Bryce Harper is having a phenomenal defensive season for the Phillies. Will it be enough to notch him his first career MLB Gold Glove award?
Alright, okay, hang on a second. Everyone take a deep breath and hit *pause* on whatever angry tweet you were about to send my way. This is not clickbait, this is not a joke, I’m not trying to be funny. Bryce Harper is having one of the best defensive years in his career in his first year with the Phillies, and in doing so, has legitimately put his name in the hat for his first National League Golden Glove.
After Harper gunned down Ozzie Albies trying to make it to third in Tuesday’s night win over the Atlanta Braves (shown below), I thought to myself, “Dang, I feel like Harper has done that a ton this year.”
I pulled out my laptop, hopped on to baseball-reference.com, and was genuinely shocked when I realized that Bryce was towards the top of the NL in pretty much every outfield defensive stat. I did some more digging, comparing his numbers to other top right fielders in the National League and now here I am, fully ready to convince each and every one of you all that Harper at least deserves consideration when it comes to a Gold Glove this season.
When talking about how the MLB coaches/managers decide outfielder Gold Glove winners, the five main categories I’ve seen voters gravitate towards are innings played, Range Factor per Game, outfield assists, fielding percentage, and of course errors. So how does Harper stack up to the rest of his competition when it comes to those 5 stat groups?
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Range Factor: First (1.99)
Innings Played: First (1,172)
Outfield Assist Total: First (11)
Fielding %: Fourth (.985)
Errors: Seventh among 11 qualifying players (4)
Obviously I’m a Phillies fan and I am going to be biased to an extent, but you can’t make these numbers up. Harper is ranked first in three major defensive categories among all NL right fielders, and fourth in another.
Those rankings alone should at the very minimum put him into the conversation for being one of the top outfielders in the league. Given all that, we still can’t just gloss over that error total. Errors are something Harper has always struggled with since entering the league, averaging just over four in the outfield per season (4.375). If anything prevents him from acquiring his first defensive accolade, it will be this statistic.
Now that we’ve seen how Harper stacks up to his current MLB counterparts, let’s take a look at how he compares to former Golden Glove winners. The three we’ll be analyzing will very simply be the last three Gold Glove winners at right field (in the National League). I re-included Harper’s current season stats for convenience.
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Nick Markakis, 2018: 2.03 RF, 1,387.1 Innings Played, 9 Outfield Assists, 2 Errors, .994 Fielding %
Jason Heyward, 2017: 1.77 RF, 919.0 Innings Played, 5 Outfield Assists, 2 Errors, .991 Fielding %
Jason Heyward, 2016: 1.69 RF, 1,029.2 Innings Played, 4 Outfield Assists, 2 Errors, .991 Fielding%
Bryce Harper, 2019: 1.99 RF, 1,172 Innings Played, 11 Outfield Assists, 4 Errors, .985 Fielding %
Harper’s numbers seemingly fit right in with two of the top defensive outfielders in the league over the last few seasons. Harper is right up there in innings played and fielding percentage.
What Harper lacks in error total he makes up for with his high outfield assist number. His range factor is comparable to Markakis’ last season and blows Heyward’s out of the water. I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at the concept of Harp’s current statistics being included in that grouping above.
Will Harper Win?
No, probably not. The delusional rhetoric of Harper being a “bad defender” is still very much alive, and baseball media loves to bash on him whenever they get a chance. It’s a coach/manager voted award but even they aren’t immune to bias.
Harper is one of the most hated players in MLB and barring any record-setting years (2012 and 2015 for example), it’s always hard to imagine Harper winning “voted on awards”. With a fan favorite like Cody Bellinger also having an elite defensive year AND being on the NL-best LA Dodgers, it’s more practical that he’ll take home the title.
Regardless of if Harper is recognized by the league for his defensive efforts in 2019, he truly has been a top-tier defender. After a career-worst year fielding the baseball in 2018 (just one outfield assist), Bryce has obviously dedicated a ton of time and effort into re-inventing himself as a premier lockdown corner outfielder (ranking THIRD in the entire MLB in outfield assists).
We all expected the run production, but I’m not sure any of us could’ve predicted such a quick progression in defensive capabilities from our 330 million dollar man.