Bryce Harper & Mike Trout: They Sure Don't Look Like Superstars
One of the big stories surrounding this year’s All-Star Game was whether rookies Mike Trout and Bryce Harper would make it into the game despite being blatantly left off the ballot in what was, according to Angels and Nationals blogs, an act of high treason about equal to wire-tapping the Oval Office. Those in the pro-rookie camp argue that great play is great play, and seniority should have nothing to do with an individual season’s performance. Anti-rookie advocates (or shall I call them “pro-veteran” to make everything sound positive?) argue that someone who has barely even played two months of the season shouldn’t even be considered.
When all was said and done, the American League came to their senses and included Mike Trout, a player that we at numberFire have rated as the 4th best outfielder in the American League. Meanwhile the National League relegated the new National(s) Treasure to Final Vote status, where fans were so clearly outraged that he lost in fan voting to David Freese. numberFire says they got that right too: his 0.11 nERD when the teams were announced on June 30 wouldn’t have even made him one of the best NL outfielders to be snubbed (that would be Colorado’s Dexter Fowler or Arizona’s Jason Kubel).
It’s happy and cheerful that the MLB got everything right. Hugs all around in their offices, and I hope that they enjoy snack time. But we at numberFire want to look ahead. In order to do that, I took a look to see what the top comparisons to Trout and Harper’s 2012 have been since the 2000 MLB season. Surely, Mike Trout plays like a young Curtis Granderson or even Robinson Cano. And naturally, Bryce Harper must be similar to Josh Hamilton or Carlos Beltran. That’s what I was expecting, at least.
The actual results? They’re not that pretty. The fact is that the player-types that Trout and Harper are emulating this season have never had superstar-level MLB success.
|Top 5 Comparisons|
If those five names don’t get you excited as an Angels fan, then I don’t know what will. You know, besides maybe watching ants crawl up a wall, or maybe flicking a light switch up and down for an hour, or maybe even the exhilaration that comes with watching a ceiling fan go in circles. OK, there’s absolutely nothing exciting about this list. But Trout’s a star! How can these be his comparisons?
Well, for starters Corey Koskie had precisely one solid year in the major leagues – the 2001 season that compares most favorably with Trout’s. That year, Koskie even received a few MVP votes (he finished 25th) en route to hitting 26 homers, 103 RBIs, and stealing 27 bases. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those three totals were his career high in every single category – he would never have above 71 RBIs or 11 steals in any other of his nine MLB seasons. Today, Koskie is sadly remembered more for the post-concussion syndrome that ended his career rather than anything on the field.
The other names don’t exactly strike fear into opposing pitchers’ hearts, either. Raul Mondesi may have been a slugger in Backyard Baseball 2001, but the current mayor of the city of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic (a fact entirely too random for me to make up) ended his career with only one All-Star appearance. Steve Finley’s 22 homers and .287 average were so invaluable to Arizona that they promptly traded him to the Dodgers at the next year’s trading deadline. Aaron Bleeping Boone gained his NSFW middle name in that 2003 postseason, along with his only All-Star appearance that year, but could hardly be considered a superstar. Even the most recognizable and “Hey, that kind of makes sense”-worthy name, Torii Hunter, finished the 2008 season referenced with his worst home run total (21) and batting average (.278) of any season immediately surrounding it (2006 to 2010).
|Top 5 Comparisons|
Think that Trout’s comparisons settled the debate of which rookie’s better, Nationals fans? That’s a clown question, bro. Mostly because, frankly, Harper’s comparisons haven’t fared much better. Although he never finished in the top 10 of balloting, Bobby Abreu, has received MVP votes 7 times in his long, illustrious career. The 2008 season was not one of them. In his final year with the Yankees, Abreu did have 20 home runs. But his walk percentage (10.9%) was the lowest of any season in which he had at least 250 plate appearances, and his on-base percentage of .371 was lower than any single season during his 1998 to 2006 prime in Philadelphia. Maybe I’m misquoting, but I’m pretty sure Sports Illustrated said “Bobby Abreu last year – that’s what this guy will do!” when they named him cover boy while still in high school a year later 2009 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1156215/index.htm).
From there, the comparisons only go downhill. If Steve Finley’s 2003 had a Pokemon comparison, it would be Ditto – Trout’s year also looked just like it, and it the chances of it helping you win a fight are slim to none. Russell Martin did win a Silver Slugger in 2007 – but at catcher, where the competition is much less stiff than what Harper’s facing in his comparison to other National League outfielders. Martin has never hit 20 home runs or had an on-base percentage at .400 in a season. Shawn Green, also known to some of our readers as the guy every other kid in your synagogue wanted to be when he grew up, had three superstar-worthy seasons – 1999, 2001, and 2002. The 2000 season that compares to Harper’s 2012 was a down year in almost every respect, with home runs in only 3.4% of his at-bats. Ray Durham, meanwhile, only made the All-Star Game twice in his career at a easier-to-make-the-All-Star-Game second base position. And 2001 wasn’t even one of those years.
Bryce Harper and Mike Trout will get better, their numbers improve, and will probably go to more All-Star games than anybody on these lists. They have the talent, and perhaps more importantly the publicity, that may in fact drive them to superstardom. That’s not the point. The point is that, historically, players built with Harper and Trout’s specific toolsets have never achieved the stardom that so many have predestined for them in the past two months since coming into the league. Raul Mondesi, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Shawn Green – all great players, but not the type of guys who singlehandedly transformed a franchise. Of those players, only Hunter and Green ever finished top-ten in the MVP vote, and neither ever won one. Perhaps it’s time that fans reevaluate their goals for Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, downgrading from Gods on Earth to Great Pieces (but not the only pieces) to Help Us Win.