The Great Debate: Trout Vs Harper

Christian La Fontaine (Harper):

Let’s not waste any time. Bryce Harper is the biggest star in Major League Baseball, no exceptions. His case is built on the “four P’s:”

Power. Performance. Pedigree. Potential.

No other player in the game can generate power as effortlessly as Harper. His .ISO from 2015, his last healthy season, was a sky-high .319. The next highest on the list was Chris Davis with .300, and Davis ran a strikeout rate 10% higher than Harper did. Mike Trout came in third that season all the way down at .290. Trout is a very good player, no doubt about it, but he can’t compete with Harper when it comes to power.

Staying in 2015 we saw Harper finally hit his stride. Producing a 197 wRC+, the highest since Barry Bonds, and leading the league in fWAR. He produced on the basepaths, in the field, and at the plate, knocking Trout off the top spot for the first, and only time since 2012.

The last two “P’s” go hand in hand. Harper was the first overall pick in the 2010 entry draft, Trout went 25th in 2009. Trout has already greatly exceeded expectations, he’s a great player and it’s been a great run, but he’s clearly peaked. Harper on the other hand still has room to grow into the expectations that the entirety of the scouting world had for him. If he can stay healthy, the future of the league belongs to him. Twelve, thirteen WAR seasons could be in store, as Kevin Garnett said, “Anything is possible”.

Trout makes a diving catch on a Harper blooper

Mitch Bannon, (Trout):

Don’t get me wrong, Bryce Harper is a very good baseball player. But the best? No.

Mike Trout is the undisputed, unchallenged, and all but unanimous best player in baseball, and will be for the foreseeable future. Unlike Harper, Trout’s case is built on years of unparalleled performance which leaves, in the minds of the rational, no question of his standing among the league’s elite. Bryce Harper may have made the debate close in 2015, but after this past season it has been made clear, Mike is Tier 1. Everyone else follows.

In almost every statistical category, Mike Trout is the superior baseball player. In 2015, easily Harper’s best season, he only managed to be marginally better than Trout. When Harper came crashing back to earth this past season, Trout regained his commanding lead in the “best player in the league” debate. In contrast to Harper, Trout’s hitting stats are only a fraction of what makes him such an incredible player. As well as being one of the best sluggers of his generation, Trout is an elite baserunner and defender, qualities Harper cannot boast. This has led to a noticeable difference in career WAR, with Harper averaging a lowly 4.26 WAR over the past five seasons. Trout more than doubles that number, at an astounding 9.6.

Harper has been a very volatile player, while Trout has been the pinnacle of consistency. For Harper to even get his foot back in the door of this conversation, he will have to put up his 2015 numbers for the next couple seasons. Until then, Trout’s still on top.

La Fontaine:

First of all, 2016 cannot be characterized as Harper “crashing back to earth”. Per multiple experts, he was playing hurt, it isn’t legitimate to hold that season against him.

Secondly your point about Trout being the superior defender. It’s true that King Fish patrols the center while Harper plays in the corner, but that’s because of his team’s choice, not because Harper can’t play in center. In fact, by the metric Defensive Runs Saved, Harper has racked up 24 DRS in just 5,572 innings over his career. Trout on the other hand, in over a thousand more innings, has only managed to save his team seven runs. Trout may look like the better defender, but the metrics very clearly prefer Harper.

Finally, let’s remember that baseball is a form of entertainment. Harper is a true superstar, fun, dynamic, competitive, and he possesses a head of awesome hair. Trout is possibly the most boring man to ever live. So if the question is “which player is better for the league?”, the correct answer would be “That’s a clown question bro.”

I can’t dispute that Trout has had the better career to this point, but that isn’t what this debate is about. The question we are attempting to answer is who is the better baseball player, and in the field or at the plate the answer is unquestionably Harper.

Trout/Harper Slugging % Comparison (FanGraphs)


If Baseball was simply a test of individual tools, not only would Trout be the best player currently in baseball, but the best of all time. The edge that Trout has over Harper comes down to the simple fact that there are almost no aspects of Bryce Harper’s game which are superior to Trout’s, except for perhaps his ability to entice stranglings. Even Harper’s greatest asset, his power, has yet to produce more than a single home run greater than Trout’s highest total.

If 2015 Bryce Harper is truly his legitimate form, then this debate has gravity, but the point remains that at Harper’s best, he is still a close second to Trout. Trout has shown time and time again the ability to adapt, leading the league in a different major statistical category every year of his career.

Harper must come out swinging in 2017 if he is to truly challenge the Angel of the AL. Not if, but when, Harper fails to reach his pinnacle set in 2015, a certain Dodger southpaw may have a better case to top Trout than Harper ever will. Trout’s team may be bad, his personality may be bland, but his performance does not waiver. He is the best right now, and maybe the best of all time, and his throne remains unchallenged.

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