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Bryce Harper and the Stats that Prove He’s For Real

So how good is he?  Very good.  Not great because he’s only 19.  There is no telling what he’ll be four years from now but the potential is out of this world.  There is no doubt. Bryce Harper is a once-a-generation player.  Here are the stats from Baseball Almanac that prove it.

A lot of folks have run comparisons of Harper against other 19-year-olds in baseball history, but what I’ve done is compare him to the first full seasons of 15 other players, 14 of them in Baseball’s Hall of Fame (Ken Griffey Jr. isn’t eligible yet).  The age range is 19-24 years old.  For most of them, these are their rookie seasons.  For some, it’s their 2nd or 3rd year in the major leagues, but the earlier years were statistically insignificant.

In order to do this properly, I have projected from Bryce Harper’s 1st 100 at-bats to how he would perform if he played every single one of the remaining games of the season.  Here’s how Harper would do this year based on what he’s done so far.

Bryce Harper (projected though end of 2012 season):

Games

AB

AVG

OBP

SLUG

Triples

Homers

RBI

BB

SO

142

531

.287

.376

.525

15

21

58

74

100

So how does that stack up against the first full seasons of these 15 gentlemen?  (Babe Ruth is the oldest at 24 because he was a pitcher for his first few years; his stats are from his first season as a position player in 1919)

Player

Year

Age

Rogers Hornsby

1916

20

Babe Ruth

1919

24

Jimmie Foxx

1928

21

Mel Ott

1928

19

Hank Greenberg

1933

22

Ted Williams

1939

21

Willie Mays

1951

20

Mickey Mantle

1951

20

Ernie Banks

1954

23

Hank Aaron

1954

20

Frank Robinson

1956

21

Billy Williams

1961

23

Johnny Bench

1968

21

Eddie Murray

1977

21

Ken Griffey Jr

1989

20

In batting average, Harper is middle-of-the-pack, but better than Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench and Billy Williams.

Rank

Player

Age

AVG

1

Jimmie Foxx

21

328

2

Ted Williams

21

327

3

Babe Ruth

24

322

4

Mel Ott

19

.322

5

Rogers Hornsby

20

.313

6

Hank Greenberg

22

.301

7

Frank Robinson

21

.290

8

Harper Projected

19

.287

9

Eddie Murray

21

.283

10

Hank Aaron

20

.280

11

Billy Williams

23

.278

12

Ernie Banks

23

.275

13

Johnny Bench

21

.275

14

Willie Mays

20

.274

15

Mickey Mantle

20

.267

16

Ken Griffey Jr

20

.264

In On-Base-Percentage (hits plus walks), it gets better.  Bryce Harper is ranked 6th, exceeded only by Frank Robinson (who had one of the best rookie seasons in history), Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.

Player

Age

OBP

1

Babe Ruth

24

.456

2

Ted Williams

21

.436

3

Jimmie Foxx

21

.416

4

Mel Ott

19

.397

5

Frank Robinson

21

.379

6

Harper Projected

19

.376

7

Hank Greenberg

22

.367

8

Rogers Hornsby

20

.364

9

Willie Mays

20

.356

10

Mickey Mantle

20

.349

11

Billy Williams

23

.338

12

Eddie Murray

21

.333

13

Ken Griffey Jr

20

.329

14

Ernie Banks

23

.326

15

Hank Aaron

20

.322

16

Johnny Bench

21

.311

In slugging percentage (total bases divided by at-bats), Harper is 5th behind only Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.

Player

Age

SLUG

1

Babe Ruth

24

.657

2

Ted Williams

21

.609

3

Frank Robinson

21

.558

4

Jimmie Foxx

21

.548

5

Harper Projected

19

.525

6

Mel Ott

19

.524

7

Billy Williams

23

.484

8

Willie Mays

20

.472

9

Eddie Murray

21

.470

10

Hank Greenberg

22

.468

11

Hank Aaron

20

.447

12

Rogers Hornsby

20

.444

13

Mickey Mantle

20

.443

14

Johnny Bench

21

.433

15

Ernie Banks

23

.427

16

Ken Griffey Jr

20

.420

Here’s how Harper ranks in these various categories against our list of 15 of the greatest players of all time.

