Nationals Baseball: Bryce Harper will break out

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Bryce Harper will break out

If he doesn't he'll be spitting in the face of history.

We looked a couple times last year at Bryce's place in history. Did he have the best offensive season ever from a teenager? Did he have the most WAR from a teenage position player?  These comparisons leave us with the obvious follow-up question : How did all these players we are comparing him to do in their sophmore seasons?  We often hear about "sophomore slumps" but does that apply to the true phenom?  

I'm going to look at guys that Bryce matches up with offensively (OPS+) and how they did offensively the next year.  Why? Well, defensive stats bounce around too much from year to year.  I'd hate to put up WAR, show all these guys improving but have it be because they lucked into awesome fielding years. Bryce is a very good fielder and is super fast.  Those are constants. He'll have value. The question is more how much that value will increase (or decrease).

Player : OPS+ at age 19, OPS+ at age 20
Mel Ott: 139, 165
Tony Conigliaro : 137, 133
Ty Cobb : 132, 167
Sherry Magee : 122, 134
Bryce Harper : 119, ???
Mickey Mantle : 117, 162
Cesar Cedeno: 114, 97
Ken Griffey Jr : 108, 136
Edgar Renteria : 103, 80

Three players, Ott, Cobb, and Mantle, broke out to full superstardom. Two more, Magee and Griffey, improved a fair amount and would break out themselves, just not at age 20 (Griffey at 21, Magee at 22). I think this is the group we expect Bryce to be in.  But what of the other three?

Cesar Cedeno is an odd case. His age 20 season would be his worst one until he was a hobbled 32-yr old trying to stay healthy enough to hang onto a job. He would then break out at 21 and would follow that with another superstar season at 22.  He then would be involved in a situation where his girlfriend was shot dead in a motel room. He still played well after that but never to the same level. It may have been injuries, which is a concern because he played in an all-out fashion much like Bryce does. Then again, dead girlfriend.  It's a cautionary tale in more than one way but probably not comparable to Bryce.

Edgar Renteria would show that that rookie year was kind of a fluke. (The BABIP was kind of high - though as a rookie you really don't know his level until he sets it).  He'd have several mediocre seasons after that and while he'd occasionally have another good year for the most part he was a below average hitter.  Edgar, though, was a completely different hitter than Bryce, dependent on high averages to make up for his lack of power. It's not a good comparison.

Tony Conigliaro is probably the most "worrisome" of comparisons. While he was still a good hitter he never really got past the level he had as a 19yr old. Now, there's a HUGE caveat here.  He was having a slightly better year at 22 when he got beaned in the face.  After that he was never the same player. Could he have been about to have his superstar year? Or was he just a "late" bloomer who would bust out at 24 or 25? We'll never know. Either way it's not like his 20-22 seasons were bad.  They were in fact very good. Just not superstar level.

So what do the comparables say about Bryce? Simple, he will break out. Yes, yes small sample size but Bryce is such an elite talent he's going to be in small comparison groups his whole career. It could be this year, maybe 2014, but at worst by the end of 2105 he should have that great season. Five out of eight comparables had that big year by the time they were 21, with one more having it at age 22, and one possibly on the way to it at that age before a tragic injury derailed his career.  Only Edgar Renteria, the last player on this list and not very comparable to Bryce, failed to make himself into a star. I have a hard time worrying about that.


Woods said...

Edgar Renteria was 19 years old in 1996?

Harper said...

woods - according to whatever birth certificate he was using he turned 20 in early August of that year (July 1 is usually the date ages are taken from)

Swoods said...

Yeah: I meant that he might not even be a prior here because there's a good chance he's an Esmailyn.

Chinatown Express said...

I absolutely agree that Bryce will have a great season by the end of 2105.

BlueLoneWolf said...

Heh, well, this is a preview of sorts, ain't it? (sorry, this is my first real offseason as a baseball fan, so I'm slightly excited. Besides, I have to wait for forever for the NFL Draft and then even longer for football season to start up.)

Hopefully Bryce does well. I think one big thing that'd help is if he'd learn to stay off the down and away trash they throw him. Either that or take Pablo 'Trashball Annihilator' Sandoval lessons. Either way, his BA would improve. He got better last year toward the end, but we need like 30/35HRs and like a .280 out of him.

Donald said...

I keep hearing that he expects to bat 2nd next year, like he did last. If he really does break out, I'm not sure that makes the most sense. It probably won't impact his individual numbers much, but you'd want him to provide protection for players in front. No one would be pitching around the pitcher or Span anyway. But if he forces them to pitch to Zim and LaRoche, it might make a difference in their stats. Or bat him 3rd and make them pitch to Werth.

Harper -- do you know of any way to statistically measure the benefit of having a hot hitter following someone in the lineup?

