With another day comes another scathing criticism of Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. The most recent blow came from a players’ poll that found that the outfielder is considered the most overrated player in the game.
While playing, he often subjects his body to unnecessary harm, as evidenced by the injury he sustained in 2013 by running into a wall to catch a fly ball in a blowout. He’s pompous, with his long hair flipping around as his helmet flies off on every double. He’s inconsistent, enduring prolonged hot and cold spells throughout each season.
The buzz about Harper has already picked up steam faster than the actual baseball season, which is still two weeks away. It began in late February, when Harper was asked about the addition of pitcher Max Scherzer to the Nationals’ starting rotation in an interview that triggered widespread media reaction. Harper’s response — “Where’s my ring?” — suggested that he had lofty expectations for the Nationals’ postseason before the season had even started. It fit perfectly into the pompous Bryce narrative as a brash statement by an unproven player.
But if we take a step back and listen to Harper’s remarks in their proper context, they seem a lot less ridiculous. When directly prompted about his response to the addition of the top free agent on the market to a rotation that was already considered one of baseball’s best, Harper joked, “It’s stupid. I started laughing. I said, ‘Where’s my ring?”
That reaction seems pretty normal — Harper was thrilled about an exciting addition to his team, an event that prompted many sportswriters to wonder if the Nationals were headed toward postseason victory, just as Harper did.
Harper’s reaction, however, could have been interpreted differently. Harper’s single-minded determination is something that any team needs to haul itself through the marathon of the MLB regular season. His comment wasn’t necessarily pretentious as much as it expressed Harper’s eagerness for the Nationals’ upcoming season with a highly rated roster.
Presently, the buzz about Harper surrounds the aforementioned players’ poll, which leaves no doubt as to where the league’s opinion lies on the issue of Harper, who earned his spot as the most overrated player with a resounding 41 percent of the vote. The next closest vote-getter was Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who received 15 percent of the vote. This is the second straight year that Harper has earned the title.
Perhaps, as The Washington Post suggests, these results are driven by the jealousy of players on less successful teams, as stars from high-profile teams like the Dodgers, Yankees and now Nationals consistently lead these type of polls.
At the very least, the dichotomy between the treatment of Harper and the treatment of a player like the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout is an interesting one to see.
Trout spent twice as much time in the minors as Harper and spent extra time in the majors before his first full season in the MLB. He is also a year older than Harper. Nevertheless, Trout has always been the mark Harper is compared against.
Trout, who was chosen by 61 percent of polled players as the “best overall player in MLB” in the same ESPN poll, is undoubtedly putting up better numbers than Harper. Trout’s career batting average is 30 points higher than Harper’s. He has consistently recorded higher WAR (Wins Above Replacement, which evaluates a player’s overall contribution to his team) totals, and consistently stayed healthy while Harper has missed significant chunks of the last two seasons.
Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that comparisons to Trout, in addition to the narrative surrounding Harper’s attitude, have come to dominate the career of a player who is still only 22 years old. The fact that Harper is constantly compared to Trout is what brands him as an overrated player. Any player compared to Trout, one of the best players in the game, will inevitably seem overrated.
I don’t want to be a Harper apologist. Harper’s injury-prone tendency, to me, is critical. He needs to prove that he can stay healthy and consistently display what he is capable of for an entire season to be considered among the best.
Nevertheless, Harper seems to feed off the narrative about his pretentious attitude the media has developed for him, and he’s done just fine when healthy. But it would be a shame if that narrative caused fans of the sport to turn away from him unnecessarily.
Harper still has a lot to offer. There’s more to the Nationals than their pitching, and Bryce Harper is an injury-free season away from a breakout. Keep watching.
Matt Raab is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. AROUND THE DISTRICT appears every Tuesday.