At-Bats

6th

Homers

6th

Triples

1st

BB’s

3rd

Most K’s

2nd

Average

8th

On Base %

6th

Slugging %

5th

RBI

16th

Sixth in At-Bats means he’s established as an everyday player in his first season, and for a 19-year-old means he’s up there among the youngest day-to-day players in the history of the game.

Sixth in HR’s speaks for itself, but I suspect he’s got a better track record ahead of him on dingers as the weather heats up and he gets even more confidence and experience.

There’s no way he’ll end up as 1st on this list in triples.  But it does show his base-running aggressiveness.  Mickey Mantle was faster, timed at just over 3 seconds from the left-handed box at home running to first.  But as we all know, Harper just hustles- his aggression compensating for his good but not amazing speed.

Third in walks is a great stat that separates this young man from anyone before him at his age. Except Ted Williams.  Williams and Babe Ruth have more walks in their first full offensive seasons.  This means pitchers are already pitching around Harper and that he has a keen eye and tremendous discipline at the plate.  These are not the normal traits for a young player.  The only other 19-year-old on the list- the great Mel Ott- drew only 52 walks to Harper’s projected 74.

Yet he strikes out a lot, second only to Eddie Murray.  Harper still has a few holes in his swing or like his idol, Mickey Mantle, he swings hard; “swings violently” is the often used description.

He’s last in RBI.  But that’s not his fault.  He has to have runners on base.  It’s too early to tell if he’s lacking in the clutch component.

And, of course, these are just hitting stats.  There’s nothing here on his laser arm which only seems to throw to home, even at ill-advised moments, but as good as anything Roberto Clemente threw from the outfield.  These stats don’t measure his base-running aggressiveness which is memorable; from making lazy outfielders pay by legging out doubles, consistently advancing from first to third with less than two outs, to running ground balls into infield hits.  Oh, yeah, he stole home for his very first SB of his career.

His fielding is hilarious.  Playing all three outfield positions fearlessly, strange things happen to him out there.  Usually he overcomes every odd angle he runs to fly balls with sheer athleticism.  Or he can completely lose the ball in a grey sky with absolutely no clue where it’s headed.  Or he bobbles a hard-hit fly and it bounces off his mitt and he catches it again.  Or it falls out of his glove and he catches it with his bare hand.

Yes, The Kid is quite the adventure in every way you can think of.  Think of this.  If you ever get the chance to go see him- it will be the same as your grandparents or parents having gone to a ballgame to witness Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Ted Williams.  Except he’s a teenager.

This is once in your life.

Facebook Fail

I’m no financial expert which, I presume, is why I’m not a wealthy man. But I’m not an idiot either and I’m telling you right now- this Facebook IPO stuff is an unmitigated disaster that is becoming more and more of an embarrassment by the second.

Let’s start out with the basics. Facebook early this week was valued as a $100 billion company. That’s more than Disney, Visa or McDonald’s. As Washington Post financial writer, Dominic Basulto, puts it- at least McDonald’s sells burgers. What’s Facebook got? What does Facebook make? It makes ads that no one pays any attention to. Ask General Motors. They pulled their Facebook ads just a couple of days ahead of the IPO because it was like throwing money into a large black hole.

We’ve been down this road before in the late 1990’s when the Dot.Com bubble burst. Now it’s the social media bubble that’s bursting. Facebook stock was offered initially at $38 a share. It’s trading at $31 this afternoon, but the day is young- there’s plenty more room for it to fall even further. Your average Facebook employee is about $2 million richer this week. But the poor people who got suckered into buying Facebook stock on Monday have already suffered a 20% loss on their investment—an amazing achievement over just two short days.

Some analysts say in order to justify the share price at which Facebook was being offered the company would have to make more than a 40% profit over each of the next three years. That’s a tall order for any company that actually makes things, much less one that is essentially a large data collection service that can’t quite figure out what do with all its data.

