Ray's Ramblings - Is Bryce Harper a Superstar?
Those men are superstars.
You know it when you see it.
At least that's my perception of the question of - who is a superstar?
I had no idea when I asked the question on Twitter Tuesday, I would be attacked with such vengeance by some.
The mere fact that I had to ask "Is Bryce Harper a superstar?" should answer the question. You don't have to ask if someone is a superstar. It should be obvious. I’ll address the whole shebang with Harper and see if we can figure this thing out and try to understand how so many of you answer the question in the affirmative.
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It really comes down to how you define superstar.
Webster’s says: a star (as in sports or the movies) who is considered extremely talented, has great public appeal, and can usually command a high salary. If this is your definition then Harper is a superstar.
If your definition of superstar is based solely on talent… then perhaps Harper is a superstar.
If your definition of superstar has an age component, well, then you’re missing the point.
If your definition of superstar is based on a combination of age/performance then answer is probably yes, but again, I think that’s partially missing the point.
If your definition of superstar is related to traditional measures, then the answer is he is not.
If your definition of superstar is related to the fantasy game, he most certainly is not a superstar.
To me, age is irrelevant to the discussion of superstar. You can be a superstar from the age of 14 until 85. There is no age requirement, up or down, at least not one that is defined. If you are a superstar, you are. There shouldn’t be a qualifier like “at his age he is” that so many seem to attach as an explanation of why they believe Harper is one.
Let’s put Harper’s performance in the context of his age. By the way, Harper is 25 years and just about nine months old. Paul Sporer did the leg work in putting together a group of all-timers under the age of 26 years old. It’s an impressive list of performer to which Harper fits in pretty darn well. If you define superstar by a player’s performance, based on some arbitrary definition of age, then I guess Harper qualifies as a superstar. Again, I don’t buy it, but there’s an argument to be made here.
That said, there’s a common misconception out there. The average fan believes that players statistical performance always improves as a player ages. Point of fact – that is not remotely true. Some players improve skills wise, but the result isn’t seen in their numbers. Sometimes, even if players improve, their year-to-year efforts are up and down. Sometimes, I know it’s hard to believe, players peak when very young and never reach those statistical heights ever again. We can plot a general growth path for players based upon age, but it’s extremely general and really cannot be applied with any degree of accuracy from player to player.
Further, people think they know at what age a player’s performance will fall off. I heard many times ‘Harper is only 25 years old and he will be good for another decade.’ Point of fact – none of us have any idea when a player will peak or when he will fall down the mountain. Some player start to slip at 26, 29, 32 or 36. We just don’t know when it will happen.
Further, the belief the age 27 is a magical season has been proven to be false. Additionally, recent data suggests that players performance peaks by age 26, and from that point on their performance slips in a gradual manner. I touched on the somewhat inconclusive data in How Much Does Age Matter?
So, to summarize, you can try and use the ‘he’s 25 year old’ argument to your advantage. Maybe you will be right if you do, but there is no guarantee that such an argument will hold up over time. Plenty of players have peaked at Harper’s age and never gotten better.
THE PER GAME THING – HEALTH
Harper has appeared in six big league seasons prior to 2018.
In those six seasons he’s appeared in 140 games twice, and 150 games once.
Over the first six seasons of his career he’s averaged 128 games a season which means he is averaging more than an entire missed month of action per season.
Can you be a superstar if you’ve only played 79 percent of the games your team has in six years? I’m asking for a friend.
I heard from folks – but his per 162 game average is .278-32-89-106-13. That’s great and all, but he’s reached all five of those numbers in a season… NEVER.
Category by category.
In his career he’s failed to hit .278 in four of six seasons.
In his career he has one 30 homer season.
In his career he has no 100 RBI seasons.
In his career he has one 100 run season.
In his career has one 20 steal season and two of 13.
Are those the numbers of a superstar?
Don’t give me the ‘but Ray, it’s not fair to say that, he’s been hurt.’
Being on the field matters. Being a superstar means showing up, doesn’t it? It sure does it my world.
You can make all the arguments you want, give him all the free passes you want, but the facts are the facts. If you can read the above and think that Harper is a superstar, then I simply cannot agree with you.
Still think I’m wrong?
OK, let’s do a comparison, shall we? I think that is the easiest way to shoot a hole into the argument that Harper is a superstar in the fantasy game.
Let’s compare Bryce Harper to Justin Upton.
Here we go, and the comparison going to be A LOT closer than you think. Like a lot.
Note that since the start of last season, Bryce Harper is 28th in MLB with a 6.4 WAR while Justin Upton is 23rd at 6.9.
By non-traditional measures, you can easily argue that Harper is better. After all, his career OBP/SLG/wRC+ dust Upton. But take a second look. There is a difference in batting average, but it’s not massive. The work in the homer column since 2012 favor Upton. The RBI favor Upton. The runs favor Upton. The steals favor Upton. I will grant you that Harper has been the better overall offensive performer, outside of the fantasy numbers, but the fact that you can list Upton next to Harper, and the comparison actually works, should remove the shine from the belief that Harper is elite, that is unless you also toss Upton into the pot of stardom.
In six seasons here are the dollars earned by Harper (taken from the BaseballHQ Forecaster).
In six years Harper has returned one superstar season.
Only once has Harper earned $30.
In fact, Harper’s only earned $25 twice. Ben Revere has done that.
Add it all up and… only once has Harper returned first round value.
Does that make Bryce Harper a fantasy superstar?
Returning to Upton, he produced $139 of value the last six years in a 5x5 setup.
The last six years Harper has produced $140 in value.
So, I ask, is Justin Upton a fantasy superstar? He certainly isn’t, which obviously means neither is Harper.
I know there will be those of you will argue with that statement. You can’t. It’s a fact. Age doesn’t matter. What if’s about playing time don’t matter. Potential what could be efforts that haven’t yet occurred don’t matter. The fact is that the last six years that Justin Upton has been every bit the fantasy performer that Bryce Harper has been. Being a truthful/factual statement, how can any of you possibly argue that Harper is a superstar in the fantasy game if you aren’t willing to say the same thing about Upton? You can’t, but I know some of you still will.
In the end, I guess the answer to the question of “is Bryce Harper a superstar?” is one of perspective. There is no way you can possibly make the case that he is a fantasy superstar, the data is irrefutable there, but perhaps you can bob and weave your way to proving he’s a superstar in the game of baseball, though I would be disinclined to accept that argument at this point in time.
You can hear Ray, Monday through Friday, on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87). Ray is on The Fantasy Drive 8-10 PM EST Monday-Friday, and he’s also on the Guru Elite Show Thursday from 2-4 PM EST. You can follow Ray on Twitter at @baseballguys.