What Bryce Harper did last season was amazing. Anytime a player hits 22 homers with 18 steals and 98 runs scored that is one heck of a season. When a player does that as a rookie it’s a rather remarkable season. When a player does that as a 19 year old it’s a season for the record books. Will the next great one build on a special rookie season in year two, and if so, how far up the mountain can he climb in 2013?
A look at some facts from 2012.
Bryce Harper hit 22 homers. Only one player 19 or younger ever hit more – Tony Conigliaro had 24 in 1964.
Bryce Harper had 59 RBIs. That is the 8th highest total ever for a player 19 years of age or younger (Phil Cavarretta had 82 in 1935).
Bryce Harper scored 98 runs. Only one player 19 or younger scored more (Buddy Lewis had 100 in 1936).
Bryce Harper had 18 steals. Only one player in the Modern Era (since 1901), 19 or younger, has ever stolen more bags (Ty Cobb stole 23 in 1906).
Bryce Harper had a .817 OPS as a 19 year old. No one 19 or younger ever had a better mark in a season of 502 plate appearances.
Given those facts, Harper must be looked at as an elite talent capable of immense things, the same point of view every person that has ever watched him play a game on the baseball field agrees with. This 19 year old kid was two steals and two runs from a 20/20, 100 season. Hell, Alex Rios and Carl Crawford have never done that. The question with Harper is how good will he be?
If we remove his name and age and just focus on the numbers, here is what we find.
He struggled against lefties hitting .240 with a .300 OBP and mere .415 SLG. He also struck out 51 times in just 183 at-bats against lefties.
He posted a BB/K mark of 0.47 which is basically league average. When he swung at a pitch that was thrown inside the strike zone he made contact 87 percent of the time, a solid number for a player who also owns a 20.1 percent K-rate.
His GB/FB ratio was 1.35, a bit higher than the league average. Moreover, his 33 percent fly ball rate was two percentage points below the league average making his homer total pretty impressive. The reason he was able to go deep 22 times was due to a solid 16.2 percent HR/F ratio. Anyone who has ever watched him hit knows that is a number he is more than capable of repeating and/or improving upon moving forward.
But we cannot remove the name on the back of the jersey from this discussion, can we? Much like the case with Mike Trout, these two players are once in a generation talents who just so happen to be starting their careers at the same time. Is it fair to either, particularly Harper since that’s who this piece is about, to treat him like every other youngster who has ever played the game? If I was to do that I would say that we should expect some moderate growth in year two. The average may not improve much, not until he cuts down the walks a bit and learns to be a bit more patient, but a repeat is well within the realm of the possible. I would also say that looking at the totality of the evidence that another run to 20/20 would be possible, though I would be a bit concerned about there being any homer growth since the fella didn’t hit as many fly balls as I would like to see.
Again though, is it fair to do this? Can we simply remove our beliefs/eyes when it comes to a generational talent like Harper? Do we change the way we evaluate players because of who Harper is and the fact that he accomplished so many amazing things as a mere 19 year old? That’s the exact point that analysis breaks down and the data might not be sufficient to explain what we are witnessing.
Is Harper capable of hitting .300?
NO. At this stage of his development he can be pitched to. If pitchers hit their spots they can not only get him out, but make him look bad in the process.
Is Harper capable of hitting 30 homers?
YES. Will he? Not without hitting more fly balls.
Is Harper capable of 20 steals?
YES. He nearly got there last year as a player with no big league experience an as one who got base at a .340 clip.
Is Harper capable of 80+ RBIs?
YES. The Nationals would seem to have a pretty stacked order, but it will still be tough for him to knock in 80+ runs if he hits out of the #2 hole (his spot for 117 of his 139 games last season).
Is Harper capable of 100 runs scored?
Duh. He had 98 last season. Hitting second obviously helps him in this category.
So what would you pay on draft day for a guy who could go .280-25-75-100-20. An awful lot right? I’m not saying that Harper will hit all five of those numbers. I’m also not saying he’ll fall short in all five categories. I merely use those numbers as a way to illustrate how most people will be viewing him on draft day which means if you want to roster Harper this year you will have to be willing to spend a top-25 selection. I don’t think I will be able to join that party. I know that he is an immense talent who we might one day look back on and be able to tell our children that we saw him play from the first day of his career, but I also know that he is only 20 years old and has a total of 139 games played at the big league level. I’d rather spend a top-25 selection on a player that I felt more secure about producing across the board than on Harper, even if there is a good chance that he ends up fulfilling those lofty expectations in 2013.
By Ray Flowers