At each stage of his career, Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper smashed down barriers and set new records. He was an all-star by 19, his rookie season, and an all-star starter by 20. But injuries slowed his career trajectory over the past two seasons. Healthy and thriving this season, Harper, now 22, has morphed from one of the best young players in baseball to arguably the best player in the game, validated Sunday by his record-setting all-star selection.
Harper’s historic first half of the season has landed him a starting spot on the National League team for the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati on July 14. He was named a starting outfielder for the second time in his career after receiving an NL record 13.86 million fan votes, nearly four million more than the second-highest vote-getter, the Giants’ Buster Posey. Harper joins the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, who are both injured, as the players voted into the NL’s starting outfield.
“Definitely excited,” Harper said. “Being able to play with some of the best in baseball at the all-star game and having a good time with everybody is definitely going to be exciting. I’m very happy and blessed to be a part of it. I thank all our fans and fans across the country that voted for me.”
Harper is the first three-time all-star in Nationals history and the first to be selected an all-star starter twice by fans.
“That’s a no-brainer,” teammate Jordan Zimmermann said. “You can see the numbers he’s putting up. He’s well-deserved.”
Harper sits at or near the top of the majors in many offensive categories: batting average (.347, tied for third), home runs (25, tied for second), RBI (60, fourth), on-base percentage (.474, first), slugging percentage (.722, first) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.196, first). According to FanGraphs.com, Harper leads all position players in the majors with a 5.4 WAR (wins above replacement), an advanced statistic that measures how many wins a player is worth over a replacement Class AAA player.
“I got a great group of guys around me,” Harper said. “Just being able to come in here and have fun and do the things we need to do as a group, as a family like we are. A lot of credit to them. A lot of credit to skipper. He’s there for me every single day. If I need something on the pitcher, if I’m not feeling right, just trying to keep me calm. And credit to Ian Desmond. He’s one of the guys who keeps me even keel every single day and really helps me out on a daily basis.”
Entering this season, Harper had an impressive .816 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his first three years in the major leagues. A knee injury in 2013 and thumb injury in 2014 prevented him from taking the next step in his development. Healthy, strong but lean in 2015, Harper has smashed opposing pitching, improved as an outfielder and became an even bigger household name. Aside from a few leg ailments, Harper has played in 76 of the Nationals’ 82 games. With the advice of Manager Matt Williams, Harper became an even more selective hitter.
“For me, the differences I see from this year as opposed to last year, he’s patient, he’s calm,” Williams said. “The numbers are really good, of course. We’ve all seen that. He’s taken the steps he wants to take to become the player he wants to be eventually. I think he’s taken big steps. We saw it last year in the postseason. He’s continued that through the first half of this year. We’re proud of him. He’s zoned into the strike zone and done well for us and hit in the middle of our lineup. He’s been our leader.”
Harper boasts a 1.196 OPS through the season’s first 82 games, which is on pace to be the 25th best all time for a single season, behind Lou Gehrig’s 1930 season and ahead of Rogers Hornsby’s 1922 season. The only player in his age-22 season to post an OPS similar to Harper’s: Ted Williams’s 1.287 in 1941.
Beyond Harper, only two other players in major league history have hit .340 or better with at least 25 home runs, 60 RBI and 60 walks through July 4: Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, who accomplished the feat in 1994 and 2000, and Hall of Famer Babe Ruth, who did it in 1921, 1926, 1927 and 1930.
“I enjoy [the all-star game],” Harper said. “There are some things that are kinda monotonous. I definitely enjoy it. I enjoy being around all the guys and just hanging out. That’s the best part. Being on the field and playing with guys you don’t normally play with, guys you’re playing against. And playing for a manager you never played for before. It’s exciting. Bring the family and take it all in.”
Harper has been invited to participate in the Home Run Derby on July 13, but is unsure if he will take part. Harper has said he is leery of participating because he doesn’t regularly take batting practice on the field anymore, part of a routine that has worked well for him this season. In addition, his best friend and father, Ron, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, can’t be his Home Run Derby pitcher.
“I’m not sure yet,” Harper said. “[MLB players’ union chief] Tony Clark actually texted me this morning. I told him I’d give him an answer [Monday] about that. My pops ain’t gonna throw to me. I’ll see what I want to do. I haven’t hit on the field in four months except for one time in Chicago because of the cage. That’s the only time I’ve hit on the field all year. We’ll see how I feel.”
The rest of the all-star roster — pitchers and reserves — will be announced Monday night. While the starting position players were selected by fan vote, the pitchers and reserves are chosen by player vote and by the all-star managers. Max Scherzer, one of the best pitchers in baseball so far this season, is likely headed to the All-Star Game, with closer Drew Storen possessing a solid case.
2015 MLB All-Star Game starters selected by fan vote:
C Buster Posey, Giants
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2B Dee Gordon, Marlins
3B Todd Frazier, Reds
SS Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
OF Bryce Harper, Nationals
OF Matt Holliday, Cardinals
OF Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
C Salvador Perez, Royals
1B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2B Jose Altuve, Astros
3B Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
SS Alcides Escobar, Royals
OF Mike Trout, Angels
OF Lorenzo Cain, Royals
OF Alex Gordon, Royals
DH Nelson Cruz, Mariners