Philadelphia Phillies: Analyzing whether Bryce Harper is overrated

CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 03: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies works out at Spectrum Field on March 03, 2019 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 03: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies works out at Spectrum Field on March 03, 2019 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper has consistently been ranked as one of the most overrated players in MLB, but are these ratings justified?

Throughout the course of the past two months, various baseball writers and publications have released MLB player rankings as we head into Opening Day. Bryce Harper, the Philadelphia Phillies prized free agent acquisition, naturally appears on every list, though seldom near the top as one of the best-ranked players.

Different week, same story.

Then today, The Athletic released its annual player-poll where players from all 30 Major League teams–encompassing roughly 30 percent of the league’s current players–were anonymously asked for their opinion on a myriad of subjects. One topic, in particular, asked players to name the most overrated player in the league.

Related Story. 4 bold predictions for Phillies in 2019. light

Guess whose name appears at the top of the list? None other than Harper, garnering 62 percent of the votes.


The one common theme throughout all the polls is that the 26-year-old slugger once deemed baseball’s “Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated while still in high school, is not nearly as good as his reputation suggests.

And they’re right.

Don’t get me wrong, Harper is a talented player and his acquisition elevates the Phillies status, but he alone does not make them legitimate World Series contenders. It’s he and his teammates that will propel the Phillies through the season ahead.

At the time of his signing, the 13-year, $330 million guaranteed contract was the highest guaranteed total ever given out in professional sports history. Mike Trout would come along a few weeks later and break that record, leaving Harper to have to settle for second.

But is Harper the second best player in baseball?


He’s not even the best player on his own team.

Nor is he the second or third best.

Harper is the fourth best member of the Phillies, behind Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins in that order. If starting a team, I would want those players before him from a purely baseball talent prospective.

But, as I’ve written before, baseball is a business. You have to spend money to make money, and Harper makes you a lot of money. So much so that the Phillies and owner John Middleton were willing to dish out $330 million over 13 years with eagerness and excitement.

Must be nice, right?

And it’s this arbitrary attitude that rubs baseball pundits and fellow players alike, the wrong way. How can a player that’s good, but with only one super-outstanding season (2015 when he also won the NL MVP award), be paid at such an extremely high level?

The question is valid, and those critical fail to understand the significance of marketability.

Bryce Harper is the sport’s biggest star. He puts fans in the seats, as evidenced by the estimated 220,000 spike in Phillies ticket sales following the first three days of Harper’s signing. His jersey sales have followed suit, setting the Fanatics record for most sales in a 24-hour span of any player in any sport in the site’s history.

But this money is pocket change compared to the revenue Harper creates on a national level for the Phillies.

On a widespread scale, Harper boosts his team’s presence via his social media followers, increases his team’s national media coverage, prompts more nationally-televised games, all of which equates to increased sponsorship sales and advertising dollars for Philadelphia.

Oh yeah, there’s that TV contract the Phillies signed with Comcast a few years back worth a reported $2.5 billion, with the Phillies receiving an equity stake in the network and advertising revenue.

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Think Harper’s presence helps? You better believe it!

Judging a player based on talent is a subjective evaluation. Advanced metrics such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) became relevant in part to help more accurately quantify a player’s value. But can they be trusted?

Would you rather a 35-year-old Joey Votto or a 26-year-old Hoskins manning first base for your team? When building a team, I’ll often take upside over past production. Yet, the numbers would suggest Votto.

As a player, Harper averages out to be approximately the 48th best player in the league based on his career totals in WAR since entering the league in 2012 (as calculated on FanGraphs).

Through seven seasons, he averages 4.4 WAR per season, with his highest rating of 9.3 WAR coming in 2015 (good for best in the league that year) and his lowest WAR, 1.6, in 2014 (good for 267th). This past season Harper, posted a 3.5 WAR, good for 76th best in the league.

As a marketable business entity, Harper is tops in the league. That’s why he’s being paid now the second highest contract in sports history, despite consistently producing at just a notch below that elite level.

Is Harper overrated? It truly depends on the premise of the question. As far as on-the-field productivity, Harper has not matched the level of enthusiasm surrounding his name thus far. But he’s only 26-years-old, and is just now entering his prime. As far as revenue-generator, Harper is already the best in the game.

Overrated or not, the Phillies will sign up for the opportunity to find out, and they’ll even pay $330 million for its exclusive rights, because Harper seems to be that special of a player.