Nationals Baseball: Quick Notes on Bryce

Friday, November 20, 2015

Quick Notes on Bryce

You ever been to Oklahoma City? There's a lot of stuff named after Mickey Mantle there. That's where a steakhouse is, at least one road, the plaza of the minor league stadium (Dodgers AAA) along with a big Mantle statue outside. Mantle actually, as far as I can tell, didn't really have an association with Oklahoma City. He was born (Spavinaw) and raised (Commerce) in far NE Oklahoma, closer to Kansas City than Oklahoma City. He played semi-pro in Kansas, minor league ball in Missouri.  After his career he opened up restaurants in Texas and NY, invested in land development in Texas, hotel management in Missouri, lived in Georgia, and died and is buried in Texas. Even his eponymous steakhouse that now does, as far as I can tell, pretty well in downtown Oklahoma City, opened a few years after his death. Compare that to someone like Bobby Murcer, who was born and raised there, lived there, supported businesses there, owned the minor league team there, died and is buried there. No statue, no road, just a bust alongside other Oklahomans. It just goes to show you that what you do on the field, ultimately trumps all.

Just an aside really before talking a bit about Bryce Harper. Bryce won't have the Mantle problem. He was born and raised in Vegas and I'm sure at some point there will be roads and statues there and probably some themed slot machines as well.*  Why am I sure about it? Because he just had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever.  By OPS plus (a fair enough metric in my mind) there have only been 60 or so seasons by anyone this good or better, never by someone younger. The ones to do it within three years of Bryce are all HALL OF FAMERS, and the capitalization is on purpose. These are no doubters. Williams, Cobb, Foxx, Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig. That's it. Go to age 26, 27, 28, 29 and you find the first non HOF player (Norm Cash**) but you also find more HOF names. Lajoie, Hornsby, Frank Thomas, Bagwell, Musial, Brett, Bonds.

Think about that for a second. A handful of baseball players in 100+ years of history have had an offensive season this good and done it under 30***.  All but one are Hall of Famers. All but one did it while being older.

As for MVP you look at the other hitters around as young who won it and you see the same thing. Bench - HOF. Musial - HOF. Ripken - HOF. Trout - on track. Mays - HOF. Aaron - HOF.

I just noted how much he affected the Nats. (I really am going to do more with that. I promise!).

This guy is great. This guy is so young. That's important because usually when you see a season like this you are seeing a player's peak. A 22-27 year old at his baseball physical peak combining with health and overall luck to produce something special. Bryce is young enough that this may NOT be his peak. That's obvious just because no one had a season this good at a younger age, but it's also true looking at some of the youngest performers. Mantle would have a better season a year later. Cobb around 30. Ruth would have multiple better seasons. Even for the ones where the youngest season was the best, it was not the only season they had that was around as good.

Unless Bryce is the next Norm Cash, and no one thinks he is, the downside isn't down. The floor, where this past season was the peak, would likely be something like 6+ years of MVP caliber performance slowly degrading after that. More than half a decade hitting like Trout, Stanton, Cabrera dropping down to something like say... Ryan Zimmerman's best for a few years. The ceiling would be over a decade of performances that add a few more entries into the "best ever offensive seasons" club. Assuming health of course.

The Nats can pay him a ridiculous amount of money now and work around that. They can keep not paying him and work payroll (most likely adding very few big contracts) with the hope of signing him later. Or they can keep not paying him, assume he's gone, and add some big contracts now. If I were a Nats fan I'm hoping against hope they take that first road.

13/500 oh ok 15/500 make it "for life"

Oh yes, don't forget to ask me any questions below. Should you break up with your boyfriend because he hasn't proposed? What about asking for a raise? What's the best way to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner?  Maybe even something baseball related!

*Fun fact : There's a Mickey Mantle Ct in Las Vegas. There are no other baseball/sports themed roads around it so I got nothing on why it's there. I assume someone living there picked it out. Good for you, sir or ma'am!

**Cash was partially a victim of war - he spent some time in Korea - and got a late start on his career. His first 120+ game season coming as an "old" 25. Partially it was just a once-in-a-generation lucky season. Even he realized that season was something crazy too noting everything was just dropping in (.370 BABIP when his career was like .270). Basically at his power peak, he had the luckiest season of his career average wise, and at the same time pitchers walked him because he was doing so well. Perfect Storm really. Cash also did this.

*** At 30-34 you add a mix of HOFers and almost HOFers career years. Frank Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Honus Wagner show up here, along with Jim Thome (probably a HOFer) and Dick Allen. You also get a couple of... you know, those guys. Giambi, McGwire, Sosa.


Kenny B. said...

Yeah, but he's a cocky prima donna who needs to put in his time before he can have the right to...

You know what, even as sarcasm I can't bring myself to finish that sentence. PAY THE MAN WITH DUMP TRUCKS FULL OF MONEY. We may never actually win a world series owing to the DC sports curse, but we can at least have a defining player that everyone will remember and identify with the team.

Anonymous said...

You keep suggesting that the Nats throw such a huge contract at Bryce, an idea I'm all on board with, but do you actually think that will happen? Do you see any contract negotiations going on with the MVP this winter?

BornInDC said...

