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.
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:
|Player A per 650 PA||0.270||24.5||20||109||66||175||44.5|
|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.