Bryce Harper is once again off to a tremendous start to his season. Building off his MVP season in 2015, Harper has continued to state his case as the game's top player. He did not begin his career as fast as Mike Trout, but it appears that at the age of 23, it is all coming together for him.
In order to get an idea of how great a start Harper has had, I've compared his start to 2016 with every "great" season since 2000. The definition of "great" for this article is any season with an fWAR over 10. This includes four seasons from Barry Bonds (2001-2004), two seasons from Mike Trout (2012 and 2013), and one season from Alex Rodriguez (2002). Also, Bryce Harper's 2015 MVP season is included to compare with his start this season. Plate appearances were determined to get as close to the 132 that Bryce Harper has through May 8th.
Unfortunately for Harper, he does not lead any of the above categories, but he is certainly on a fantastic pace - one that so far matches up well with last season's. His home runs are right on par with his MVP season, but he is striking out quite a bit less.
An early storyline to the 2016 season has been the amount of walks, specifically intentional walks, given out to Harper. No one was intentionally walked more than Barry Bonds in 2004 with 120, as Matt Goldman documented earlier this spring. At this stage of the season in 2004, Bonds already had 29 intentional walks. To put that in perspective, Harper has only eight at this point. He clearly is the man Nationals opponents will not let beat them, but for now he isn't getting the "Bonds treatment," but "Bonds-lite treatment."
As great as 2015 was for Harper, there has been an early improvement in his game. Harper is walking more and striking out less. The biggest improvement is his decrease of almost 10 percentage points in strikeout rate. If there was ever a weakness in Harper's game, it was his lack of contact. Earlier in his career, Harper's swinging strike rate went as high as 13.8 percent. That rate is at 9.0 percent so far this year.
Harper's strikeout rate pales in comparison to some of the other great seasons. The K rates of Barry Bonds in 2002 and 2004 are historically low at 6.9 and 6.0 percent, respectively. That is not a knock on Harper, but rather another point toward showing how historically great Barry Bonds was from 2001-2004. To further understand how "great" the aforementioned seasons were, here are their totals for their respective seasons.
Harper is off to a great start, but not an historically great start. There is nothing wrong with that; it just should be appreciated for what it is. The totals posted by Barry Bonds and to a lesser extent Alex Rodriguez were on a completely different level than most. There is little doubt Bryce Harper is one of the best, if not the best player in baseball today (I happen to fall in that category), but his start to 2016 is not on an historic level, but rather right on pace with his MVP season in 2015. I am sure the Nationals and Bryce Harper will take the same end result as 2015.
Carl Triano is a Contributor to Beyond the Box Score.
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