538 had an article this estimating Bryce's worth to the Nats in 2015 at $73 million:

Sure, Bryce could get hurt. But the Nats could easily spend $500 million on free agents during the next 13 years and not get a fraction of the production they might get from Bryce.

goodman.dl said...

Norm Cash also corked his bat during his outlier 1961 (post-expansion) season, which he would later detail in SI. Can we agree to ignore that season in our review of the fantastic company Bryce is in.

Robot said...

@KennyB - And make sure those dump trucks are made of solid gold.

Seriously, keeping Bryce needs to be the Nationals' #1 priority, period. Between the fans/attention he brings to the team and the amazing performance on field, he is easily worth 13/$500M. This doesn't even factor in the disillusionment many fans will feel if they let him walk.

He could be to future Washingtonians what Walter Johnson is to us today.

Make it happen, Lerners. Make him "our" guy.

Harper said...

Kenny B - He will be the new Walter Johnson (all apologies to Ryan "Sam Rice" Zimmermman)

Anon - that big? No. I think negotiations in this off-season will be of the exploratory nature - see what he is looking for. I think they will wait a year because an off 2016 could work in their advantage and a great 2016 does little to change Bryce's value. (unless he does something like flirt with .400 and hit 50+HR). After 2016 I think they will make a fair offer - which will be huge mind you - let's say 10/350 w/ opt out in 5 years. That's my guess. And I'd say he'd decline that because he can do better. This all assumes a 2016 similar to 2015.

BornidDC - and let's not forget it's not all production. It's merchandise. It's marketing. It's having a draw. It's potentially chasing records. There's money he earns that's not part of that 73 mill.

goodman - eh corked bats have been shown to have no real physical effects. If it did help him it was a mental thing. Corked it, started well, assumed it was corked bat and just kept on going. Still, I think Norm Cash isn't even a reasonable floor of what we think Bryce can be. (though I'd sign up for his longevity right now)

Harper said...

Dammit Robot - stop getting in my points while I'm typing them up.

Zimmerman11 said...

@ Harper, you lie... you want Bryce in pinstripes, even if it means the end of your blog.

cass said...

15/500 sounds good to me, but I don't think he'll sign. He'll insist on a contract with an opt out I imagine so he can both double dip and have security. He's good enough to demand and get that.

If he was a different person, he might just sign to avoid the risk of injuries destroying his value, but this is Bryce we're talking about.

His comments last night didn't sound very promising. Sounds like someone who wants to play here till he's a free agent and then test the waters - i.e. wait for the largest tsunami of cash ever seen in sports to come his way.

Robot said...

I still think Bryce's biggest concern is winning. He knows he's going to get huge piles of money no matter where he goes and while the possibility of receiving the biggest contract in baseball history is probably alluring, I get the impression he would settle for something less (perhaps merely the second biggest contract in history) to go to a team that looks like it will get him the most rings.

Having never met the guy, I may be entirely off-base, but that's my take on him.

Anonymous said...

It’s hard to imagine guaranteeing $500m to a guy with one season like this behind him, even if it’s one of the 60 best seasons ever. But this seems like the guy. I don’t know how you sell your bosses on tying up $40m a year on one guy, but figure it out, Rizzo. I think the chances of this happening aren’t zero, because I do think the Lerners are aware of how their ownership of the team is viewed and the legacy they’re creating, and if the scuttlebutt is true, Boras sold them on Scherzer in some part on the notion they could creating a national brand for the team, like the Yanks or Sox or Cards. If Harper pans out like this, he’s going to be a national brand in someone’s uniform and he’s going to help his team in that way.

This may be in the MORE ON BRYCE discussion, but we seem to think it’s likely he doesn’t flame out immediately and it’s likely he doesn’t become the best ever. Is there a good way to quantify the in-between chances? Do guys with the health issues he’d had that early often move on from them? Who has had several good seasons at a young age and bottomed out early?

You touched on it a bit with Dusty, but is there grounds to think that his approach changed in Cincinnati from what he had done before, that might have merited criticism? If it did change, should he have changed it? I’m of the school that thinks that, given that they wanted someone established, they’re lucky a guy with his credentials was willing to wait around.

Here’s another topic, brought on by the approaching season of the year. You’re one of the best writers I can find for getting advanced stats to tell a story, like what does it mean to be lucky? What do the stats tell us about why so-and-so is on a cold streak- can they fix it, or is it an impending sign of age/bad technique/something else? What did/do you read to help you with this?

Signed, a robot from the mountains

Mythra said...

I would be a very happy man, if in my old age, I could see two names synonymous with DC baseball.

Mr Howard and Mr Harper.

Make him our version of Cal and Tony Gwynn. Pay him now, pay him to be the face of the Nats for the next 50 years. 500 million for 50 years of DC face-time?

No brainer.

KW said...

Kris Bryant is baseball's new "young" star. He's 10 months older than Bryce. Michael Taylor is a "young" guy on the Nats, still trying to figure things out. He's year and half older than Bryce. Yes, Correa is younger than Bryce, but he made his MLB at a year older than Bryce did. We forget how young Bryce still is.

Pay the man, err, the kid!

Robot said...


Zimmerman11 said...

Harper, for your podcast, dig up some info on our new team doctors... this could be a BIG improvement over the last few years!!!

Harper said...

Robot - I see Real Steel in this is the blogs future.

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