clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bryce Harper, the War Hammer

New, 3 comments

Bryce Harper has never had a single professional at bat, majors or minors or college, against a pitcher who was younger than him. Now is not the time to doubt him.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of people pass judgment on Bryce Harper not living up to his hype, claiming that he is overrated, and calling him injury prone.  I am about to drop some serious science/knowledge/english on his doubters.

It all began when I was interning at Merrill Lynch after my junior year of college.  An article came out in Sports Illustrated on a player from Las Vegas.  It claimed he hit 570ft home runs, was throwing 96MPH fastballs, and was only 16 years old.  He had my attention.

Courtesy of SportsIllustrated.com

After reading that article, he was someone I would check in on, and every time I checked, it was worth my while.  I'd see things about the truest 80 grade power many scouts had ever seen, a player who was scoring from second on passed balls, who was throwing players out from his knees (previously was a Catcher), and was already listed at 6'3" and over 200lbs.  As time went along the legend only grew.  He hit the longest home run in the history of Tropicana field, 502 ft, and a video came out on ESPN showing the path of his fabled 570 shoot in Las Vegas at 16.  He then proceeded to take that hype, and up it another notch by electing to get his GED after his sophomore year of high school, so he could play at a local wood bat junior college (during what would have been his junior year of high school), and enter the MLB draft a year early.  Power move Bryce, power move.

Courtesy of DeMarini on Twitter

The first minute of this old ESPN 60 clip should help you realize what Harpers best tool in his arsenal is like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLV8FpFXOMo

So he went on to play one year of baseball at Southern Nevada where his stats looked like this:

Player

ab

r

h

2b

3b

hr

rbi

avg

ob%

slg%

sb-att

Harper, Bryce

228

98

101

23

4

31

98

0.443

0.526

0.987

20-24

It's one of the best junior colleges to play for, and he destroyed it, in a wood bat league.  Not surprising since he left high school early, but he was the youngest player in the whole league.  But junior college stats aren't cool, so he left after that season and was drafted 1-1 in 2010 by the Washington Nationals, a year after they had drafted Stephen Strasburg 1-1.  He was headed to a team that had recently moved from Montreal, and was one of the most uncool teams in baseball.  At the time of his draft, the Nats had finished last in the division in 4 of the previous 5 seasons, and fourth in the other season.  The team had a serious need for some frontline players after ostracizing Ryan Zimmerman as the only real star on the team for the 5 previous seasons, sorry Alfonso Soriano.

So Harper signed an MLB deal to start his career, something that almost never happens to drafted players, and proceeded to start blasting the minors.  Note: the ratios are a little off since I used his career minors stats, which include 18 rehab games, that happened in 2013 and 2014.

Year

Age

AgeDif

Tm

Lev

Aff

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2011

18

-4.4

2 Teams

A-AA

WSN

63

17

58

26

0.297

0.392

0.501

0.894

2011

18

-3.4

Hagerstown

A

WSN

49

14

46

19

0.318

0.423

0.554

0.977

2011

18

-6.3

Harrisburg

AA

WSN

14

3

12

7

0.256

0.329

0.395

0.724

2012

19

-8.5

Syracuse

AAA

WSN

8

1

3

1

0.243

0.325

0.365

0.69

4 Seasons

134

35

119

53

0.300

0.397

0.521

0.917

So obviously that was no match for him, at age 19 Bryce Harper was introduced to Major League Baseball.  His first hit was a line drive off the center field wall of Dodger Stadium, from there he proceeded to hit well by almost anyone's standards, and did incredibly well considering he was a 19 year old at the time.

Season

Team

G

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

2012

Nationals

139

597

22

98

59

18

0.27

0.34

0.477

Bryce Harper's First Career Homerun

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_MEeeUYOTM

The next season he was highly touted, and proceeded to post a 137 wRC+, at 20 years old.  The issue was that he ran into two walls, and was also pegged in the right knee during that season and only managed to play 118 games.  The season seemed like a down year, but it was actually very productive fantasy-wise.  While he did play fewer games, all of his triple slash numbers went up.

Season

Team

G

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

2013

Nationals

118

497

20

71

58

11

0.274

0.368

0.486

Bryce Harper Two Homeruns on Opening Day 2013

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn1DVCwppgw

In 2014 the downward trend in games played continued when he slid into third base on a triple and tore the UCL in his left thumb.  In his down year he posted a measly wRC+ of 115.  Most players would take that, but when you are known as potentially the second most talented baseball player outside of Mike Trout, he definitely failed to live up to expectations.

Courtesy of mlb.com

So what should we expect from him next year?  Many people think as a hitter gains more experience, he should become better.  Harper has shown that he is a competent hitter to this point, but his stretches of extreme hot hitting leave us all hoping for more next season.  For example to finish he finished his rookie year he hit .330/.400/.643 with 7 HR and 5SB in only 112 AB. In 2013, we all thought he had hit his stride.  He started the season hitting .344/.430/.720 with 9HR over 93 AB, somehow he did that with a .338 Babip, which makes no sense to me at all, but I'll trust Baseball Reference.  Last season, as he appeared to become healthier and better hitter the further he put himself from his UCL surgery, his average went up month by month after returning from the DL.  Eventually getting up to .289. the same it was in his first month of the season prior to injury.

