Bryce Harper vs Mike Trout: Which player finishes with the better career?

Oct 3, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) before the game against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

For roughly the past decade, there’s been a Bryce Harper vs Mike Trout debate raging amongst baseball fans.

Both got to the big leagues at roughly the same time and both have tried to show why they should be considered among the greatest baseball players of all time. But when it comes down to the current era, the debate is likely to come down to Trout vs Harper for the best player of the 2010s and this generation of players.

Bryce Harper vs Mike Trout comparison

With both players having more than a decade of experience under their belt, who is leading the Trout vs Harper comparison?

When all is said and done, will it be Bryce Harper or Mike Trout who’s remembered more fondly by fans as the best player of his generation?

Even if both still have plenty of years left to play, let’s take a closer look at the Bryce Harper vs Mike Trout comparison, at least to this point.

Average

Despite his powerful and sometimes violent swing, Harper isn’t that bad of a contact hitter. Following the 2022 season, he owns a .280 career average, which is better than most sluggers can say after more than a decade in the majors. However, he’s had just three seasons in which he’s hit .300 or better.

Trout, on the other hand, is a career .303 hitter, showing a much better propensity for putting the ball in play and collecting base hits. He’s had six seasons in which he finished with an average over .300, including three straight years from 2016 to 2018, a stretch that was preceded by a .299 average in 2015.

Plus, if you take away his brief stint in the majors in 2011 before his first full season in the majors in 2012, Trout has never ended a season with a batting average worse than .281, which is better than Harper’s career average.

Power

When it comes to power, Harper should have the edge over Trout. He led the National League in home runs in 2015 when he mashed 42 long balls whereas Trout has never led the American League in homers. Trout also has three more seasons in which he hit at least 34 home runs and likely would have made it a fourth in 2022 if he hadn’t been sidelined for a big chunk of the season with a shoulder injury.

However, Trout still has the edge when it comes to power. Harper, compared to Trout, has about 150 fewer at-bats in the majors but 65 fewer home runs. Trout hit 30 home runs during his rookie season in 2012 and has surpassed 30 homers six more times.

In fact, Trout has hit 40 home runs or more three times, including the 2022 season when he was limited to 119 games because of an injury. Trout’s career slugging percentage after 2022 sits at .587 while Harper is quite a ways behind at .523.

Defense

Somewhat surprisingly, neither Harper nor Trout has ever won a Gold Glove. For what it’s worth, Trout did win the Fielding Bible and Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award as a rookie in 2012.

He’s also become one of the most consistent center fielders in baseball, making challenging plays look almost effortless despite always falling short in Gold Glove voting.

Harper, to his credit, has turned himself into a strong defensive player after beginning his baseball journey as a catcher. Harper’s arm strength, at least before his shoulder issues in 2022, has always been an asset for him defensively. He also has enough athleticism to be a solid right fielder, even if he’s not among the elite defensive outfielders in baseball.

Speed

While speed is frequently overlooked, it’s a critical component of comparing high-level players. Again, Trout has a clear advantage in this area. He led the league in stolen bases as a rookie with 49, allowing him to become part of the 30-30 club.

He’s had two more seasons with over 30 stolen bases and two more with at least 20 stolen bases, although speed has not been a part of his game in recent years.

Harper, meanwhile, has just three seasons with at least 15 stolen bases, and only once has he eclipsed 20 in a season. However, while Trout has phased out using his speed to steal bases, Harper has tried to make it a bigger part of his game. Between 2018 and 2022, he averaged 12 stolen bases per season, becoming opportunistic in the way he uses his speed and steals bases.

Verdict

Even if they both seem like two of the biggest stars in baseball today, Trout’s overall resume far exceeds what Harper has accomplished to this point in their respective careers.

Harper might go down as one of the greatest first-overall picks in MLB history whereas Trout was overlooked until the 25th overall pick one year earlier, but Trout has had a far better career in the majors.

Over the last decade, Trout has been the better contact hitter, the better power hitter, the better defensive player, and the better base runner. In some of these areas, the gap between the two is bigger than most fans would expect them to be.

Even though Harper has won MVP twice, Trout has the edge with three MVP awards. Harper’s seven all-star selections and two Silver Slugger awards and far surpassed by Trout, who is a 10-time all-star and a nine-time Silver Slugger winner.

Of course, both players are still chasing a World Series ring with Harper getting to the postseason more frequently. But when comparing their careers, Trout has been the better player, and it’s not even that close.