Bryce Harper of the Nationals finished the 2013 season unable to legally buy a beer. Think about that for a moment before you cast scorn toward the young fella. What were you doing when you were 20 years old? I bet you were sleeping in after a night of boozing and beer pong, that you were skipping classes and that you were just hoping to eek out a good enough series of grades that your parents wouldn’t kick you out of the house. Bryce Harper was playing Major League Baseball – at a very high level no less.
Folks spent a first or second round draft pick on Harper this season, and upwards of $35 in auction leagues. They were very disappointed with the production they received, an understandably so. After all, Harper failed to hit .275, he didn’t hit 25 homers, he didn’t drive in 60 runs and he failed to scored 75 runs. Oh yeah, he also fell from 18 to 11 steals. Clearly he was a fantasy failure. But was he a real world failure, i.e., did he fail to show any growth in his second season in the league?
I know it was a disappointing effort folks but there was a whole lot to be enthusiastic about in regards to Harper’s 2013 effort.
(1) His batting average went up four points from .270 to .274 as his BABIP was virtually unchanged (it went down from .310 to .306).
(2) His OBP took a significant step up. He was just above the league average as a rookie at .340 but in 2013 that mark went up to .368, a strong mark in this day and age.
(3) Despite hitting less homers than he did as a rookie his SLG went up nine points to .486.
Yeah, that’s pretty good for a guy who “failed” isn’t it?
Moreover, Harper’s .854 OPS was the 11th best mark in the NL for a player with 495 plate appearances. Eleventh folks. And here’s the biggest factoid about his effort. His .854 OPS was tied for the 10th best mark in the history of the National League for a player who was 20 years of age or younger. Was he really a failure?
(4) Harper lost two homers from his rookie season. Of course, he also had 109 fewer at-bats. With that context we should easily be able to see that he actually improved as a home run hitter in year two. He hit a homer once every 24.2 at-bats as a rookie, a mark that he improved to once every 21.2 at-bats in year two.
(5) Harper had 59 RBIs as a rookie, 58 in year two, in 109 fewer at-bats.
(6) Harper scored 98 runs as a rookie, just 71 in year two. Harper scored once every 6.1 plate appearances as a rookie and once every seven plate appearances in year two. Remember, his OBP went up .028 points in year two so it’s pretty hard to blame him for the drop-off in this category.
(7) Harper improved his K rate. After striking out 120 times as a rookie leading to a strikeout every 4.98 plate appearances he whiffed only 94 times in year two leading to one strikeouts every 5.29 plate appearance. That’s a nice little improvement there.
(8) Harper not only cut his K-rate he also upped his walk rate in year two: one walk every 10.67 plate appearances in year one up to one every 8.15 plate appearance in year two.
(9) He did lose seven thefts from year one. Two main factors there. Injury limited him to 21 fewer games played, and that certainly played a part. Second, he injured his knee and that really hampered both his ability to drive the baseball as well as his ability to swipe a base. He’s not likely to become a 30 steal guy, but a run to 20 thefts in year three is certainly possible.
So we have a very interesting situation here. Harper failed to live up to expectations in 2013. He failed, terribly, to live up to 2013 fantasy expectations. However, he actually had one hell of season, for any second year player, especially when that season was played by a kid who was only 20 years old. Expect him to improve yet again in 2014, he’s just too talented not to. Is he worthy of being a top-20 selection in 2014 as he was in 2013? You could make that argument in either direction, but don’t forget that he’s still a wee young lad in terms of his baseball development. There could still be greatness here.
By Ray Flowers
Tags: Bryce Harper