Blind resume 2013: a guy you’d never expect to be underrated

In wine and craft beer, blind tastings are the true measure of the quality of the product. Brand names stripped aside, judging only on merit, a raw analysis of the object can be a liberating experiencing in valuation. So let’s take a step back for a moment, dial up the projector with some numbers, and ask why this player is essentially a fourth-round pick right now.

Name ADP PA AVG HR SB R RBI R+RBI
Player A 35 597 0.270 22 18 98 59 157
Player B 23 628 0.280 17 18 107 67 174
Player C 8 701 0.290 23 28 102 83 185
Player D 27 655 0.261 22 16 86 74 160
Player E 34 658 0.284 28 14 86 82 168
Player F 9 579 0.303 22 20 89 85 174

On the surface, Player A holds his own against the sample in home runs (fifth out of six), stolen bases (tied for third out of six) and runs (third out of six), but lacks overall in the RBI (sixth of six) and batting average departments (sixth of six). As you might notice, however, players B, C, D and E got more playing time than Player A. Player A was healthy in 2012, but did not get regular major league playing time until May. In 2013, there is no indication that Player A will not play at least 150-155 games. He’s athletic and young. Based on his 2012 numbers, that would prorate him to 665 plate appearances next year.

If we prorate Player A’s 2012 campaign to 665 plate appearances, his numbers stack up:

Name AVG HR SB R RBI R+RBI HR+SB
Player A per 650 PA 0.270 24.5 20 109 66 175 44.5
Player B 0.280 17 18 107 67 174 35
Player C 0.290 23 28 102 83 185 51
Player D 0.261 22 16 86 74 160 38
Player E 0.284 28 14 86 82 168 42
Player F 0.303 22 20 89 85 174 42
Player A Sample Rank 6th 2nd T-2nd T-1st 6th 2nd 1st

Player A’s power/speed combination tops the sample, and his lackluster performance in RBIs last year (which I strongly anticipate to improve in 2013 since he will be batting in the three hole) was more than made up for in prorated runs scored. I find runs an incredibly underrated and undervalued statistic in fantasy baseball—and only Mike Trout scored more runs that our prorated Player A last season.

Before I name the mystery player, I want to give away the mystery by listing the ages of each of the unnamed players:
Player A: 19
Player B: 25
Player C: 26
Player D: 23
Player E: 27
Player F: 27

What does this all tell us? Player A is the youngest of the sample, by a healthy margin in light of hitters’ historical aging curve data, and putting up numbers on par with older players at the same position that are being drafted ahead of him.

In case you have not guessed it, Player A is Bryce Harper‘s 2012 season. Player B is Justin Upton‘s 2012 season. Player C is Andrew McCutchen‘s career 162-game average batting line. Player D is Jason Heyward‘s career 162-game average batting line. Player E is Adam Jones‘ two-year (2011-12) 162-game average batting line. Player F is Carlos Gonzalez‘s 2012 season.

Now Bryce Harper, ranked 35th overall in Yahoo (37 in ESPN), is not a guy who is “falling far” and “getting forgotten.” He’s still a marginal third-round pick in 12-team formats. But does he really deserve to be taken there?

I have Harper valued just north of $30 ($32-33) in standard 12 team 5×5 formats. I think he can hit .280+ with 30 home runs, 15-20 stolen bases and a shot at 100 runs/RBI with upside to spare. Keep in mind that Harper will not be able to legally drink until the end of the 2014 season. ZiPS projects a .274 batting average, 26 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 89 runs and 70 RBI over 150 games played (641 PA).

Harper is the 27th overall rated hitter in fantasy per Yahoo. However, there are really only 10 or 11 hitters I’d take ahead of him at that cost: (in order): Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, and maybe Matt Holliday.

Out of the pool of pitchers, I would consider taking only Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw and maybe Felix Hernandez over him. That said, I would not take a single pitcher ahead of Harper because in my experience, a later-round pitcher is more likely to outperform an early-round pitcher than a later-round hitter is to outperform an early-round one. Anecdotally speaking, I presume this is because a single pitcher’s starts makes up a larger percentage of total team pitching contributions (assuming innings pitched limits) than does a single day of hitting for a given player.

In other words, you can better cherry-pick pitcher match-ups to maximize outcomes and require less day-to-day (consistent) contribution from pitchers than hitters to be successful in fantasy. That may not be true, but that is my experience/strategy.

Put that together and Harper is a borderline first-round, guaranteed early second-round pick. Considering that he has Trout’s pedigree (Harper was ranked ahead of Trout in the 2012 preseason by Baseball America and Fangraphs), that he posted All-Star caliber production at age 19 in the majors last year, and that he’s absolutely mashing the ball in spring training (a grain of salt required, but he has a .438/.455/.750 triple slash line), I expect the young batter to break out in a major way in the majors this year.

Of all the upside plays in baseball this year, Harper is the best one. He might not come the cheapest, but he has a high floor, minimal health risk and one of the best chances of finishing in the top 10 after picks 15-20. Spend big, regret nothing.

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Comments

  1. Greg Simons said...

    AJ is right.  How could anyone overlook Clint Barmes, five-category stud?  He’s a $50 ballplayer!

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Jacob:

    Votto is the safer pick, but I see their value as pretty comparable. Votto has the AVG upside, while Harper likely has a SB edge. Votto is the better snake draft pick first but he’s both worth $10-25 more than harper

  3. Joey D said...

    Beware the sophomore slump. Remember the Eric Hosmer and Brett Lawrie hype last year. Neither matched their numbers from the previous year. Also, Harper’s b.a. dropped in the 2nd half last year. Just food for thought.

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Perhaps, but I don’t buy the “sophomore slump” curse argument, particularly as it pertains to successful extended debuts by players that are very young and well within that magical age range of 21-24

  5. Jon L. said...

    Upton & CarGo have demonstrated greater ability in the past than the single season you cherry-picked above, and Jones and especially McCutchen would look plainly superior if you had cherry-picked the same season for each of them.  Meanwhile, Heyward’s sophomore season demonstrates exactly why people are cautious about drafting Harper over more certain production.

    Harper has great upside, but since he has less than a season’s worth of experience, he has much greater downside (in the short term) than the more proven commodities to whom you’re comparing him.

  6. Jeffrey gross said...

    Admittedly Harper has more “risk” in that he is unproven, but regression can happen to any player and I’ll often take the younger, legit player at a lower cost.

    I do not believe the sophomore slump is a real thing. Some conspiracy of bad luck and overproducing rookies with minimal track record masques variation in m unscientific opinion. Does anyone have a link to research on the topic? (comparing soph to rookie versus any other year to year variation)

  7. Jeffrey gross said...

    Also, i think the real issue to establishing a realistic baseline for younger players. Hard to peg accurate mle, but younger has higher project ability traditionally.

  8. Salvatore said...

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

  9. Salvatore said...

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely
    return.

  10. eephus said...

    uh…JoeyD:

    i guess it’s true to say that harper’s batting tailed off in the second half…except…that if you look at the month by month splits…he cratered for a month or so, and then began picking it up, with increased power…leading to a really strong final month, during a pennant race.

    um.  there’s cause for concern there?  really?  looks more like a guy making adjustments to the adjustments, in season.  that’s a good thing, not a bad one…

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