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.
|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.