2012: The year the Mayans thought the world would end. And also, the year that saw the coronations of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as next-generation superstars of baseball.
As I ran across this tweet recently, it prompted the idea for this retrospective/predictive piece.
With so many superstars in baseball today, we are incredibly fortunate to be living in something of a golden age for the sport. Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Julio Rodriguez, Manny Machado, Ronald Acuna Jr., and the list goes on and on.
But there was once a simpler time in this game, a time where the debate in baseball was centered around Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. So let’s revisit that time, and check in on things.
Revisiting the Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout debate in MLB
Both players burst onto the scene as rookie All-Star sensations in 2012 and have each carved their own path since. Trout has been with the Angels all these years, while Harper took his talents to Philadelphia in 2019, where he figures to be the rest of his career after starting out in Washington.
A look at their stats side-by-side paints a picture of dual greatness:
Mike Trout (career): 82.8 bWAR, 353 home runs, 1.002 OPS, 176 OPS+
Bryce Harper (career): 42.5 bWAR, 285 home runs, .913 OPS, 143 OPS+
Both have, of course, dealt with their fair share of injuries over the years as well (including 2023 for Harper as he recovers from Tommy John surgery). But even factoring in all the missed time, Trout has definitely had the better regular season career to date. The Angels’ superstar also has three AL MVPs as compared to the Phillies’ superstar’s two NL MVPs (one in Washington, one in Philadelphia).
But when it comes to playoff success? Harper’s got the clear edge. He’s the one with so much as a World Series appearance, reaching the Fall Classic with the Phillies in 2022. His signature moment during that run, however, came in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Padres.
Harper also made the playoffs in four other seasons with the Nationals.
Trout, for what’s it’s worth, has just one playoff appearance in his career with the Angels, and that came way back in 2014. It didn’t result in much, either, as Anaheim suffered a sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS that season.
It’s a shame that Trout only has that brief playoff experience on his ledger, because a star of his caliber deserves to be on the big stage more. But he chose the Angels and the money long term, and those actions have had consequences.
So in this nostalgic debate between Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, who has had the better career? And who will finish with the better career when it’s all said and done? Ultimately, it depends what you look for in a player.
Trout is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, lack of post-season appearances aside, because of his utter greatness over the last decade-plus. If you’re looking for the stats, Trout has them.
If you value winning, however, Bryce Harper is your guy. His NLCS Game 5 home run will live on forever, and he’s got a couple MVPs to his name, too. But that’s not to say Harper doesn’t have the overall stats, because he does. Just not as good as Trout’s in roughly a similar sample size.
This is all a thought exercise and a matter of preference more than anything else, because when it’s all said and done, both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have had fabulous careers so far. And both players should only continue to build on their respective success going forward.