I won’t even go into the speculation about the things Facebook must do to make the kind of money it has to pile up to avoid becoming a penny stock. Maybe selling our personal data? Maybe overwhelming its real estate on your computer with ad after ad after ad? Maybe breaking down and finally charging for the service?

And then there’s Facebook’s growth potential. What growth? It has already saturated the world. A half a billion users are already on it. There’s no way to go but down.

I have a friend who counsels adolescents. He tells me the big social media trend among the nation’s youth is getting the hell off Facebook. Presuming the universal adolescent appeal of “coolness,” Facebook is about the least cool thing in the universe. Their grandmothers are on it, for Christ’s sake. And their teachers. And if they can ever find jobs- their damn bosses will be on Facebook asking to friend them so they can check and see if there are any pictures of them projectile vomiting in an alley after an all-night kegger.

But there’s more. Much, much more. Here are some headlines from Marketwatch.com today so we can all revel in the base greediness and irrational exuberance of the great Facebook IPO.

Facebook Stock Dubbed “Falling Knife”

Why IPO Fizzled

How Facebook Threatens the U.S. Economy

Embarrassment Over Facebook

Here’s an absolute brilliant analysis of all of this by Martketwatch.com’s David Wiedner:

It’s as if Mark Zuckerberg is having the ultimate nerd’s revenge: He’s humiliating all of us and taking our money in the process…

There were few regular people who made fortunes on Facebook. Its private placement and exclusive club made certain that Zuckerberg and his backers decided who would get rich and when….

At the end of a Facebook session, we feel an anticlimax. We hope for contact and more often than not get silence. We exploit our own privacy to our friends, advertisers, strangers. We rarely, if ever, make that connection that’s worth the investment of putting so much of ourselves out there…

In the end, it’s clear Facebook’s was the rare initial public offering in the markets that catered to that same kind of person, an exclusive sort of investor: the sucker.

In 2010, the movie “The Social Network,” told the story of the Harvard nerd who hit it big with his Facebook concept. There’s a sequel ahead that’s sure to be a hit with all those people Mark Zuckerberg has taken for a ride for all these years.   And it will be called “The Fall of Mark Zuckerberg: Avenging the Revenge of the Nerds.”

Tax and Cut Armageddon

Forget the threat of the end of the Mayan calendar later this year- American political and governmental dysfunction is a more realistic doomsday scenario.

This article in the Washington Post lays it all out. As soon as the withering, vicious, nasty and exhausting national campaigns end this November- our government will have to figure out how to deal with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on all Americans-middle class and rich alike. That’s also the time the temporary payroll tax cut expires.

Meantime, because of their inability to compromise on a deficit reduction package that was supposedly the solution to the debt ceiling fiasco of last year- a bunch of automatic budget cuts are scheduled to hit the Pentagon and the poor.

In a normal world where politicians put country ahead of party and ideology- the solutions would be easy. There would be compromise on the Bush tax cuts, extending them for middle class folks so as not to burden their finances in a still stubbornly recession-like economy. There would be consideration of allowing them to expire for the top earners. The increased revenue could then be used, in part, to help pay for the continuation of payroll tax relief that mostly middle income Americans have now come to depend on over the past couple of years and that add to the average consumer’s spending ability.

Normal politicians would then split the difference on cuts in Pentagon spending and entitlement programs. All in all, you would have actually engaged in a little budget discipline while still managing to keep some of the tax cut incentives necessary to incent spending and grow the economy.

But, of course, we do not have normal politicians in Washington right now. We have a system that is broken with massive ideological rifts preventing any semblance of compromise or rational governance.

And it’s too bad because there are positive signs out there for the American economy. Home builder sentiment is at its most positive point since the start of the recession. A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds 58% now optimistic about an economy recovery.

