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Man to Man: Bryce Harper VS Ryan Braun

In this edition of Man to Man, Dave takes a look at Bryce Harper and Ryan Braun. Who's your guy for 2014?


With the Man to Man series getting off the ground yesterday with an epic battle of two very talented, young, outfielders in the Puig VS Stanton debate, we turn our attention once again to the outfield. Before I get into each player specifically, remember this series will take two players who I project to provide similar value in 2014 and pit them against each other in a battle of projections and words - strong stuff, I know. I will then turn it over to you, the Fake Team Readers, to settle the dispute once and for all.

As mentioned above, we're going back to the outfield ranks today to find our two players. Both players are expected to be drafted highly in 2014 drafts, but both have some degree of question surrounding them. Our first player is Bryce Harper, who due to his all out style of play, appeared in only 118 games for the Nationals in 2013. Our second player is Ryan Braun, who due to injury and a PED suspension appeared in only 61 games for the Brew Crew in 2013.

Reviewing and comparing both players 2013 statistics side-by-side isn't going to help us much due to the large disparity in games played last season. Instead, I want to take a look at each players underlying skill components as a way to see how they stacked up against one and other despite their games played difference.

Harper: 12.3 BB%, 18.9 K%, .212 ISO, 18.0% HR/FB, 77.2% contact rate, 137 wRC+

Braun: 10.7 BB%, 22.1 K%, .200 ISO, 16.4% HR/FB, 79.5% contact rate, 135 wRC+

**League Average Contact Rate in 2013: 79.5%**

Of course on the season, Harper ended up the more valuable fantasy commodity in 2013, reaching 20 homers and 11 stolen bases despite time missed. As the underlying skill components show, both players possess valuable skill sets for both real and fantasy baseball, with strong walk rates, near league average strike out rates and impressive isolated power combined with the ability to turn fly balls into home runs.

As we head towards 2014, both players have questions surrounding them that fantasy owners must take into consideration. Will Bryce Harper learn what the warning track feels like and slow down when tracking a long fly ball? What effect will staying clean (presumably) have on Braun? Has he ever played a clean game in his career? How much do PED's even help a hitter (debate for another place and time).

My preliminary projections have both players surpassing the 25 homer / 15 stolen base mark in 2014. In terms of upside in both power and speed, I have to give the edge to Harper, as age is definitely on his side.

Harper will play the entire 2014 season at the age of 21 years old. Normally, this could give some pause to fantasy owners as players this young are still maturing both mentally and physically and just trying to hold their own in the big leagues. While it's true Harper is still maturing physically, he also has 257 big leagues games under his belt and 42 home runs already. Players like this do not improve at your typical rate.

Braun meanwhile, will play the 2014 season at the age of 30. It seems now a days, everyone is ready to start writing a player off as soon as he turns 30, which seems rather foolish to me. While there is no doubt players will start to slow down as they enter their 30's, the difference between 29 (when the general public thinks players are awesome) and 30 is one extra candle on their birthday cake. Of course the concern with Braun when it comes to power and speed is what will he provide assuming he's doing it clean. As I mentioned earlier, I have Braun projected in the mid to high 20's for home runs and approaching 20 stolen bases next season. Those are numbers any fantasy owner will take for their squad, but they're a far shot from the 30-30 and even 40-30 seasons he's put up in the past.

In terms of runs created (Runs + RBI's), I project both players to produce at elite levels in 2014. Both players are easily capable of providing their owners with 90-100 RBI's to go along with 85-95 runs scored. The combination of power and ability to reach base for both players are the driving forces behind these projections.

Lastly, we'll take a look at the projected batting averages for each player. For his career, Braun owns a .312 BA, but his .266 xBA last year has me wondering if the days of .300 are coming to an end. For projection purposes, I have Braun penciled in at a .285-.290 BA for 2014. Harper meanwhile has hit for a consistent .272 BA over his short career, with his xBA of .280 showing it was about right. That .280 figure is a number I'd feel comfortable projecting Harper for next season, with the understanding it could come in slightly lower.

Now that we've run through the rotisserie categories for each player, it is time to reveal where I have them currently ranked overall and at their respective positions. I currently have both players ranked within my top 20 overall, with Braun coming in at 17th and Harper checking in at 10th. Among outfielders I actually have both players ranked back-to-back with Harper the 3rd best option and Braun the 4th. Needless to say I think Nabae Asfar's pick of Harper with the 1st pick of the 3rd round in their recent mock draft is an absolute steal.

It is now your turn to agree, disagree, debate and pick apart both of these players. Who do you have ranked higher Who would your rather build your team around? Are you worried about Harper's all out style of play? How about the rocky road of return Braun faces in 2014? Let's hear it.

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