Perhaps the most-hyped newcomer in Major League Baseball history immediately proved he deserves the spotlight. Harper has provided a fresh-faced injection of production and enthusiasm for a first-place ballclub. He may soon be considered the best 19-year-old hitter ever.
Although Harper has already accomplished a lot, he hasn’t done enough yet to earn a spot among baseball’s top players in a game that decides home-field advantage in the World Series. The all-star rosters will be announced Sunday, and even if the smartest sabermetricians crunched Harper’s numbers, they don’t add up to him being included on the National League team for the July 10 game in Kansas City.
After going 0 for 5 in Saturday’s 7-5 loss in Atlanta, Harper isbatting .274 with eight home runs and 22 runs batted in. Any rookie would welcome such solid first-half statistics, particularly one too young to legally order an adult beverage.
Factor in that Harper missed nearly a month of the season before being called up in late April, and his start is as impressive as his first-to-last-out hunger to win. In any objective comparison with the NL’s worthiest outfielders, however, Harper loses about as often as opposing hitters do against Nationals closer Tyler Clippard.
Harper has had fewer at-bats than anyone at his position in the all-star discussion, so it figures his run-production totals wouldn’t be on par with the group. Lining up his batting percentages against the leaders would make for the fairest form of judgment.
Harper has a combined on-base-plus-slugging-percentage number of .840. Again, that’s outstanding for someone in his unique position. But it ranks only 14th in the league.
The numbers just aren’t there.
Even Harper’s biggest champion struggled to offer a counter argument.
From the moment the Nationals signed Harper, General Manager Mike Rizzo has been in his corner like an attentive boxing cut man. Rizzo watches Harper with an exceptionally close eye.
When asked whether Harper should be an all-star, though, Rizzo put down his trumpet, “because he just doesn’t have a big body of work right now,” Rizzo said Friday.
Harper won’t be voted as a starter in fan balloting. It’s also doubtful that other big leaguers, who have a role in selecting the all-star reserves, would choose him. NL Manager Tony La Russa also will pick eight high-profile backups among position players and pitchers while ensuring every team in the league is represented. After those steps are completed, La Russa will compile a list of five NL players, and fans will select one in additional voting.
If Harper’s name is included on the end-of-the-road ballot, he should book a flight to Kansas City. His rock-star status would likely put him in the game.
Not that it should.
“I certainly wouldn’t want him on the all-star team as a gimmick,” Rizzo said. “Just because he’s a big name, and it would add luster to the game and that kind of thing, I wouldn’t want that. . . . That would be a slight to players who have earned it more than Bryce has.”
Some would suggest the commissioner’s office should simply ignore its own roster-constructing process and name Harper to the NL team for the good of baseball. As the thinking goes, having him on the roster would help to grow the game.
But Harper’s all-star time will come — repeatedly — without his being a sideshow act. And as we’ve all learned: Harper wants no part of clown questions.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid