Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fantasy Funkhouser: Time to Start Making a Big Deal About...Bryce Harper?

Bryce Harper has done everything right, so why is he being wronged? (Getty Images)
Bryce Harper's story is well-known. If it isn't to you, well there are Sports Illustrated articles (where he was on the cover of the mag at 16), E:60 pieces (where he hits the back wall of Tampa Rays' Tropicana Field), baseball cards for you to get (one that costs $25,000), and countless other materials to get your fix. So if you weren't caught up, you can tell he's a big deal.

Now, this is all based on what he has the potential to do. Nothing to do with what he has done as a major leaguer, but since his sudden call-up on April 28th he has far exceeded any expectations that could be placed on a 19-year-old phenom.

Some of the knocks against Harper were his perceived arrogance, but any showing up thus far of any major leaguers was on account of Harper out hustling them (ay, Jason Heyward and Cole Hamels?). The only vestige of his pre-majors petulance is a little more eyeblack than the normal MLB'er.

With so much controversy following Harper's path to the majors aside from his electrifying play his arrival has been rather calm. No blowing kisses, no getting tossed from games, no and more no. He's be a study in big-time prospect not taking the game of baseball for granted.

After seeing that Harper's cockiness may have been a bit overblown (or at least well-hidden up to this point) and Harper's story was purely baseball, people covering him frankly got bored. They were getting the steak but no sizzle. The controversy that would draw web views and sell newspapers were nowhere to be found. The Twitter page Harper religiously maintained spouting everything from his love of "Swag" to the Yankees and Cowoys was gone, and aside form a swing and a miss during a recreational softball game in DC, Harper may as well be some kind of baseball hermit for all we know. Sleeping in the locker room, only emerging to crush baseballs and hustle all over the baseball diamond.

Fantasy experts were continually downplaying Harper's potential impact. In redraft leagues this makes sense as 19-year-olds don't have a great track records as far as fantasy production goes.

The Notable 19: (Games/HR/RBI/OPS)
Ken Griffey Jr (127/16/61/.748)
Alex Rodriguez (48/5/19/.672)
Mel Ott (124/18/77/.921)

None of those lines are above replacement level players in a standard 10 team mixed league. Many were projecting Griffey's line as the best case scenario for Harper this season. Certainly puts him on track for a Hall of Fame career, but that's the reason some of the fantasy hype in Harper's fire have been significantly dwindled.

Now, don't get it twisted Harper's production so far at his age has been historic. But people covering the sport are looking for more excitement. That excitement has come from an unlikely place in fellow 20-year-old super rookie Mike Trout. Not unlikely based on baseball talent, but unlikely since personality wise Harper is a fireball while Trout is a bit of a dullard.

Trout finally getting attention. (Getty)
Trout has certainly taken some steam from Harper, and rightfully so. As far as I can tell, these guys have the potential to be the Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams of our generation. Elite talents and perfect foils in personality. The argument for who is the better ball player will certainly rage on for years.

Trout's performance so far since his call-up, ironically on the same day as Harper, has been fantastic. He has sparked the Los Angeles Angels out of their early season struggles and is batting .338 with 24R, 5HR, 22RBI, 9SB and played excellent defense in the outfield.

He has vaulted to the top of the AL Rookie of the Year race where other high profile names like Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes have had great year one campaigns as well.

You wouldn't have to look far to see Trout ranked among the top OF already, and projections as high as the 5th round in redraft leagues if a draft was done today. The numbers justify it, even if we were to toss caution to the wind and pretend there won't be a slump with Trout's high K rate.

The hype it seems has shifted it's focus to Trout with Harper taking on the more critical eye. The thing with spotlight is, as Rashad Evans put it brilliantly (paraphrasing): Nobody owns the spotlight. It's just you stand there, and the spotlight moves, and moves, and moves. 

Right now, that spotlight is on Trout, but rest assured Harper will get it back soon. But I'm looking to turn it back on him right now.

This applies mostly to dynasty leagues, but when looking at what Harper has done, it is impressive.

After 118 at bats, Harper is hitting .288, 5HR, 12RBI, 2SB, .922OPS.

For all the spotlight hogging Trout is doing, here are his numbers last year when he was 19.

After 123 at bats, Trout was hitting .220, 5HR, 16RBI, 4SB, .672OPS.

With Harper stuck in the 2-hole most of his days and learning a new position he is getting on base and hitting at a higher rate than Trout was at the same time. Trout is much more of a lead-off hitter than Harper, so for Harper to be getting on base more should be a great indicator that by next year when he's in a more run producing spot in the order, that should translate to more RBIs.

Harper has also gone through a small adjustment period this season going 7-for-36 in mid-May, but has since made adjustments and went on to win NL Rookie of the Month for May.

The AL ROM for May? Mike Trout.

If he can continue on this upswing, it's not out of the question he could approach 20HR this season. Were he to maintain his OPS at this rate some sabermetric heads may explode.

He's capable of doing this, and Harper has earned the accolades of being a nose to the grindstone type player with Mt. Olympian level talent. Let's not underestimate what he can do. While Trout is further along developmentally and his skills are more easily transferable between the minors and majors, Harper is the one that can develop exponentially and has the look of a guy that maybe the expectations we set for him weren't quite enough.

The Funkman says: "What about Matt Moore?"

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