MLB Star Power Index: Honeymoon over for Bryce Harper? Cody Bellinger and CC Sabathia in elite company
Here's who's been buzzing in MLB this week
Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- a weekly temperature reading that tells us which players are owning the baseball conversation right now. While one's presence on this list is often a positive, it's not necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you're capturing the baseball world's attention for one reason or another. The players listed are in no particular order. Thanks to Brad Botkin and our NBA compadres for letting us borrow the concept.
All right, so Bryce Harper this week is earning buzz for the wrong reasons. Not the worst reasons, but the wrong reasons. Harper of course inked a $330 million whopper of a deal with the Phillies this past offseason, which necessarily raised expectations. This is also Philly, the rooters of which make a fetish out of yelling at athletes. In keeping with civic tradition, Harper was booed by some on Opening Day after going hitless. He won back hearts and minds with an early season power surge, but of late he's been struggling.
Over his last 20 games, Harper's put up a line of .187/.307/.333 with just two home runs. He's gone three straight games without a hit, and it's been 11 straight since he had a multi-hit game. This is what you get with Harper, though. You get vacillations and performance swings and craters and mountaintops. This is player who authored WARs of 1.1, 10.0, and 1.5 in successive seasons. His full-seasonhas ranged from 198 to 111. He's a "high-beta stock" among star players, and you know that going in.
Fans being fans, they're not often willing or able to take the long view. And that's why Harper is once again hearing boos at Citizens' Bank Park. Harper to his credit. (Aside: A good preemptive strike for Harper would be to audibly boo himself after strikeouts.) What Harper surely does not endorse is being spit-roasted by rock and/or roll LEGENDS Smashmouth on media sociale. Recoil in horror:
They're Giants fans, and not so long ago they wanted Bryce in San Fran. On the other hand, they once famously commanded All-Stars to get paid. Harper is .
In any event, catch smoke from Smashmouth, and you're halfway to making this list. Being Bryce Harper takes care of the other half. Tune in next week after he gets lit up by Marcy Playground.
CC Sabathia just recently became the 17th moundsman in MLB history and just the third lefty in the history of history to . Given that and given that he needs just three more wins to get to 250 for his career has raised the matter of whether he's bound for the Hall of Fame.
He's got those milestones going for him, and Steakhouse Thunderdog (nickname in progress) has also racked up a WAR of 62.7,, absent other considerations. Sabathia, though, has other considerations.
For instance, he won the AL Cy Young award in 2007, and in 2009 he was named ALCS MVP as a member of the eventual-champion Yankees. The 2008 Brewers almost certainly don't break their playoff drought without Sabathia's excellence after acquiring him from the Indians in early July of that year (he pitched to a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts for the Crew and logged seven complete games and three shutouts over that span). We probably wouldn't be having this discussion if Sabathia hadn't staved off deep decline and put together a nifty run since turning 35.
There is also of course a cultural component to any Hall of Fame dossier. Sabathia's is many faceted, but in this space it's never a bad time to recall when, last year, Carsten Charles reminded the third-place Rays that sometimes children need to be punished:
Because of tender page-viewers, the end was just cut off just prior to Sabathia's fight-ending syllable. "That's for you, b----," CC said. Or, to be more accurate, "That's for you ... b----."
Sabathia in that last start of the regular season fell just six outs shy of making good on a $500,000 incentive clause, so in essence he paid half a million doubloons to defend the besmirched honor of Austin Romine. Power move. Know what's even more of a power move? .
In any event, Sabathia's quiet heroism begat the only autographed ball worth buying:
And one of eight or nine t-shirts worth buying. So why are we going on about L'Affaire B---- from last season? Because when you're talking about a future Hall of Famer, you talk about the past.
Cody Bellinger ended the month of April with a slash line of .431/.508/.890, which made him the obvious choice for NL Player of the Month. Those numbers, not surprisingly, put the 23-year-old Bellinger in elite company:
Paces will not hold, but if by some act of all available gods they did then Bellinger would end the 2019 regular season with ...
- 69 home runs
- 235 hits
- 186 RBI
- 157 runs
- 93 walks
- 78 strikeouts
- 29 stolen bases
Would that be a good season? People, that would be a good season. That alone is enough to land Codywood on this hallowed ledger, but as always let's appreciate the swing -- the swing that calls to mind to Craig Stadler scything a wheatfield -- that's been Bellinger's signature for his entire pro career:
Yeah, that one.
Speaking of the Player of the Month hardware, Tim Anderson took AL honors. He's a solid defensive shortstop who's got a 160 OPS+ at the moment and has yet to to be caught stealing. That's laudable, but Anderson also makes the cut because he's emerged as the warrior-poet for having fun in baseball.
after he, you know, hit a home run and acted like something other than a chagrined churchgoer. Lesson learned? Nah, man. Tim Anderson soon thereafter undertook the same flourish with the same palpable enthusiasm:
And hang this in the Louvre or let there be no Louvre:
So Anderson has emerged as something of a standard bearer for the "free expression in baseball" movement. His inner boldness, by the way, doesn't stop when he's presented with a nest of microphones. Peep what Anderson recently told SI's Stephanie Apstein:
"I kind of feel like today's Jackie Robinson. That's huge to say. But it's cool, man, because he changed the game, and I feel like I'm getting to a point to where I need to change the game."
Hyperbole? Sure, but this space is so often devoted to the intrepid.
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