Year of the Rookie
When Bryce Harper was called up to the Major Leagues on April 27, he became the favorite in many eyes to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, well before he ever stepped on the field. The hype that has surrounded Harper since his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year-old has been entirely overwhelming and unprecedented in the sport’s history. But they don’t give awards for hype – such honors have to be earned. And, whether Reds and Diamondbacks fans agree or not, Bryce Harper earned the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year.
First, some respect for his competition. Todd Frazier was very impressive, coming out of relative obscurity when Joey Votto was injured to post a .273/.331/.498 line, slugging 19 home runs and notching 51 total extra-base hits. Wade Miley, the Arizona hurler, came up huge with 16 wins and nearly a 3.9/1 strikeout-to-walk rate over almost 200 innings in his first full campaign. Both are worthy candidates, and either could have been Rookie of the Year, had it not been for Harper.
To start, there are the now-20 year-old’s overall numbers. He collected more home runs (22) and extra-base hits (57) than Frazier, while also stealing six times as many bases (18/3). His .270/.340/.477 overall line was slightly weaker, but he ripped through September and October at a .330/.400/.643 clip, finishing far stronger in the season’s final month than either Frazier (.176/.235/.257) or Miley (2-2, 5.40 ERA). And perhaps the biggest difference was that Harper did all of this while playing above average defense at one of the game’s toughest positions.
While Frazier actually compiled a negative dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) of -0.2 at first base, third base and left field (according to Baseball Reference), Harper notched a dWAR of 1.4, leading to an overall WAR of 5.0, nearly twice Frazier’s 2.7 total. And while measuring pitcher WAR against position player WAR is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, Miley’s was 3.2, just for frame of reference. The point is, Harper’s all-around excellence defined his season as being greater than a simple look at his slash line.
But if you love raw offensive stats, he led in plenty of categories there, too. Harper paced all NL rookies with 98 runs scored, 17 more than his next closest competitor and 43 more than Frazier. His nine triples were also best, even one more than AL Rookie of the Year winner Mike Trout. Even if you discount the intangibles and individual moments – like his steal of home off Cole Hamels on national television – Harper had an impact on the game in 2012 that few, if any, could match.
All that’s left now is to wonder just how much better he might be next year.