Rare are the opportunities to acquire a superstar, let alone a superstar just entering his prime. Even more rare is to be in a position to sign such a player. All of the stars are aligned, and it's an exciting time to be a White Sox fan. Bryce Harper is on the radar. Here are four things to consider on the free agent phenom.
Forget about batting average.
Simply forget it exists. It doesn't matter. Bryce Harper had a .393 on-base percentage in 2018. Eight White Sox players qualified for the rate statistic leaderboard in 2018. The highest OBP among them was José Abreu's .325. Harper's was SIXTY-EIGHT points higher. The White Sox haven't had a player with a .393-or-better OBP since Paul Konerko in 2010 (also .393). Harper was ninth in the Majors in OBP in 2018. Better than Paul Goldschmidt (.389). Better than Freddie Freeman (.388). Better than José Altuve (.386). Harper reached base 273 times this past season. Three players were on base more. Mike Trout (279), Alex Bregman (278) & Freeman (274). Being on base is the most important thing you can do on offense.
He's a generational talent entering his prime.
Seven players have had at least three seasons of 20+ HR and 100 Walks through their age 25 seasons. Mickey Mantle, Frank Thomas, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Charlie Keller, Adam Dunn (yep) and Bryce Harper. Harper is entering his age 26 season. He already has 30.7 wins above replacement (via Fangraphs). White Sox great Paul Konerko had 23.8 WAR in his entire career. Only 11 players in MLB history have topped Bryce Harper's total of 184 home runs before turning 26. Eight of them went on to hit at least 500 career home runs. One other is in the Hall of Fame (Orlando Cepeda). The other two are Andruw Jones… and Mike Trout.
Don't worry that Harper is a lefty who last played for the Nationals.
Besides, his first name is Bryce, not Adam. Dunn & LaRoche struggled mightily with the White Sox after coming over from the Nationals. But let that be where the comparison ends. When the Sox acquired the pair of Adams, they were already in their early to mid 30s. Struggles when moving from one league to another do occur from time to time. However Frank Robinson, Dick Allen & Vladimir Guerrero are examples of players who moved from NL to AL and won MVP in their first season in the new league. The difference is talent level. I'm willing to place Bryce Harper, having already won an MVP (2015), on that higher talent level.
In Defense of his Defense…
Harper scored -26 in Defensive Runs Saved in 2018. Only Charlie Blackmon (-28) was worse among outfielders. It stands out for sure, but it's way out of line with the rest of Harper's career. Harper's Defensive Runs saved by year, beginning with 2012: 14, 4, 0, 9, -3, 4, -26. Did he all of a sudden become terrible at defense? It's possible but I doubt it. Defensive metrics are a work in progress; it's unwise to evaluate a player using single seasons. Either way, Harper's offensive value far outweighs any defensive shortcomings he may have.
The money is there, the future is in place. Chicago is a big stage, and a good fit for Bryce Harper. It would be a great signing if it were to happen.