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Bryce Harper's start to 2016 is great but not historically great

Even his own 2015 start is better than this year's.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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.

Player Team Season PA H HR RBI BB% K% wOBA wRC+ AVG OBP SLG fWAR
Barry Bonds SFG 2001 132 26 15 30 21.2 18.2 0.473 194 0.260 0.432 0.760 12.5
Barry Bonds SFG 2002 131 28 11 20 35.1 6.9 0.558 253 0.350 0.603 0.825 12.7
Alex Rodriguez TEX 2002 130 34 10 32 12.3 14.6 0.445 171 0.312 0.408 0.670 10.0
Barry Bonds SFG 2003 133 27 10 18 25.6 11.3 0.448 177 0.287 0.496 0.649 10.2
Barry Bonds SFG 2004 133 27 10 22 42.1 6.0 0.540 236 0.351 0.624 0.818 11.9
Mike Trout LAA 2012 129 35 5 14 9.3 22.5 0.375 144 0.304 0.364 0.522 10.3
Mike Trout LAA 2013 130 31 3 17 10.0 20.0 0.352 128 0.270 0.338 0.478 10.5
Bryce Harper WSH 2015 129 29 10 25 20.2 28.7 0.433 178 0.284 0.426 0.627 9.5
Bryce Harper WSH 2016 132 26 10 27 22.7 18.9 0.427 163 0.265 0.432 0.633 1.6

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.

Player Team Season PA H HR RBI BB% K% wOBA wRC+ AVG OBP SLG fWAR
Barry Bonds SFG 2001 664 156 73 137 26.7 14.0 0.537 235 0.328 0.515 0.863 12.5
Barry Bonds SFG 2002 612 149 46 110 32.4 7.7 0.544 244 0.370 0.582 0.799 12.7
Alex Rodriguez Tex 2002 725 187 57 142 12.0 16.8 0.424 158 0.300 0.392 0.623 10.0
Barry Bonds SFG 2003 550 133 45 90 26.9 10.5 0.503 212 0.341 0.529 0.749 10.2
Barry Bonds SFG 2004 617 135 45 101 37.6 6.6 0.537 233 0.362 0.609 0.812 11.9
Mike Trout LAA 2012 639 182 30 83 10.5 21.8 0.409 167 0.326 0.399 0.564 10.3
Mike Trout LAA 2013 716 190 27 97 15.4 19.0 0.423 176 0.323 0.432 0.557 10.5
Bryce Harper WSH 2015 654 172 42 99 19.0 20.0 0.461 197 0.330 0.460 0.649 9.5

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.

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Carl Triano is a Contributor to Beyond the Box Score.

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