Part of the reason for that high homer/at-bat rate was Harper’s patience at the plate. He finished second in baseball with 124 walks. This being his age-22 season, it is worth noting that only two players in the modern era (since 1900) earned more walks at such an early age.
In fact, if we look at a rate statistic – as opposed to a simple total – we see that Harper’s 0.190 walks per plate appearance are tied for second among modern-era players at such a young age. The player who leads in both the total and walk rate categories: the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams.
Harper also ended up having the highest OPS this season in the NL (and MLB overall), with a whopping 1.109, a comfortable 104 points ahead of the Reds’ Joey Votto. The only other players in the 21st century to lead the MLB in OPS by that much: Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds.
To say that Harper joined impressive company this year is an understatement. Even if you adjust OPS to account for league averages and ballpark factors (OPS+), Harper easily edges out Votto again for tops in the NL, while enjoying a wide margin of victory over Mike Trout for MLB-best as well. With his 195 OPS+, Harper calls to mind the dominance of Barry Bonds in the early 2000s (four straight OPS+ values greater than 230 and four straight NL MVP Awards), without the illegal enhancements.
Looking into more “fancy” statistics, Harper finished with the most runs created, while finishing as a co-leader with Zack Greinke with 9.9 wins above replacement. Harper also tied for the MLB lead with Trout (who had 28 more plate appearance to pad his stats, increasing his totals) with 8.9 offensive wins above replacement (oWAR), which was 1.9 wins greater than the total of Votto, who finished second in the NL in this category as well.
You have to once again go back to Bonds in his prime to find an oWAR that high in the NL. In fact, besides Trout, who posted 9.7 oWAR in his age-21 season in 2013, the only other players in the modern era with an oWAR as high as Harper’s in their age 22 (or earlier) seasons were Ty Cobb with 9.5 at age 22 (1909) and Williams with 10.9 at age 22 (1941). Regardless of the fact that few players have ever accomplished what Harper did this year at such a young age, his season measures up to the all-time greats at any age. However, Harper really shines when we discuss his merits of adding value to his team, specifically in the form of win probability.
Though Harper finished fourth in the MLB – third in NL – in total win probability added (WPA), when accounting for game context (the leverage index of each plate appearance), Harper’s 7.87 situational wins added (WPA/LI) gave him another landslide victory.
His 2015 total ranks 25th among all qualified batters’ seasons since 1940 (WPA/LI is not available for earlier years). Among the 24 slots ahead of Harper are some of baseball’s most prolific batters: Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Duke Snider and Mark McGwire. Furthermore, he beat out the best seasons of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Pujols, Joe Morgan and Jeff Bagwell.
In fact, including Harper’s, only 89 WPA/LI values of six or greater were posted by a qualifying batter in a season in the National League over this 75-year time frame. If we account for number of opportunities, by adjusting these incredible seasonal values of WPA/LI for plate appearances to get situational wins per 100 plate appearances, Harper ranks 10th. The top four belong to:
I’d say that bodes well for Harper and securing his mark on the record books.
Adam got his start with the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective and can be found on Twitter @AdamGilfix.