ESPN The Magazine recently released a poll of Major League players where they listed Bryce Harper as the most overrated player in baseball. Fine, I happen to think the guy faces way too much criticism and gets singled out by other clubs like the Braves and Phillies who apparently feel they have the responsibility to throw fastballs at his torso and then laugh about it. By listing him as the most overrated player, ironically, they are pointing out how much they underrate him.
What to make of Bryce Harper’s second season in the majors. Most people will say that he had an OK year. He had good points and bad points and got hurt. Looking at his stat totals will paint that picture. 3.8 WAR (3rd on the team, worse than last year) He hit .274 (pretty good, but not great) 20 home runs and 58 RBI (fine, not a lot of RBI for a guy who hit 4th) less than 500 ABs (didn’t even qualify). Most average or casual baseball fans will stop there. I know this because listening to sports radio in DC I heard the Harper season summary end there on the National’s flagship station (OK, it was the Junkies) Grant Paulson this week went as far as questioning if he even had an All-Star quality season last year.
One of the problems when analyzing Harper’s season is that he missed an entire month, zero at bats in June, this significantly impacting those counting type stats. I am a big fan of wOBA and wRC+ to analyze player hitting. I like this stat because it, like batting average is not impacted by a player like Harper missing a month of the season. wOBA is the stat general managers use to calculate players total offensive contribution and wRC+ is a park adjusted stat that gives a % rank of how good a player is compared to the average MLB player. Here is how Harper stacks up: Harper had a .371 wOBA and 137 wRC+.
Putting that into perspective
Harper was the 7th best hitting outfielder in baseball behind Trout, Werth, McCutchen, Choo, Holiday and Cuddyer. That’s it. That is the list. You could also add CarGo and Puig, but they, like Harper didn’t have 500 ABs
The only outfielder in the American League ahead of Harper is Mike Trout.
The more interesting list is the players who Harper out hit this year. Stanton, Bautista, Pence, Beltran, Upton, Bruce, Posey, and Adam Jones.
If you want to take that out to all positions, he also out hit Beltre, Molina, Longoria, Posey, Zimmerman, Fielder and Hosmer,
How does this rate to his stats in 2012? He improved wOBA .019 points and wRC+ by 16%. Yep, he was better this last year in an incremental way you would expect year to year.
Is it possible for Harper to be underrated? Can he be one of the best players of his generation, appear on national magazines, head national TV ads and still be underrated? It would be my guess that the players polled by ESPN would be shocked at how they have underrated him.