Is Bryce Harper an All-Star?

Is Bryce Harper an All-Star? I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a clown question, bro–of course Harper should be an All-Star!” But it’s a much trickier question than it seems.

Just so we get this out of the way: I, personally, am using my write-in vote to vote for Bryce Harper as an All-Star.

Let’s assume you’re a perfectly rational All-Star Game Voter.

(I know there is no such animal as a rational All-Star voter, but stay with me. I promise I’ll get to the irrational part of the All-Star calculus later.)

Since you only get three votes for All-Star outfielders, then the rational choice would be to select the three “best” outfielders, based on their performance so far. That would give you a good shot at assembling the “best” possible All-Star roster to beat the hated American League.

Looking at the All-Star Ballot.. We can eliminate a number of players from consideration immediately.Marlon Byrd is out–can’t be an All-Star if you can’t stay in the Major Leagues. Emilio Bonifacio, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Jon Jay, and Matt Kemp are all out. These players are currently on the DL, or have been on the DL and have played so little that it isn’t remotely fair to include them in consideration.

We’ll add Harper to the “Outfield” category, even though he didn’t make the official ballot (since he was called up after the start of the season).

So, the rational choice would be to pick the three “best” outfielders from the remaining available selections. But who’s the best outfielder?

Is it by WAR? If that’s your criterion, then Harper shouldn’t even be in the conversation. In 41 games an 177 plate appearances, Bryce Harper has accumulated 1.2 WAR–enough to rank him 21st out of 44. The top 3? Michael Bourn (ATL; 3.7 WAR), Ryan Braun (MIL; 3.0 WAR), and Martin Prado (ATL: 2.9 WAR).

WAR, however, is a “counting” stat–the more you play, the more WAR you accumulate. Harper hasn’t been in the league a long time. Maybe his rate stats would land him in the top three? He hasn’t had enough plate appearances yet to qualify for any of the league rate-stat leaderboards, so let’s arbitrarily set the minimum at 170 plate appearances, so that Harper only just “qualifies”. That drops the pool down to 30 possible candidates.

Well, let’s see. Harper’s slash line as of this writing is .303/.384/.548. That ranks him 8th in Batting Average, Tied at 3rd in On-Base Percentage, and 6th in slugging.

Harper’s wOBA is .395–enough to rank him 6th.

This doesn’t look good for Harper. Given our selection criteria, he’d only barely merit consideration on the basis of his high OBP. But in no other statistical category would Harper be one of the three “best” outfielders.

But you know what? I’m voting Harper anyway. The All-Star Game is an exhibition–a spectacle. No matter how much the Commissioner wants me to believe that “This one counts,” I can’t get myself worked-up about it nearly as much as I do as for a regular, midweek Nats game.

Harper as spectacle is another thing entirely. It is tough to deny the immediate, visceral appeal of his monstrous home-run power, his disciplined batting approach, his astonishing speed, his old-school hustle. He is, in any given game, fun to watch.

I want to have fun as I watch the All-Star Game. I’m voting for Bryce Harper. We’ll leave the serious ballots for NL Rookie of the Year–and that isn’t something I’ll have to worry about for quite some time.

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