The Nats offense is terrible. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. Zimmerman is playing through an injury. Morse doesn't seem back from his yet. LaRoche has come back down from the heights of his first 30+ games (hitting .150 since May 18th). Espy and Desmond haven't progressed from being average. Flores hasn't played everyday at the major league level this long since 2008. Given all this, Nats fans are already counting on their young super prospect Bryce Harper to carry the day. Early on it looked like he might just be able to do that, but lately even he seems to be failing.
There are two schools of thoughts with young players. The first, and less popular one, is that they are less likely to get tired over the course of a season because "Hey, they're young". Anecdotally, this makes sense. I remember what I could do at 19 and it was a lot more than I can do now. But the more popular theory is that the are more likely to get tired over the course of a season because they simply aren't used to the length of the baseball year yet. Their bodies, while willing, haven't been trained for such a long haul. Perhaps more importantly, their minds haven't been trained for it either. It's one thing when you reach 60 games into a season and you see the stretch run to the post-season unfold in front of you. It's another when you reach 60 games into the season and you see a slog of 60 more games in the heat of summer before you get to anything interesting.
Two years ago Bryce Harper played 66 games in his college season. Last year, he played 109 and after the first 72, when he was called up to AA, he struggled mightily. .256 / .329 / .395 over the last 37 games. Perhaps he was overmatched, though from what we've seen this year I find that hard to believe. Perhaps he was bored, which is possible but I think a call-up would excite anyone for at least a few weeks. Perhaps though, perhaps he was worn out.
We've all seen that Bryce doesn't have an off switch, he doesn't have a lower gear. He plays hard, maybe overly so, every play, every day. That has to wear on a body, even a 19yr old one. This year he's already played 71 games. That's maybe a week ahead of the pace he played last year. That's not a big deal and it's still 30 less than he played last year. In that context it's easy to see his recent slump (.186 / .255 / .256 with 14K in his last 11 games) as just a slump and expect a bounce back sometime soon* But sometime in early August he'll reach the most number of games he's played in a year and he'll have 50+ ahead of him, not counting any playoff games.
I tried to do some quick analysis here but my usual roots failed me. Looking at ROYs isn't right because I'm sure part of the reason that these guys end up winning the award is because they don't slump as much in the 2nd half. Just general rookie performance can be difficult because a guy called up in September isn't the same as a guy playing in the majors all year. I know what people say "Yes, rookies wear down" but backing it up with numbers is what I'm looking for. I'll keep seeing if I can get something more concrete.
Bryce Harper is a great player. Nothing we've seen from him this season lessens the "future Hall of Famer" vibe that everyone gets watching him play. But counting on him to carry this team down the stretch might be asking too much.
*though maybe not during this road trip. If you didn't see my tweet, this is a brutal away stretch weather wise. 100 degrees at game time last night. Daytime high for their
next 6 games: 103, 94, 96, 95, 95, 95. Three of those games are afternoon games. The Nats have had no days off since last Tuesday and none to come until this is done. I'm getting tired just typing about this.