September 20, 2014

Washington Nationals Bryce Harper: All-Star?

Washington Nationals CF Bryce Harper scores in 3rd inning, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

A spirited email chain yesterday among close baseball friends started with a debate about why there aren’t any Washington Nationals among the top vote-getters for the National League All-Star team, despite owning the league’s second best record and leading the East by fives games. The answer is pretty simple really: No one on the ballot really deserves it.

The Nats biggest name, Ryan Zimmerman, is hitting .239 with three home runs. Adam LaRoche is putting up some nice numbers, and in a down year for first basemen he might earn a reserve spot, but garners very little national attention. Ian Desmond? With the N.L. shortstop pool littered with big names it’s no surprise he’d be an afterthought to voters. It’s the same way up and down the ballot.

But there is one position player that isn’t on the ballot, and that’s where the debate got interesting. Some of my friends on the email chain felt that Bryce Harper is deserving of a place on the N.L. All-Star team. Is Bryce Harper already one of the best outfielders in the National League? My initial reaction was no. As in, heck no, he’s only had 177 plate appearance, how can we call him an All-Star? If someone had come back from injury after missing all of April I generally wouldn’t consider him for an All-Star position, unless his stats were otherworldly.

Harper’s stats are good. Forget that he’s ONLY 19 YEARS OLD for a minute. Let’s just look at the numbers. Harper’s been incredibly hot in the month of June (16-for-42, .381/.458/.667/1.125) with nine runs scored, three homers and eight RBIs) to get his season numbers to .303/.384/.548 with seven homers, 19 RBIs and 30 runs scored. Those numbers are excellent for 177 plate appearances, more than could ever be expected, really.

But we have to go back to the plate appearances. Most of the competition for a spot in the N.L. outfield — and there is plenty of competition — has 100 more plate appearances than Harper so far. Their counting numbers are obviously going to be higher, and their qualitative numbers have more meaning in a larger sample size.

For example, if we back out Harper’s red-hot 48 plate appearances in June, he put together a line of .274/.357/.504 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 129 plate appearances. Heady stuff still for a 19-year old, but not credentials to be named to an All-Star team of any repute.

But of course, those June appearances do count. In fact, as long as we’re playing with sample sizes, if we take out his first 55 plate appearances (.213/.309/.340), since then he’s hit .343/.418/.639 in 122 PAs. He is, apparently, just getting warmed up.

As I mentioned, there’s no shortage of competition for a spot in the National League outfield this season. No fewer than two dozen players, including Harper, could stake a claim to a spot. Due to requirements that each team be represented (a rule I’m in favor of), Melky Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen are mortal locks for the squad.

Let’s just take a look at the rest of the field.

Player AB R H HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Gonzalez, Carlos LF COL 232 48 75 16 48 9 0.3233 0.3843 0.6164 1.0007
Braun, Ryan LF MIL 213 38 66 15 40 11 0.3099 0.3893 0.5869 0.9762
Cabrera, Melky LF SF 243 44 89 4 29 10 0.3663 0.4046 0.5309 0.9355
McCutchen, Andrew CF PIT 210 33 68 11 37 12 0.3238 0.3840 0.5571 0.9411
Beltran, Carlos CF STL 211 37 61 18 46 6 0.2891 0.3760 0.5877 0.9637
Bourn, Michael CF ATL 265 44 84 6 20 17 0.3170 0.3671 0.4604 0.8275
Stanton, Giancarlo RF MIA 222 35 64 14 42 3 0.2883 0.3629 0.5541 0.9170
Pence, Hunter RF PHI 246 43 68 13 38 4 0.2764 0.3431 0.4797 0.8228
Pagan, Angel CF SF 234 30 75 5 22 12 0.3205 0.3586 0.4701 0.8287
Ethier, Andre RF LAD 234 33 68 10 54 1 0.2906 0.3500 0.5085 0.8585
Prado, Martin LF ATL 236 38 75 4 25 7 0.3178 0.3826 0.4661 0.8487
Kemp, Matt CF LAD 121 30 43 12 28 2 0.3554 0.4444 0.7190 1.1634
Bruce, Jay RF CIN 208 31 54 13 38 4 0.2596 0.3277 0.5288 0.8565
Holliday, Matt LF STL 229 39 64 10 35 2 0.2795 0.3640 0.4629 0.8269
Victorino, Shane CF PHI 246 27 62 8 33 13 0.2520 0.3223 0.4146 0.7369
Cuddyer, Michael RF COL 207 32 56 7 39 7 0.2705 0.3304 0.4831 0.8135
Fowler, Dexter CF COL 161 33 45 8 28 6 0.2795 0.3797 0.5404 0.9201
Heyward, Jason RF ATL 204 30 50 8 30 10 0.2451 0.3275 0.4363 0.7638
Soriano, Alfonso LF CHC 210 21 58 12 40 1 0.2762 0.3246 0.5048 0.8294
Hart, Corey RF MIL 229 36 58 13 28 1 0.2533 0.3135 0.5022 0.8157
Harper, Bryce RF WAS 155 30 47 7 19 4 0.3037 0.3845 0.5486 0.9331

 

Let’s assume the leaders on the ballot (Matt Kemp, Carlos Beltran and Ryan Braun) end up the voted starters. After the fans vote, the players get their say, then down to the managers and league office. You’d have to think CarGo, Cabrera, McCutchen, Bourn, Stanton and Pence are pretty much locks to make the team. After that, how many outfielders do you need? If you factor in any bias about naming a 19-year old to the All-Star team, it’s hard to see Harper enjoying his first midseason classic this season.

Add in the fact that Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are shoe-ins to represent the Nationals this season, and there’s less pressure to find a spot for Harper.

But again, a lot of what MLB does is driven by marketing, so you never know. I’m not saying that Harper doesn’t deserve to be an all-star, because at this point he may be the Nats best offensive player already. I’m just saying, 177 plate appearances isn’t enough to know, really. And with all the other factors, I’d be really surprised to see him in this season’s All-Star game.

If Harper develops into the player many think he’s destined to become, he’ll be an annual automatic for the All-Star Game, maybe as soon as next season. I think, though, after just 177 plate appearances, Nats fans’ enthusiasm for their new superstar to participate in the “Midsummer Classic” may be just a little premature.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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