Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bryce Harper, How Soon They Forget

This morning on MLB Network Radio there was a discussion of the best young outfielders in the game today. The hosts and callers seemed to coalesce on this ranking:

  1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
  2. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. George Springer, Houston Astros
  4. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
  5. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Trout, sure, I get it. Puig has been fabulous this year: currently second in the NL in batting, on base, and slugging; first in on base plus slugging, first in bat flips. Springer, top-rated prospect in the Astros system, was called up in mid-April and started slowly. He was batting .185 with a .254 on base percentage and .215 slugging percentage, striking out over a third of his plate appearances, through his first 16 games. Since then, though, he's .338/.442/.750, striking out 27% of the time. Heyward was great as a rookie and has been inconsistent since.

But Harper fourth? He was an All-Star his first year. He was better his second year, though he missed time with injuries, as he has this year. But here's why I'd rate Harper second in this group:

   Age 19 Season  PA   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 
   Trout         135 .220 .281 .390 .672
   Puig                In Cuba
   Springer            In College
   Harper        597 .270 .340 .477 .817
   Heyward             In Minors

   Age 20 Season  PA   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 
   Trout         639 .326 .399 .564 .963
   Puig                In Cuba
   Springer            In College
   Harper        497 .274 .368 .486 .854
   Heyward       623 .277 .393 .456 .849

   Age 21 Season  PA   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 
   Trout         716 .323 .432 .557 .998
   Puig                In Cuba
   Springer       In College and Minors
   Harper         91 .289 .352 .422 .773
   Heyward       456 .227 .319 .389 .708

   Age 22 Season  PA   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 
   Trout         232 .281 .371 .531 .901
   Puig          432 .319 .391 .534 .925
   Springer            In Minors
   Harper          Turns 22 in October
   Heyward       651 .269 .335 .479 .814
(Source is Baseball Reference. Seasonal age is the player's age as of June 30. PA = plate appearances, BA = batting average, OBP = on base percentage, SLG = slugging percentage, OPS = on base plus slugging)

See the point? Harper was Rookie of the Year at an age at which none of the other guys were major league regulars. Last year, despite missing time with injuries, he had what was arguably the seventh-best season by a 20-year-old since World War II (not bad when 1-6 are Trout, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson, and Ken Griffey Jr.). The injuries are worrisome and could limit him in the future. But I just don't see how you can say he's not the second best young outfielder in the game.

UPDATE: I just remembered - I got 1-4 right but I forgot that Giancarlo Stanton was the consensus No. 5, not Heyward. His numbers:

   Age  PA   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 
   19         In Minors
   20  396 .259 .326 .507 .833
   21  601 .262 .356 .537 .893
   22  501 .290 .361 .608 .969
He's 24 now. He is older than Trout and Harper, younger than Heyward and Springer. I'd rate him third. Trout, Harper, Stanton, Heyward, Springer.

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