It goes without saying that I have spent a considerable amount of time angling against Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. I have openly questioned the Nationals' decision to recall the then 19-year-old phenom and make him a permanent member of their starting line-up. I then chided Tony LaRussa and Major League Baseball for naming Harper to the National League All-Star team instead of Martin Prado of the Atlanta Braves. And then to close out the trifecta, I (a man who has absolutely no say in the matter) chose Wade Miley as my pick for the NL Rookie of the Year award, a trophy that inevitably went to Harper.
Some would read that and say that I have a personal ax to grind with the aforementioned Harper. It is actually quite the contrary. I feel he is a phenomenal talent, but my posts were backed up with thoughts of rushing a 19-year-old and playing to media sensationalism. Of course, Harper proved me wrong in terms of his maturity and his readiness to be a Major League star. And while I won't cave on my argument for Prado a year ago, the right evidence could easily beat me on the Rookie of the Year voting.
Well, I'm here today to prove that I am capable of change.
Harper has been on fire to start the spring and is already in mid-season form in regards to his cockiness and his desire to be in the line-up at any given time. Reading that lead me to reviewing what the stat pundits are predicting for the affable outfielder heading into his sophomore season. Before we get there, let's have a look at his stat-line from 2012, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com:
2012 - 597 AB/ 98 R/ 144 H/ 26 2B/ 9 3B/ 22 HR / 59 RBI/ 18 SB/ .270 BA/ .817 OPS
Not bad at all for a 19-year-old who played just 56 games above A-Ball in his career. It shows just how advanced Harper was, but it also showed that there was room for improvement. So with that said, one would expect that the experts would see Harper as making a steady climb in 2013, right? Not exactly.
Noted statistician Bill James sees Harper making just modest gains in 2013:
659 PA/ 24 HR/ 105 R/ 65 RBI/ 20 SB/ .823 OPS
Dan Szymborski at The Baseball Think Factory, the man behind the ZiPS projections is a little more generous to Harper, but not much:
651 PA/ 26 HR/ 89 R/ 70 RBI/ 21 SB/ .834 OPS
So I have ask myself what these guys are seeing, or rather not seeing, from Harper's game? When all is said and done, their projections seem to be nothing more than extrapolating Harper's 2012 numbers over a full season. They don't seem to lend any real room for improvement, which you would have to expect from a player with such a lofty ceiling.
Sure, someone could point to the fact that a full winter of preparation by MLB scouts will help pitchers attack Harper better. That said, wouldn't we have seen a similar response to him later in the season, after he had been around the league once or twice and the book got out on him? Instead, we saw Harper have his best split in the season in September/October:
Sept/Oct - 126 PA/ 27 R/ 37 H/ 8 2B/ 3 3B/ 7 HR/ 14 RBI/ 5 SB/ .330 BA/ 1.043 OPS
With that in mind, and a full year of maturity under his belt, if Harper is half the player that we are made to believe, than one would expect him to improve on last year's campaign, with his performance in the last month of the season as proof that he is adjusting to the league rather than the other way around.
While I am not predicting that Harper will have the astronomical numbers that Mike Trout had a year ago (Trout likely won't either for that matter), you have to give the man credit. He has proven the naysayers wrong and shown that he a more mature ballplayer than any other player at his age.
Isn't it time we start giving Bryce Harper credit where credit is due
FYI, this is just a placeholder post. My real post got wiped out last night and I am in the middle of rewriting it and will have it up later today. I apologize for the delay, but thought you might enjoy this in the meantime.