Kenny B. said...

I, as a non-statistician, take this article as no less than a guarantee of Bryce Harper having a Hall of Fame career, spending his entire MLB tenure in Washington, and winning multiple championships. If there is even one down year, I will boldly proclaim that statistical analysis doesn't win championships, and blame the author of this post for misleading me.

But seriously, don't let me down Bryce.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's a good bet that Harper breaks out. I also think that it's a good bet that the only other position the Nats will get additional production from is catcher. I believe we're facing a drop-off to a steep drop-off from every other position as far as production. Danny is the only other player who might improve upon his numbers, but his injury situation seems to make that unlikely.

In other words, strictly projecting based on last season:

Span < Morse
Harper +
Zim - (he's injury prone,we need to face it until he proves otherwise, and last season was his second most productive of his career)
LaRoche -
Werth - (his collective replacements last season, plus himself after he returned, produced at about his career average and he isn't getting younger or better)
Desmond -
Danny/Lombo - (Lombo isn't comparable in production, and Danny is genuinely injured)
Ramos + (God let him be healthy, because Suzuki is not an every day catcher on a WS contender with a weak lineup)

Thank god for the deepest 5 man rotation in baseball and an improved bullpen. Rizzo really did put his money in the right places this offseason.

DezoPenguin said...

I'm not sure how you see Span as a drop in production from last year's Morse. Notable drop from 2011 Morse, of course, but Span's 2012 was actually better than Morse's (a sub-.800 OPS and .321 OBP does not cut it for a slugger who strikes out a lot and has little speed). Baseball-Reference gives 2012 Span 2.8 OWAR to Morse's 0.9, for example.

Any drop-off from Danny to Lombo is going to be really felt on the defensive end; Danny's bat wasn't all that good in 2012 either--his moderate power and copious strikeouts are offset by Lombo's empty average and putting virtually everything in play. Danny's loss of speed will hurt.

LaRoche will probably decline from a career year, and Desmond may well have some decline; not sure if Zim will or not given the influence of the Magic Cortisone Shot. Werth may decline as well, and Bernie's almost certain to in the 4th-OF spot.

Ramos being healthy will improve the catcher spot. But even if Suzuki doesn't play up to his upper limit of potential like he did last year, he's better than the Will Nieves-like numbers Flores, Maldonado, Leon, and Solano put up.

So yeah, I agree that Harper having a breakout year would be the best chance for offensive improvement, but I don't think that the situation is as dire as Anon believes. Injury is the biggest risk, I think, particularly if it hits Harper, LaRoche, Span, or Zim.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Span is more valuable to the Nats than Morse was because Morse, like so many others who have spent at least half a year at Syracuse, was an impatient hitter. The Nats have too many guys who don't work the count, who don't believe that a walk is of any value, and don't make adjustments from at bat to at bat.

Span is a high injury risk. Just like Zim is a high injury risk. These guys have missed a heck of a lot of games these past few years, and in Span's case I'm genuinely concerned that he is the same Span. I'd make the trade 100 times out of 100, and a lesser Span will still be the second most disciplined hitter behind Werth, and he will have the fewest strikeouts in the regular lineup and half of most of the other fellas.

Froggy said...

I think if Bryce hits more HR's, and hits more doubles and triples and drives in more runs and catches everything hit to him and throws out runners every day...well...I think he could have a good year.

Isn't that what you are saying too Harper?

Harper said...

Chinatown Express - yes, I guess I'm not taking a great leap here am I?

BLW - I don't know if the Nats NEED .280 and 30+ homers, but it would be nice. The evolution of how he attacks lefties will be a big part on how good he becomes. Griffey pretty much got it in year 2.

Donny Commenter - IMO Werth's best used in a place where they are trying to pitch around him because he'll take that.
I don't know of any way to do that. While I think it may matter hot streaks come and go and you don't know when. THe guy infront may be on a cold streak. Too much noise.

KB Toys - That's fiar. I accept full responsibility for Bryce's future.

Anon #1 - Zim and Werth are two spots I could see improvement at. Zimm has always had it in him just can't stay healthy and Werth can do better. (Honestly though I peg them as both staying the same, so no drop-off but no improvement).

As Dezo and 2nd Anon say - Span will probably be a drop off offesively but overall he's better for the team than Morse.

Dezo - Danny vs Lombo is a slight loss offensively and a big loss everywhere else. That'll be a game or two dip if Danny can't perform.

Catcher is a big ?, but the Nats don't need to improve. Stability would be fine if they can avoid pitching injuries.

Anon #2 - Yes, Span may not strictly beat Morse offensively since Morse hits for higher average and more power, but overall it's going to be a plus for the team (unless Span tanks at the plate)

Froggy - maybe if he steals a couple more bases too.

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