During Wednesday’s episode of The BS Show, Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper came up. Brett and Shane discussed how it sometimes feels like the consensus around Harper is that he’s a bust compared to Mike Trout; which they rightly pointed out as ridiculous, because Trout is on pace to be the greatest player of all time. But their discussion got me thinking about just how good Harper has been.
So far in 2018, Harper has hit .232/.387/.537 — his batting average is so low because he’s running a unsustainably low BABIP of .198 — with a wRC+ of 143 in 212 plate appearances. Despite the low batting average, the 25-year old has provided plenty of value at the plate because of he’s been walking in 20.3% of his trips to the plate…while only striking out in 17.5% of them. His increased walk rate isn’t actually to far from his career average, which is 17.1%; this higher walk rate is because of a lower than normal o-swing%.
While his walk rate is impressive, Harper’s hard contact rate is bordering on ludicrous. Currently 43.5% of the pitches he’s made contact with have been hit hard…and when a pitcher leaves a pitch over the middle of the plate, the odds are that Harper is going to hit the living shit out of it.
Outside of one season (2014), Harper’s walk rate has been in double digits throughout his career. And that’s because he’s regularly had good plate discipline throughout the early stages of his career — his o-swing rate has only topped 35% once. His plate discipline has been the main reason the outfielder gets pitches to hit.
Because of his consistent plate discipline, the 25-year old regularly gets good pitches to hit. If you don’t believe me, just look at his career heatmap below.
Harper’s career slashline is .282/.386/.516 with a 141 wRC+ and he’s already been worth 28.7 wins as we enter the third month of his eighth season. If he plays for another eight years at a similar level as he has for his first seven years…he’ll find himself in Cooperstown.
Because he came into the league at the same time as Trout — and was picked higher than him in the amature draft — Harper is going to be held to an impossibly high standard. What we (as fans) should be doing, is enjoying Bryce Harper for what he is — a really damn good ball player, with an entertaining personality — and not try to compare him to the (arguably) best player that the game has ever seen.
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