By almost any measure, either in traditional statistics or advanced metrics, Bryce Harper’s numbers in 2015 were eye-popping. He led the National League in runs scored (118), tied for the lead in home runs (42) and finished second in walks (124) and batting average (.330), and his 9.5 wins above replacement were the best in baseball.
Harper also led the major leagues in two key “slash” categories: on-base percentage (.460) and slugging (.649). The only other player to accomplish that in the past 10 years? Miguel Cabrera in 2013, the year after he won the Triple Crown.
Harper not only had one of the best seasons in the post-steroids era, his performance also puts him on a short list of the greatest players of all-time.
In a span of 50-plus years between 1947 and 1997, there were only nine times when a player led the majors in both on-base and slugging percentages. It was accomplished more frequently prior to that, by a group of 11 Hall of Famers including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner.
When on-base and slugging are combined (as on-base plus slugging), Harper’s 1.109 OPS puts him in even more elite company — only nine players have led the majors in both on-base and slugging percentages and had a higher combined OPS.
Harper was 22 this year, and the average age of the players listed below is 29. When sorting the on-base and slugging leaders by age, the list of other 22-year-olds narrows to just three: Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and Ted Williams.
Here’s the complete list, ordered by age, of players who led the majors in on-base and slugging in the same season, since the American League started in 1901:
|1941||Ted Williams*||Red Sox||22||1.288|
|1942||Ted Williams*||Red Sox||23||1.147|
|1919||Babe Ruth*||Red Sox||24||1.113|
|1946||Ted Williams*||Red Sox||27||1.164|
|1979||Fred Lynn||Red Sox||27||1.059|
|1967||Carl Yastrzemski*||Red Sox||27||1.040|
|1938||Jimmie Foxx*||Red Sox||30||1.166|
|1939||Jimmie Foxx*||Red Sox||31||1.158|
|1957||Ted Williams*||Red Sox||38||1.257|
* Hall of Famer
Worth noting: Bonds holds three of the four highest OPS seasons in history, but when he led the majors in on-base and slugging with the Pirates in 1992, his combined OPS was lower than Harper’s this year. Larry Walker had a higher OPS than Harper in 1999, while playing half his games in mile-high Colorado. Cabrera is still active. McGwire and Lynn are the only others on the list not in the Hall of Fame.
For any fans curious about where Harper’s season places him in franchise or D.C. history, it depends on the parameters.
Among the counting statistics, Harper set the franchise record for walks, but including the entire history of major league baseball in Washington, he doesn’t even crack the top five. Frank Howard hit the most home runs in D.C. history, and Alfonso Soriano still holds the home run record for the Nationals/Expos.
Where Harper does come out on top of the local leaderboards is in the advanced metrics:
|WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT|
|ON-BASE PLUS SLUGGING|
** The original Senators moved to Minnesota as the Twins in 1961. An expansion Senators team replaced them the same year, but moved to Texas and became the Rangers in 1971.
If Harper wins the Most Valuable Player award, he would be the first Nationals MVP, the first MVP in franchise history, and the first MVP for a D.C. team, dating back to the first Baseball Writers award in 1931. A look at several who were top contenders:
Andre Dawson, runner-up in 1981 and 1983: The Expos made the playoffs for the first and only time in Montreal during the strike-shortened 1981 season but with fellow Expo Gary Carter in sixth place splitting off some of the votes, Mike Schmidt won the MVP award. Dawson had a similar situation in 1983, when he hit .299 with 32 home runs and 113 RBI and stole 25 bases, but teammate Tim Raines placed fifth and Dale Murphy won his second MVP in a row.
Gary Carter, runner-up in 1980: Behind a catcher who hit 29 home runs and drove in 101, the Expos won 90 games but finished second. Dawson split the Expos vote in 7th place, but Schmidt was the unanimous choice.
Joe Cronin, runner-up in 1933: The shortstop and player manager, who hit .309 with 118 RBI and led the league with 45 doubles, was one of four Senators in the top 10 in MVP voting, including Heinie Manush in third place and pitchers General Chowder (AL-leading 24 wins) in 7th and Earl Whitehill (22 wins) in 9th. The Senators won 99 games but lost the World Series to the Giants. Cronin finished in the top 10 five times in his career without winning an MVP award.
Moises Alou, third in 1994: The Expos were in first place when the season was cut short by another strike. Alous hit .339 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI, while Larry Walker finished 11th and Marquis Grissom and Ken Hill tied for 12th in the voting, but Jeff Bagwell was a unanimous MVP choice.
Al Oliver, tied for third in 1982: The Expos first baseman won the batting title with a .331 average and led the league in hits (204), doubles (43) and RBI (109).
Roy Sievers, third in 1957: The left fielder, who batted .301 and led the league with 42 home runs, 114 RBI and 331 total bases, received four first-place votes, the most of any player in Senators history, but the team finished in last place. Four other players also received first-place votes, and Mickely Mantle won the MVP.
Heinie Manush, third in 1932 and 1933: The Senators outfielder had better numbers in 1932, but but he hit .336 and led the league with 221 hits and 17 triples for the 1933 pennant winner. He recived two first-place votes but unfortunately had to split the vote with Cronin and two other teammates (see above).
Frank Howard, fourth place in 1969: The best MVP showing for the second Senators franchise in Washington. On a team that finished fourth but won 86 games, Howard hit .296 with 44 homers with 111 RBI and 102 walks. He had even better numbers in 1970, but Howard was fifth in MVP voting as the team dropped to last place.
Anthony Rendon, fifth in 2014: The highest any Nationals player has finished, Rendon led the league with 111 runs and hit 21 home runs.
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Alfonso Soriano was listed as Washington’s home run leader with 46 in 2006. It was Frank Howard in 1969 with 48.