But the people who invest and spend on America look at governmental gridlock and see nothing but uncertainty ahead. Small businesses are going into their shells and slowing their pace of hiring. Defense contractors are freaking out and they’re slowing their hiring too. And God help you if you’re not one of the well-off in this society- because the concept of a safety net will be tattered beyond recognition as the government cuts Medicaid, food stamps, college loans- you name it.

If the President would like to get himself re-elected, you’d think he would address this tax and cut Armageddon that’s looming in November, because the very prospect of it could strangle our current anemic recovery and fatally injure his electoral chances. And if Republicans want to be taken seriously and not viewed as a party taken over by uncompromising ideological rigidity, you’d think they’d take seriously that their electoral success looks just as threatened as the President’s.

Some worry about Europe and whether countries like Greece and Italy will default. Some fear that date in December when the Mayan calendar supposedly ends. I laugh at those measly threats. Our biggest fear should be the American politician. If only they could offer leadership as well as they play politics.

When is it Ok to Hit People With 90 mph Fastballs?

Harper Gets Beaned (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

According to a number of sportswriters, it’s ok for a pitcher to bean a batter for the sake of sending a message, all in keeping with the storied traditions of baseball. Interestingly, many actual athletes, from hall-of-famers to managers, seem to think you might need an actual reason.

It was the first inning of the nationally televised game Sunday between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals and all-star Philly Pitcher, Cole Hamels, drilled young 19-year-old phenom, Bryce Harper, in the back with a 93 mph pitch. Harper handled his “welcome to the big leagues” moment with great aplomb. Advanced to third base on a hit where most players would have stopped at 2nd. And then as Hamels threw to first base to check the runner, the Kid took off and stole home- a rather spectacular event that rarely happens in the game.

Hamels committed the cardinal sin of admitting publicly he purposely threw at Harper and was promptly suspended by the league for five games, at an estimated cost to his pocketbook of about $400,000. Hamels told reporters he was just being “old school.”

Sports Illustrated columnist, Jason Turbow thinks this was a swell thing to do:

This is the Code at its deepest and most ingrained levels. It is the confluence of ability and pride and hype and the concept that all men must earn their stripes. It is the old guard welcoming the new — player and team alike — with an unmistakable challenge: Welcome to the big time. Let’s see if you can hack it.

Fox Sports analyst, Ken Rosenthal, also thinks it was a really cool, “old school” macho act:

Players tend to take care of these things themselves, and Harper sent his own message on Sunday night, stealing home. That is exactly the way the game should be played, the way it used to be played, the way it was played when Frank Robinson would get knocked down and get up and hit a home run.

Funny, but real men- baseball men, that is- beg to differ with these tough-guy sportswriters who have more experience with cushy offices, lap-tops and press room buffet tables than actual combat in the field of battle.

Cal Ripken, the former Baltimore Oriole hall-of-famer, points out that, no- what Hamels did was not old-school. The unwritten rules of baseball as understood by most normal people is that you hit a batter when he’s been a jerk and Harper had not violated any of the unspoken rules of the game.

Usually there’s a spark for why you do it. Somebody bunts when you’re up eight runs, or you’re stealing third base when you’re up 10 or 11 runs in the seventh inning. There are real reasons on how you play the game, and embarrass the game. That’s old school. But just to come up and drill somebody for no reason, I don’t remember that being old school.

Detroit Tigers manager, Jim Leyland, whose picture could well be in the dictionary next to the term “old school,” also disagrees with our sportswriter gladiators and thinks Major League Baseball was way too lenient in its five-day suspension of Hamels.

I know he’s a very good pitcher and a very talented guy but when you come out and admit it like that. … You know, that ball could have missed and hit him in the head or something else, I mean, when you come out and admit that I think five games is way too light, is my personal opinion.

There’s an important distinction to make here. There are many ways for a pitcher to send a message to a batter. Usually, he throws what is commonly referred to as “chin music.” A nice, high fastball, so close to the hitter that he sprawls to the ground in self-defense. This has been the more common approach in recent times.

It’s interesting that those who thought Hamels was justified in his particular welcome of Harper to the big leagues, say he threw an innocent pitch to his backside where there is plenty of “padding.” Others called it a pitch to the “small of the back.”

