Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday that Bryce Harper was awarded National League Rookie of the Month for September. While that trophy will no doubt find a nice home on the mantle next to the identical one he took home in May, we’re more interested in the 19 year-old’s candidacy for a larger award: National League Rookie of the Year.
Harper should not win the award because he’s the most famous first-year player in the league. He shouldn’t win because television networks choose to portray him as the face of the Nationals as they storm into their first-ever postseason. And while Harper may reap the benefits of his notoriety when the final vote comes down, it is his performance on the field and his unmistakably profound impact that will have earned him the award, should he win it.
Why? Harper changes the game around him. His ability – and propensity – to bunt, forces the third baseman to play near the line and square with the bag. His success against righties prompts pitcher-for-hitter bullpen moves from opposing managers. His speed prevents infielders from double-clutching, lest he turn a routine grounder into an infield single. Gather the ball too casually as an outfielder and a single becomes a double, or a double a triple. Did we mention he leads the team and ranks in the top 10 in the league with nine triples? In fact, he’s the first rookie with nine triples and 20 home runs since Nomar Garciaparra who, you guessed it, won Rookie of the Year back in 1997 with the Boston Red Sox.
On May 6, the Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in the final game of NATITUDE Weekend. Cole Hamels decided to “welcome” the rookie to the big leagues by plunking him on his first pitch with two away and no runners on base in the first inning. When Chad Tracy followed with a single to left, Harper raced all the way to third base, right in the face of left fielder Juan Pierre. And we all remember what happened next, as the 19 year-old timed Hamels’ pick-off lob to first base, breaking for the plate and stealing home.
On June 5, the Nationals were embroiled in the tightest division race in baseball, as they opened a three-game set at home against the Mets in a three-way tie for first place with New York and Miami. The opening game of the series dragged into the 12th, as Ian Desmond kept the Nationals alive long enough for Harper to plate the winning run on a two-out, two-strike, bases loaded liner to left field. It was the first walk-off hit for any teenager since Gary Sheffield in 1988, three years before Harper was even born.
Harper leads all National League rookies with 57 extra-base hits, including 22 home runs. He is just the second teenager in history to hit 20 or more longballs in a season, joining Tony Conigliaro, who belted 24 for the ’64 Red Sox. Harper is doing more than standing out among his fellow rookies, though, as he is tearing up the league at a pace almost unfathomable for a teenager.
His 98 runs scored are 17 better than his closest competitor and ranks him fifth in the National League, ahead of Atlanta leadoff man Michael Bourn. His .651 slugging percentage and 69 total bases were both the second-highest marks in all of baseball for the month of September, while his 26 runs scored led the Majors. That’s right – no Major League Baseball player crossed home plate more times than Bryce Harper in the month of September.
After his second inning steal Tuesday night, the center fielder and two-hole hitter on the best team in baseball sat just two swipes shy of a 20-20 season, with an OPS north of .800 for the season.
Harper doesn’t need his Rookie of the Year case made for him. But hey, we figured we’d do it anyway, to remind everyone of just how historic a season he has delivered. Share your own favorite Harper moments in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #HarpeROY.