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Bryce Harper Was Never Overrated, And His 2021 Campaign Has Proven That

The "Bryce Harper is overrated" narrative was one of those weird movements I just never understood, and it's why I'm genuinely happy that he has had such a massive offensive season in 2021. Will it be enough to get the Phillies to the playoffs? Probably not, but that doesn't fall on his shoulders. He's been excellent. I feel like the "Bryce Harper is overrated" push began after his monster season in 2015 and picked up steam after leaving Washington. Indeed, the Nationals didn't re-sign Harper and won the World Series the following year. That says a lot more about what the Nationals could do without him than what Bryce Harper wasn't able to do while with them. The Nationals were able to put their funds into other pieces. With the money they could've (and wanted to use) on Harper, they brought in Anibal Sanchez and Patrick Corbin, two pitchers who were vital pieces to their World Series run. It's also worth noting that the Nationals won the World Series that year in large part due to a career season by Anthony Rendon, a fully healthy Stephen Strasburg, and a second-year player in Juan Soto, who became a top-five hitter in baseball at the age of 19. They needed all those things to go right to be champions that year, which is worth pointing out for anyone who was under the belief that Bryce Harper was some dead weight for the organization. The Nationals never had a Bryce Harper issue. 

Harper got called up when he was 19 years old and has never been bad. He's never technically had a lousy season. He's had years where he wasn't as good as he probably could've been, but we're talking about a guy with a career .913 OPS. Since Harper came to the league in 2012, he ranks ninth in wRC+, ahead of Freddie Freeman, Miguel Cabrera, and Josh Donaldson, three men who have won MVPs. He has a career WAR just under 40, and he's only 28 years old. He has ten years left on his deal, and assuming he is just above good for half of that; he'll probably have a pretty strong Hall of Fame case by the end of his career. 

While Harper is one of those players who is a victim of his success, he's a victim of someone else's success. Many people believed that Bryce Harper was going to have Mike Trout's career. He has not. Do you know who else hasn't had Mike Trout's career? Pretty much anyone ever. Mike Trout has essentially lapped every player in baseball in WAR since he came to the league in 2012, the same year that Harper did. And while Harper has lacked the consistency that someone like Trout has had (I mean seriously, who put an 8 WAR year in and year out?), it's not unreasonable to say that his peak has been about as good as anybody's, least offensively. This is where the "victim of his own success" part comes in because Bryce Harper, in 2015 at the age of 22, had one of the single most extraordinary offensive seasons of all time. He had a 9.7 bWAR, and he won the MVP. He was Mike Trout good that season. It seemed like following that season, the expectation was that he would do that every year. If he didn't match those numbers, and if he didn't lead the Nationals to a World Series, he'd be a failure.

Bryce Harper maybe hasn't lived up to so many people's expectations according to the eye test. The truth is eyes can be deceiving. The eye test is not a reasonable way of evaluating players. Based on the eye test, Javier Baez is probably one of the more electric players in baseball. While I like him as a player, the numbers also reflect that he's got a career wRC+ of 104, which is slightly above league average. Just because a guy doesn't consistently develop into a 10 WAR player doesn't mean he isn't incredibly valuable. His defense is not nearly what it used to be, but he doesn't play a premium defensive position, and he makes up for it with his offensive production. All he does is get on base, and right now, he leads all of baseball in OPS and OPS+ for the second time in his career. So I'm glad to see that his monster season has allowed many naysayers from the peanut gallery shouting "overrated" to be silent for the time being because Bryce Harper's been an exceptional talent from day one, and he still is.