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Is Bryce Harper A Hall of Famer?


Bryce Harper, current DH for the Phillies; CC by 2.0 License

If you have ever watched baseball in the past decade, then you have likely heard of Bryce Harper. If you have not heard of him, Bryce Harper is a star right fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. Before he ended up in Philly and won an NL Pennant, Harper was drafted #1 overall out of the College of Southern Nevada (a Junior College) by the Nationals in the 2010 MLB draft… at only 17 years old. You may be telling yourself, “He should be in high school at 17!”, but that was not a part of his plan. Harper had dropped out of high school after his sophomore year, completed his GED, and played baseball at the collegiate level, making him eligible for the draft. He made his MLB debut on April 28, 2012, only two years later at 19 years old, and spent the majority of his career with the Nationals. There, he brought home Rookie of the Year Honors, a Silver Slugger award, and an MVP award. He then took home another MVP and Silver Slugger award in 2021 after signing a 13-year, $330 million contract in 2019 with the Phillies. Throughout his 11-year career thus far, he has even racked up 7 All-Star appearances. Sounds like a great career so far, right? It does, but has Bryce proved himself enough to get into Cooperstown? Let’s take a further look into some of his stats and see how he compares to other right-fielders who have already been given the honor of being placed in the hall of fame.

Before we discuss where Harper is on the right field JAWS list and how he compares to the current hall of farmers, we must understand what JAWS and WAR are. Let’s begin with WAR. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a stat used to asses a player's value to their team. MLB.com defines WAR as how many more wins a player is worth than a replacement-level player at their respected position. A replacement-level player is a player who is a minor leaguer or a free agent that is available to play that position. Looking at Harper’s fWAR, he produced 2.4 in 2022. This means that he produced 2.4 more wins than the average replacement player would have if they were in Harper’s position. We must note that there are two different types of WAR - fWAR and bWAR, also known as rWAR. fWAR is Fangraphs WAR calculation and bWAR or rWAR is Baseball References WAR calculation. These differ slightly, but both are useful. For this article, I am using the JAWS list from Baseball reference, so the WAR being used for JAWS is bWAR.

Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score (JAWS) is a system that evaluates a player's worthiness of induction into the MLB Hall of Fame created by Jay Jaffe. The goal of JAWS is to maintain the hall of fame’s standard of player induction by selecting players that are at least as good as the average Hall of Famer at their respective position. JAWS is calculated by taking the players’ seven-year WAR peak. This means taking their seven most productive seasons and averaging it with their total WAR (WAR of their entire career). Harper’s seven-year peak WAR is 36.2 and his career WAR to this point is 42.5. So, if you average those two numbers, you get Harper’s JAWS of 39.4. This ranks Harper 38th all-time on the right fielder JAWS list.

Let’s see how he compares to players whose WAR and JAWS are similar to his. There are 65 players with a WAR within five of Harpers who are retired and eligible for the hall of fame: 43 of those players are in the Hall of Fame. Harper’s ranking of 38th puts him in a good position. There are Hall of Famers below him on that list which makes you think if Harper continues to play he can only raise his WAR, which in return raises his JAWS. If Harper could produce at least a WAR of 1.9 in 2023, he would raise his JAWS to 40.3 moving him up to 35th on the list. Out of the 34 people that would be above him, 23 of those players are in the hall of fame. That’s some pretty good company.

However, we have to consider two factors regarding his WAR. The 2020 COVID-19 season and his 2022 season when he predominantly played DH. During these two seasons, he recorded his second and third lowest WAR. But, Harper is an incredible player and will be able to raise his WAR as he still has nine years left on his contract helping him push his name further up the list. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sitting somewhere in his 20s when his career is over.

I want to discuss some stats that Bryce has produced throughout his career that have placed him 38th in the JAWS ranking, but before we dive right in, let’s understand what these stats mean. wOBA and wRC+ are two of the best stats to determine a player's offensive production for their team. wOBA is a better version of on-base percentage, instead of calculating simply whether or not they got on base, it takes into account how they got on base, weighting all the different scenarios reaching base is possible about projected runs scored.

Speaking of runs scored, wRC+ is our next stat. It takes the stat runs created (RC) and adjusts for factors like ballpark and era. wRC+, like wOBA, credits the hitter for the value of each possible outcome of reaching base (single, double, triple, etc), but it also takes into account park effects and runs environment. wRC+ is scaled so that the league average is 100. Every point higher or lower than 100 is one percent better or worse than the league average.

Now we can begin looking at some of his stats. Harper is very good at reaching base and creating runs. This should be considered when looking at a hall of fame cast. Getting on base is not easy, but Bryce seems to think otherwise. Over his career, he’s averaging a .385 wOBA. That number sits between “Great” and “Excellent” according to Fangraphs Sabermetric Library. Getting on base aids in creating runs for your team, which brings us to our next stat, wRC+. Over his career, Harper has averaged a wRC+ of 141, 41% above the league average. A wRC+ of 140 is considered “Great” according to Fangraphs Sabermetric Library. Being able to average that level of production over his career is special.

I want to touch on some of the awards I mentioned earlier. Winning ROY in 2012 couldn’t have been easy when you have players like Mike Trout and Yu Darvish who were also eligible for ROY in 2012. Bryce had an incredible rookie season at the plate, slashing .270/.340/.477. He also tacked on a .352 wOBA and 121 wRC+. In his 2015 MVP season, he led the MLB in four categories and led the NL in two categories. He led the MLB in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. He led the NL in runs and HR. That seems to be the best season of his career thus far. His 2021 MVP season was great as well, leading the MLB in four categories again. Harper has proven himself as one of the best hitters in the league.

With all this being said about Harper’s success, one question lingers for the upcoming seasons. Will he be able to continue this success after his Tommy John surgery? Steamer projects Harper to play in 78 games in the 2023 season. If he plays well, and projections say he will, we have to consider the amount plate appearances he will get. He’s had seasons where he reaches six to almost seven hundred plate appearances, making more room for error. Steamer is projecting 342 plate appearances, with this smaller sample size, can we say he was successful and vice versa? If he performs poorly coming back from injury, would he have been successful if he got to play the whole season? Circumstances like these can hurt a player because we can only assume what could have happened if they had been fully healthy.

If Bryce Harper can continue his pace of play from the past few seasons, it should be no problem for him to rise on the WAR and JAWS list, giving him an even better chance of being enlisted into the Hall of Fame.

With years left to play, Harper has plenty of opportunity to tack on more awards and milestones. He’s no doubt going to make the all-star game again, adding to his already 7 appearances. He’s most likely going to reach over 1,000 RBIs (sitting at 817 currently). Getting to 2,000 hits is a toss-up at the moment based on how many years he will end up playing. Reaching these milestones will only help catch more attention come the time he reaches the ballot.

However, we must consider those years left to play leave more room for error. Based on Harper’s current pace of success, that could go downhill. We never know what is going happen until it happens, we can only predict the most probable outcome. With that being said, his career stats could drop. Now, one bad season will not kill Harper’s chances of the hall of fame, but with his contract going all the way to 2031, Harper could end up having his last 5-7 years being mediocre. If that’s the case that could put him at risk of missing the hall of fame, but as I said, we cannot predict this outcome.

With all that being discussed, it’s safe to say Bryce Harper is an incredible baseball player and will be remembered as such. From his awards to his stats, his career thus far has been nothing short of spectacular. As Harper still has years left to play, he still has time to prove himself deserving of being an all-time great. So, the question remains. Will Bryce Harper have a plaque hanging on the prestigious walls of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? If he continues to play as he has in his career thus far, then the answer should be yes, but only time can tell the story for this slugger.



Sources:

Fangraphs.com

Baseball-Reference.com

CooperstownCred.com

Bleacherreport.com

MLB.com




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