This isn’t about Bryce Harper as a 19 year old. this isn’t about Bryce Harper ranking fifth all time in SLG for a 19 year old, or Harper ranking seventh in OPS for a 19 year old, seventh in runs scored, eighth in total bases, fourth in homers, eighth in walks, and eighth in stolen bases. All as a 19 year old. This isn’t about any of that. This is about Harper in a different context. This is about Bryce Harper as a centerfielder.
According to advanced metrics Harper has played not just a good or decent centerfield. Judging him by his 7.4 UZR and 30.7 UZR/150 Harper has played a great centerfield. Watch him play and there will be times when he misjudges a fly ball and a double goes over his head, but there are far more times that his short choppy strides carry him to the ball and he takes a hit away. He has made catches in both gaps, come in on sinking liners, and gone back on balls that would be over a lot of centerfielder’s heads, and for most of those catches he never has to leave his feet.
In total Bryce Harper has been worth 2.7 WAR on the season and ranks above such notable centerfielders as Shane Victorino, BJ Upton, Curtis Granderson, and Colby Rasmus. When it comes to pure offense Harper’s .327 wOBA has him tied for twelfth in the majors with Denard Span and ahead of Shane Victorino, BJ Upton, and Colby Rasmus once again. When it comes to pure power there are eight centerfielders with a higher SLG than Harper including Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Jones.
During Harper’s slump in July and most of August Harper lost his plate discipline, but his .321 OBP is still relatively close to the average centerfielder’s OBP of .331. When it comes to the aforementioned slump Harper hit .188/.265/.306 from the All-Star Break until August 22. Harper has recently had his power return to him and as long as he can lay off the outside breaking ball his slump should be over. When breaking down Harper’s season by month he has twice had an OPS under the major league average for a centerfielder of .748. Those two months just happen to be July and August where Harper had an OPS of .619 and .732 respectively.
Forget about Harper as a 19 year old. He has had a good season for a 19 year old, he has had a good season for a rookie, and he has had a good season for someone playing centerfielder for basically the first time. More importantly for the Nationals, Bryce Harper is having a good season for a centerfielder. His total slash line of .252/.321/.432 compares well to an average centerfielder’s slash line of .267/.331/.417. Harper has played slightly above average centerfield offensively and great centerfield defensively. This is the type of production the Nationals have been searching for from centerfield since Brad Wilkerson was traded for Alfonso Soriano.
In the context of a centerfielder Bryce Harper is average, but add back in everything else. Add back in the fact that he is a 19 year old rookie learning a new position at the major league level. Think about it with all the context and Harper’s season looks a bit different. As a 19 year old rookie playing a new position Harper is already as good as the average major league centerfielder. People that think Harper is having a disappointing season got caught up too much in the hype and forgot that Harper’s future is still in the future. For the present though Harper is fine as he is.