Those who think Hamel was being a jerk point out that’s pretty much where the kidneys and the spine reside.

The point, in my mind anyway, is that while it is cool for a pitcher to claim his territory by throwing close to a batter to back him off the plate- launching a hard-ball at 90 mph at a guy 60 feet away with the intention of hitting him is no act of bravery. It’s actually pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s not hard to do.

National’s pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, hit Hamels in the legs as the pitcher squared to bunt a couple of innings later and I actually think a brush-back pitch would have accomplished the same, but at least Zimmermann had the good sense to not admit he was throwing at anyone, and more importantly, he was not the instigator.

But in regard to the guy who started it all, Cole Hamels- National’s General Manager, Mike Rizzo, has it about right, in my opinion. Only slightly paraphrasing- throwing hard balls at people for no particular reason, is kind of a chicken-shit thing to do.

Lightening in a Bottle: Washington’s Teenage Outfielder

The Bryce Harper Topps' Rookie Card


Sometimes you just know it when you see it. Like the friend of mine who remembers watching a young Yankee shortstop take the field for the first time in 1996. It didn’t matter that he was a rookie playing his very first game in the big leagues; it was in his carriage and attitude and demeanor. It was obvious and it was Derek Jeter.

In DC, the Bryce Harper era has begun…ahead of schedule. The young man who was all of 15 when he crushed a 500-foot exhibition homerun at Tropicana Field in Tampa and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, got called up from the minors after a barrage of injuries beset the Washington Nationals.

So there he was in left field Saturday night, clearly taking in the sights and sounds of Dodger Stadium as if pinching himself that, at last, here he was, at The Show. We all collectively worried- would the 19-year old prodigy wilt under the pressure? Are they ruining him by bringing him to the majors too soon?

Are you kidding? In his first game, he scorched a double over the centerfielder’s head that landed at the foot of the wall. Later, in left field, in a tight scoreless game, he threw a 370-foot laser beam- a perfect strike to home plate that would have easily thrown out the runner if the catcher hadn’t dropped the ball.

Ok…flukey first game. Let’s see how the kid does Sunday. This time in center field, he made a leaping, wild catch that led him right into the outfield wall. He got another hit, a solid single to left field. Then while his teammates were striking out 13 times against suffocating Dodger pitching, he coaxed a walk to get on base late in the game. He showed more maturity and patience in that base on balls than any of his older teammates that day.

He doesn’t walk to the field to take his position- he hustles. He’s known for his power, but he runs like a gazelle. He fears nothing- not outfield walls, not the glare of the spotlight, not failing amid some of the highest expectations ever held for any young prospect in the history of the game.

National’s manager, Davey Johnson has been here before. He was the one in the New York Mets organization who back in 1985, successfully argued that a young pitcher with the most amazing stuff he’d ever seen should be brought up to the majors and it didn’t matter to him one hoot that it was a 19 year- old teenager. That was Dwight Gooden. The next year, that kid helped lead the Mets to a World Series title. It is no wonder Davey Johnson was suggesting out of spring training, that Harper too should move up to the big leagues…NOW. He saw this a quarter century ago. Which seems about right for a player like that who only comes along once or twice in a generation. The Nationals have the other once-a-generation guy too- Stephen Strasburg.

But in Harper, I imagine this is what it must have been like to see a young Mickey Mantle, who when he wasn’t hitting monster homeruns, was flying like the wind, running from home plate to 1st base in just over three seconds. The Mantle I remember was already a busted up mess with an alcohol problem and knees so damaged he had to be taped up like a mummy before games just so he could walk out to the field.

Because people like me don’t put enough pressure on Harper– comparing him to the likes of Derek Jeter, Dwight Gooden and Mickey Mantle- let me also add he reminds me of Secretariat as a one-year old thoroughbred. Grace and power and speed; running like a young colt in a Virginia meadow just for the joy of it.

Harper’s meadow is the outfield at National’s Park and the joy is not just his, but ours as well.