Will Bryce Harper ever achieve superstar status?

Since the start of the 2012 season, one of the most talked-about players in all of baseball has been Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. The 21 year old was called up that year at the tender age of 19, and was extremely impressive. His 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and 18 stolen bases warranted him a trip to his first All-Star Game, as well as the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then , Harper’s young career has been something of a roller coaster ride. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but will he ever be the once in a generation talent many experts believed him to be?

Harper’s journey through the Major Leagues

After winning the ROY in 2012, Harper looked to be getting even better in 2013. Through April of that season, he hit .344 with 9 home runs and 18 RBIs. For that first month, he seemed ready to become an MVP-type player, following in the footsteps of fellow outfield phenom and 2012 AL ROY Mike Trout. However, that’s when things started going downhill.

In May of 2013, Harper hurt his knee crashing into the wall in Dodger Stadium. A month-long trip to the disabled list did not turn out to be enough, as he would not be the same player after returning. For the year he actually put up nearly identical statistics to his rookie year, with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, and a .274  batting average. These were good numbers, but slightly misleading, considering Harper was at his best in April. After his injury, though, he struggled mightily at the plate, partly because of the residual effects of his knee injury.

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Best in the business: the overwhelming dominance of Clayton Kershaw

Last week during the All-Star break, there were a lot of comparisons between two great players: Derek Jeter and Mike Trout. The main storyline was the retirement of Jeter, the face of baseball for the last twenty years. But the secondary story was understandably intertwined: the emergence of Trout as his replacement.

Personally, I am one of Trout’s biggest fans. Over the last three years, he has probably been one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. However, when considering who the face of baseball is going to be in 2014 and beyond, there’s another player who should get consideration: Clayton Kershaw.

The case for Kershaw by the numbers

The point here is not to take anything away from Mike Trout, but rather to recall how amazing Kershaw has been. The Dodgers ace was called up in 2008 and struggled at times, putting up an ERA of 4.26, but from 2009 to the present, his numbers have been out of this world. In 2009 and 2010, his performance saw drastic improvements as he posted ERAs of 2.79 and 2.91, respectively. During those years, he was a great young pitcher taking the majors by storm, but he had yet to take his place as the best pitcher in baseball.

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Midseason awards: American League

As we near baseball’s All-Star break, it’s time to take a look at the players who have really stood out in the half-season gone by. There has been a plethora of outstanding individual performances so far, so it is difficult to determine who specific award winners would be if the season were to end today. That said, it’s an entertaining exercise to predict which players will take home the trophies, specifically the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards. We’ll see how they stand up at the end of the year.

Don’t view this list as the be-all and end-all, but more as a way to better understand what each player has done up to this point. Today I’m going to take a look at some American League standouts. I’ll do the same for the National League tomorrow.

AL Most Valuable Player

In the American League, a handful of players have really pulled ahead in the race for MVP. Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout, possibly the best all-around player in baseball, is having another outstanding campaign. His batting average (.303) and stolen bases (10 SB, 0 CS) are slightly down from previous years, but his 20 home runs and 64 RBIs are on pace to set career highs. He has scored 60 runs, has a .986 OPS, and leads the league in the sabermetrician’s favorite stat, Wins Above Replacement (5.1) .

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