VIERA, Fla. -- In 2015, Bryce Harper posted perhaps the most dominant offensive season since the early 2000s. The numbers speak for themselves: He led the National League in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649), fWAR (9.5), weighted runs created plus (197 wRC+), runs scored (118) while finishing tied for
VIERA, Fla. -- In 2015, Bryce Harper posted perhaps the most dominant offensive season since the early 2000s. The numbers speak for themselves: He led the National League in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649), fWAR (9.5), weighted runs created plus (197 wRC+), runs scored (118) while finishing tied for first in home runs (42) and second in walks (124) and batting average (.330).
Such numbers won Harper the NL Most Valuable Player Award and firmly established him as one of the best players in baseball. But is it possible for him to surpass a season where he was named the youngest unanimous MVP in history? MLB.com's fearless prediction is that somehow Harper will find a way to outdo himself.
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Perhaps Harper will drive in more runs. There's a good chance he'll have more opportunities with men on base as long as the rest of the Nats' lineup remains healthy. But such things are mostly out of Harper's control.
Or perhaps Harper will steal more bases next season. He has wanted to be more active in the running game and has been eager to learn from new first-base coach Davey Lopes, who has helped engineer strong running games in the past. Lopes has encouraged Harper, who only attempted 10 steals last season, along with the rest of the Nationals to be aggressive on the basepaths. So expect those numbers to also increase.
It's possible 2015 was only the start of a dominant run offensively by Harper, and an even better season would almost certainly produce a second consecutive NL MVP Award. Harper -- who had never faced a pitcher younger than himself until this past June -- is only entering his age-23 season, and players at this young age typically have yet to reach their peak.
According to baseball-reference.com, just seven other players have put together a season of at least 9 WAR before the age of 23: Ty Cobb (1909, 9.8 WAR), Eddie Collins (1909, 9.7), Rogers Hornsby (1917, 9.9), Ted Williams (1941, 10.6), Stan Musial (1943, 9.4), Alex Rodriguez (1996, 9.4) and Mike Trout (2012, 10.8, and 2013, 9.3). Six of those seven players ended up producing a season even better at some point in their career, and the other is Trout -- who doesn't even turn 25 until August.
Harper ranked 36th in exit velocity last season among hitters with at least 50 tracked batted balls at 92.3 mph, which is solid but unspectacular. He batted .264 against inside pitches, a dropoff from his other superhuman statistics. So finding a way to improve against pitches on the inner half could make his overall numbers look even better next year.
Topping his own monumental season will be no easy task, but when Harper arrived at Spring Training this year, he spoke about why he did not want to be placed under any limits in his career. After his performance last season, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.