While I definitely believe he can hit 300 in a season, I won't make that call for 2015, I'd just like him to hit 280, and not suffer some sort of unfortunate impact injury like the past two seasons.  Steamer projects 279/364/489 (.852 OPS) but with only 23 HR and 10SB.  This is because of their 130 game projection, with only 481 AB.  Now what if I was to do something crazy and guess that Harper won't run into a wall or tear the ligaments of his thumb sliding, get hit in the face by a bat ricocheting off a wall or, or get hit by a pitch pitch, or suffer any other impact injury that is so difficult to project.  Those injuries are just as much bad luck as they are genetics, so I don't consider them something to count on yearly.  Players that consistently hurt their knees, hamstrings, shoulders without them hitting anything are naturally injury prone, players that get hit, getting hit by something, including yourself is bad luck, regardless of how stupid the injuries seem.

Now lets say he was to play 150 games and miss only 12 games as rest days to try and keep him healthy.  481Ab/130G=3.7 AB per game, which is what Steamer gave him.  This is low for a guy who will likely hit in the top 4 hitters on his team next season, but I'll stick with it to not bend the numbers too far in my favor.  If he plays the 150 games I'm hoping for that would give him 555 AB, 27 home runs, and 12 steals.  This isn't dramatic, but it would certainly help his value, and would likely push him into the rare air 80R/80RBI group as well.  To give you an idea of what that value would be like, it likely would be a little better than what a 77R, 25HR, 89RBI, 8SB, .287 player provided to owners this year in 150 games over 541 AB.  That player is a Ray Guilfoyle favorite, Matt Kemp, the #43 player on the ESPN player rater in 2014.

But is that all we should be acknowledging when looking at Harper, probably not.  Bryce Harpers unusual skill set will keep pushing his draft stock higher than what his previous years performance indicated he is worthy of.  This year, should be the first time since he was 16 that Harper will face a pitcher that will be younger than him, and that's just a guess, but at 22, someone finally has to take the torch from him as the young guy in the MLB.   That's amazing.  He's also shown us that obviously his calling card is his power despite still not being a full grown man yet.  Here are his home run and fly ball distances over the past 3 seasons, followed by his league rank.

2014

286.55

86

2013

299.23

20

2012

280.84

147

The hand injury clearly had a negative impact on him for the middle of the year, but he still managed to be in the top 100 hitters when measuring batted ball distances.  For reference, Jose Bautista actually only managed 286.3 ft (90th) last year, and Chris Carter was at 288.98 ft.

Courtesy of Daltonjsports.com

His homers off of Hunter Strickland in the playoffs showed that he is still able to absolutely kill baseballs like he had done so many times in the past for his owners. With health his power wasn't the only thing that slowly improved.  His strike out rates became better and better as he furthered himself from his injury, and his walk rates slowly improved as well.  Another good sign for Harper is that his fly ball rates are slowly creeping up.  Something I am extremely comfortable predicting will be a career high home run and fly ball distance.  A thumb is a bad short term injury, but now that he's healed, and he has a MLB training staff helping him prepare for next year, I think he's going to be as healthy as he was his rookie year, but stronger.

Something nobody on this site knew until now is that my second favorite sport is bodybuilding, I love learning about the human body.  There isn't much overlap in bodybuilding and baseball, ignoring the drugs, but the one thing they obviously share is that devotion to training and nutrition will make you healthier, and a better athlete.  There is no arguing this.  Harper has become known for his incredibly intense workouts, his huge brute strength, and his natural ability to put on size and strength with ease.  Here is a picture of Harper posing for a twitter picture.  When you pose for a picture, you aren't pushing yourself to the limit, so naturally Harper toned it down to incline benching 100lb dumbbells.  He is not your ordinary 22 year old.

After a full offseason of his well known hyper-intense dedication, he showed up to spring training looking like this.

Courtesy of NextImpulseSports.com

Which turned into him doing stuff like this.

Courtesy of OneSecondLeft.com

At this point I think it's obvious that I'm a huge Harper fan.  I honestly love that so many people hate him for his non-baseball actions (blowing kisses, horrible haircuts), but his doubters are going to be learning soon what happens when freakish talent gains experience.  The team he is on happens to play at a field that isn't home run friendly to lefties, and the NL East isn't an easy place to be a power hitter, giving up 5% fewer home runs to lefties, and playing exactly league average to righties, this does not concern me.  He also happens to play on a exceptionally good team filled with many very good hitters.  Next season I project the Nats lineup to look like this:

1.     Denard Span - CF

2.     Anthony Rendon - 3B/2B

3.     Bryce Harper- LF/RF/CF

4.     Ryan Zimmerman 1B

5.     Jayson Werth RF

6.     Ian Desmond - SS

7.     Wilson Ramos - C

8.     Danny Espinosa - 2B

Harper has the ability to hit grounders, line drives, and fly balls to all fields.  He's fast enough to lay down a few bunts for hits a season to keep defenses honest, and his bat speed and power combo are epic.  Since you can't shift him, you just have to be ready for anything, and since he is already a selective strike hitter, the more experience he gains, the more likely it becomes that he starts hitting more strikes and taking more balls.

Courtesy of Fangraphs.com

So for next season, lets go with what the nice robots at Steamer gave us with a few more games.   .279AVG, 27 home runs, 12 SB, 80R, 80RBI would be roughly a top 40 player, and I think that's a conservative guess if he stays healthy. Harper is good, on ESPN he's ranked at the #21 player next season.  I have no problem if you go up to the high 20s to take him, as his upside is obviously up there with anyone's.  Once you get into the 20s you're looking at players like Puig (will he hit for power? will he steal?), Hanley (will he be healthy?), and Corey Dickerson (will he repeat a breakout?).  If those are the questions attached to his peers around him in the rankings, I'd be perfectly happy with taking upside and only having to worry about him avoiding being hit by walls, bats, and balls.  The floor is good, and the upside is tremendous, draft the War Hammer with confidence.

Courtesy of WashingtonPost.com